Science is not fun

Opinions personals de membres del CEHIC i alumnes de postgrau

maig 01 2011

Observing the observer

Posted in General |

There is a nice saying describing the relationship between scientists and people studying scientists (STS, history of science …): “Birds don’t care what ornithologists think about them.” I cannot remember who said it but I think it was an eminent scientist in the middle of the last century. Apart from being witty this quote also reveals a clear sense of superiority and invulnerability on the part of the scientists. We may call it post-World-War-II-pride. It is my impression that in 2011 we find ourselves in a different cultural moment, although generalizations are of course always tricky. Nowadays many of the scientists follow very closely what is being said about them.

Last Friday I gave a paper on a Catalan archaeologist. I was just showing a slide with one his publications from the 1980s that included several co-authors. At this very moment three archaeologists entered the room (I had in fact invited one of them). One of the people she brought along was one the co-authors whose name was on the slide. It was a weird moment. My colleagues were not sure I had realized who had just entered the room trying to “warn” me with a written note. Well, I had realized it, and felt indeed slightly nervous, trying to choose all my words very carefully now. (One of the golden rules of anthropology is never to talk about the people you are studying in front of them.)

In the discussion that ensued I asked the archaeologists to tell us what they thought about our approach, which led to a lively (and very amicable) exchange. And the archaeologist in question pointedly noted: “We are the observed but we are also observing the observers.”


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