# C. Sean Burns: Notebook

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teaching:tacit-knowing-and-the-challenge-of-science

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 — teaching:tacit-knowing-and-the-challenge-of-science [2019/01/21 12:04] (current)seanburns created 2019/01/21 12:04 seanburns created 2019/01/21 12:04 seanburns created Line 1: Line 1: + ====== Tacit Knowing and the Challenge to Science ====== + + <​markdown>​ + There are a number of ways to read + [Polanyi](http://​www.worldcat.org/​isbn/​0226672980). For example, there + are some historical and political angles to *The Tacit Dimension* that + relate to the pursuit of science and knowledge and to restrictions on + freedom by the state or by other entities to pursue those activities. + Polanyi also worked during a period of the 20th century that saw great + upheaval, massive wars, and a rise in totalitarianism that in some ways + mirrors the kind of nationalism and demagoguery that is showing its face + today across the world. It would be interesting to explore these aspects + of Polanyi'​s work, and especially reasons for some of the influence + Polanyi'​s ideas have had on some neoliberal thinkers, but for now, let's + simply bracket out those aspects and focus on what the knowledge + management (KM) literature has taken off with---the idea that "we can + know more than what we can tell." + + Each of us will have our own interests in where KM intersects with our + areas of pursuit. For me, it is hard to escape how *tacit knowing* + impacts the pursuit of science and, inclusive of that, scholarly + communication and the conduct of scientific discourse. And this is + because, unlike some [skeptics](http://​doi.org/​10.1002/​asi.23970) in the + scholarly communication literature, I hold the view that science is only + as successful as the scholarly publishing system. That is, our primary + way to communicate scientific knowledge is through the written text, the + documentation,​ and if our system for disseminating that documentation is + unhealthy, then our pursuit of science, globally and writ-large, + suffers. + + With this in mind, we can relate the implications attached to *tacit + knowing* to some modern developments. There is an increasing number of + researchers,​ scientists, and librarians who actively pursue a thing + called [open science](https://​en.wikipedia.org/​wiki/​Open_science). Some + of the arguments put forth in favor of a process that *opens* science + includes claims that an open science results in a more [efficient and + productive system](http://​dx.doi.org/​10.1038/​nchem.1149) that takes + advantage of web and internet technologies,​ is able to operate with + better transparency,​ is better at re-using other scientists'​ data, and + is better at attributing other scientists'​ work. In some ways, we might + say that an open science is the full, or nearly full, realization of the + [inherent norms of scientific + practice](https://​cseanburns.net/​wiki/​blog/​reading-robert-k-merton-normative-structure). + + Within this rhetoric among the proponents of open science lies the idea + that an open science results in a science that is more scientific. The + key idea here is that science practiced openly will be more available + for critique, review, judgment, and so forth and as such, its + epistemological claims can more easily be + [falsified](http://​en.wikipedia.org/​wiki/​Falsifiability) or + [verified](http://​en.wikipedia.org/​wiki/​Verification_theory) via, + usually, + [reproducibility](http://​phys.org/​news/​2013-09-science-crisis.html) and + replication tests. Thus, and at the very least, there are ideas inherent + in the open science movement that imply that science is not science + unless it is open and it is not true unless it is reproducible,​ in a + very mechanical sense. But, these are questionable and *testable* + claims, which demand a path for moving forward---a path that requires of + us to test the validity of open science and the premises upon which rest + our ability to document and codify the processes involved in the conduct + of scientific pursuits. That is, to say that open science is better + science requires us to test that claim, scientifically. + + Thus, there are significant epistemological and also + [commensurability](https://​en.wikipedia.org/​wiki/​Commensurability_%28philosophy_of_science%29) + issues that are simply not acknowledged by the open science community. + Pertinent to this is one basic issue: the [criterion of + demarcation](http://​plato.stanford.edu/​entries/​pseudo-science/#​KarPop). + That is, what criterion do we use to identify science from what is not + science (or pseudoscience)?​ For Polanyi, if "we can know more than we + can tell" means there are limits to what we can communicate,​ and open + science is about being better at communicating scientific work, then + even under a better model of scholarly and scientific communication + there will always be an upper bound limit on what can be falsified, + verified, or reproduced via scientific documentation. This means there + will never be a complete guarantee that scientific claims can be trusted + via the scholarly communication system. There is always something + intrinsic in our scientific knowing that is beyond what we can tell. + + What is also not fully acknowledged are other ideas about the + demarcation of science---issues related to *problem-solving* (ala + [Kuhn](http://​www.worldcat.org/​oclc/​34548541)) and *problem-finding* + (ala + [Merton](https://​cseanburns.net/​wiki/​blog/​reading-robert-k-merton-matthew-effect)). + Here we can refer to, I think, one of the best passages (pp. 64-66) of + Polanyi'​s book, the ending of which he writes: + + > Thus the scientific interest---or scientific value---of a contribution + > is formed by three factors: its *exactitude*,​ its *systematic + > importance*,​ and the *intrinsic interest of its subject matter* (p. + > 66). + + In other words, Polanyi argues that science is demarcated not just by + its truthfulness,​ its coherence, but also by whether it is *interesting* + in the right *theoretical* way. This brings us back to + [Merton'​s](http://​www.worldcat.org/​oclc/​817893417) statement about the + transmission of not just scientific knowing to the next generation of + scientists, but also of scientific *taste*. Let me re-quote Merton: + + > The role of outstanding scientists in influencing younger associates + > is repeatedly emphasized in the interviews with $Nobel$ laureates. + > Almost invariably they lay great emphasis on the importance of + > problem-finding,​ not only problem-solving. They uniformly express the + > strong conviction that what matters most in their work is a developing + > sense of taste, of judgment, in seizing upon problems that are of + > fundamental importance (p. 453). + + I am not a skeptic about scientific documentation,​ but *tacit knowing* + raises very interesting and serious challenges about the conduct and + dissemination of science, and as well as any kind of knowledge that must + be taught and passed from one generation to the next, from teacher to + student, or from co-worker to co-worker. This is the task that Polanyi + has placed before us. +