, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp 27–45 | Cite as

Some social-psychological aspects of becoming a physicist

  • L. Leydesdorff
  • H. van Erkelens


A group of academic scientists and a group of industrial scientists in the field of solid state physics are compared with regard to their view of ‘the physicist’ in general. In the same way two groups of students in different phases of their training are interviewed in order to get insight into social conflicts present in the educational system. Differences between the groups are found in the importance they attach to the social aspect of the research and in the degree to which they feel ‘the physicist’ to be a normative concept.


State Physic Solid State Educational System Social Aspect Social Conflict 
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Notes and references

  1. 1.
    ByPoulantzas a theoretical framework has been worked out to describe the development of modern capitalism as a relation between the economic system and the ideological state apparatus. Of these ideological state apparatus the educational system is the most important. N. POULANTZAS,Les classes sociales dans le capitalisme aujourd'hui, Editions du Seuil, P. 1974.Google Scholar
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    T. PARSONS, G. M. PLATT,The American University, Free Press, NY, 1973.Google Scholar
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    I. I. MITROFF,The subjective side of science, Elsevier, Amsterdam, 1974.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    This role-involvement in their work does not necessarily pervade their personal lives. The inference lies at hand, but has to be empirically tested. An attempt to do this in: I. I. MITROFF, TH. JACOB, E. T. MOORE, On the shoulders of the spouses of scientists,Social Studies of Science, 8 (1977) 303–327.Google Scholar
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    An implicit assumption is that the different groups can be compared with respect to their structural position towards the science-system. The observed differences between students and scientists represent age and period effects as well. As far as these originate from society at large, they are left out of consideration. Some justification for the emphasis on the institutional organization of the subsystem can be found in: T. PARSONS, G. M. PLATT,The American University, Free Press, NY, 1973.Google Scholar
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    In the natural sciences also the institutional framework of Dutch universities has recently become immune to destabilizing forces from the participants in it, as far as we can see.Google Scholar
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    See: D. ZINBERG, The widening gap: attitudes of first-year students and staff towards chemistry, science, careers and commitment,Science Studies, 1 (1971) 287–313 and D. ZINBERG, Education through science: the early stages of career development in chemistry,Social Studies of Science 6 (1976) 215–246.Google Scholar
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    I. I. MITROFF,op. cit.. 171 ff: Below you will find descriptions of four very different kinds of scientists. I would like you to read each description carefully, and then only after you have read each description, indicate the degree to which each description represents you.Type A: The Hard Experimentalist. Type A is the kind of scientist who first and foremost regards himself as aHard Experimentalist. He takes extreme pride in his carefully designed and detailed experimental work. In general, he prefers hard data gathering to abstract theorizing, intuitive synthesizing, or humanistic concerns. He feels that one really doesn't understand something until he has collected some hard data on it. He feels that abstract theorists have a tendency to get lost in their abstractions for their own sake and hence to mistake them for reality, that intuitive synthesizers have a tendency to engage in unwarranted extrapolation beyond the data at hand, and that humanistic scientists have a tendency to become prone to gushy moralizing. His attitudes toward theorizing and speculation are modest. He feels that theorizing and speculation are only warranted when the data are available that clearly support such activities. He is quick to master complicated and sophisticated experimental techniques. He prefers to work on manageable, well-defined problems for which there are available standard, well-déveloped experimental methods of investigation. He tends to be technique-oriented rather than problem-oriented. In sum his approach to science is best described as Empirical-Inductive rather than Theoretical-Deductive.Type B: The Abstract Theorizer. Type B is the kind of scientist who first and foremost regards himself as anAbstract Theorizer. He takes extreme pride in his ability to construct formal, analytical models of complicated physical phenomena. In general, he prefers building abstracts, theoretical models to experimental data gathering. He feels that one really doesn't understand something until he has built a general theory of it. he feels that data gatherers have a tendency to become so engrossed in collecting data for its own sake that they never get around to putting it all together in some systematic conceptual sense. He also feels that intuitive synthesizers and humanistic scientists both have a tendency to be extremely fuzzy in their thinking. His attitude is that the construction and investigation of formal models and theories produces the best analysis and understanding of scientific problems. In this sense he is extremely critical of speculation that is not tied down and checked by formal reasoning. He is quick to master complicated and sophisticated analytical techniques. He prefers to work on manageable, welldefined problems for which there are available standard, well-developed analytical methods of investigation. He tends to be technique-oriented rather than problem-oriented. In sum, his approach to science is best described as Theoretical-Deductive rather than Empirical-Inductive.Type C: The Intuitive Synthesizer. Type C is the kind of scientist who first and foremost regards himself as anIntuitive Synthesizer. He takes extreme pride in his ability to synthesize and intuit the meaning of a wide variety of experimental and theoretical facts and ideas. In general, he prefers extrapolation from and speculation on existing data to gathering data of his own. He feels that one doens't really understand something until he has developed a deep intuitive insight into the basic meaning of that something. He feels that hard data gatherers have a tendency to go on collecting data forever because they lack the basic intellectual or emotional fortitude that would permit them to extrapolate beyond their always limited sets of data. He also feels that abstract theorizers are equally limited, for example, their overly formalistic ways of conceptualizing phenomena prevent them from appreciating characterization of problems that are not easily, if ever, susceptible to formalization. (Humanistic Scientists he tends to dismiss as irrelevant.) His general attitude is that intuition and a global approach produces the best ultimate understanding of scientific problems. This, of course, is a reflection of the fact that his understanding of physical laws and processes is more intuitive than it is formal or even precise. He is quick to formulate and take in broad, sweeping views of problems. He is quick to generate a large number of interesting hypotheses about any problem. He has a high tolerance and even preference for ill-structured problems, the problems that others tend to shun. He tends to be more problem-oriented than technique-oriented. In sum, his approach to science is best described as Intuitive-Synthetic rather than as Theoretical-Deductive or Empirical-Inductive.Type D: The Humanistic Scientist. Type D is the kind of scientist who first and foremost regards himself as aHumanistic Scientist. he takes extreme pride in his ability to perceive the political and moral implications of scientific work and discoveries. In general, he is more concerned with being able to predict the desirable versus undesirable consequences of scientific products than he is concerned with the details of scientific method that generate the end products. He feels that scientists have been extremely derelict in contributing to the general moral and political understanding of their discoveries. He feels that hard experimentalists, abstract theorizers, and even intuitive synthesizers take too narrow and restrictive an attitude toward science. They are all too preoccupied with the detailed tools and techniques of scientific method, than they are with evaluating the overall consequences of their end-products. He feels that they are much too insensitive towards the moral and human elements in science. For too long, the feels that scientists have kidded themselves that they could study physical phenomena in a completely detached and objective way. He feels it is high time for scientists to realize that their subjective feelings and emotions deeply affect their so-called objective studies and descriptions of nature. This type of scientist also tends to be more problem-oriented than technique-oriented. In sum, his approach to science is best described as Personally Involved and Evaluative rather than Detached-Empirical-Analytic.Google Scholar
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    K. BRADWAY, J. WHEELWRIGHT, The psychological type of the analyst,The Journal of Analytical Psychology, 23 (1978) 210–255.Google Scholar
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    Because of the non-Gaussian character of the distributions standard deviations are only a rough indication.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    According to a log likelihood ratio-test.Google Scholar
  19. 20.
    The choice between theoretical and experimental physics is made in the fourth year, after graduation.Google Scholar
  20. 21.
    See also: M. KNOLL, Wandlungen der Wissenschaft in unserer Zeit, in: Eranos Jahrbuch XX 1951, Rhein Verlag, Zürich 1952: “The evaluative function determines ... the acceptance or rejection of a problem for the physicist ... The function of feeling is also an important faculty for knowledge which has not a direct role in the structure of physics, but by selecting the subject-matter to be known.” and I. I. MITROFF, op. cit. TH. JACOB, E. T. MOORE, On the shoulders of the spouses of scientists,Social Studies of Science, 8 (1977), 177.Google Scholar
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    K. GREIDER,Invitation to physics, Harcourt Broke Javanovich Inc., New York, 1973, 249.Google Scholar
  22. 23.
    BecauseMitroff hardly distinguishes the social system and the personality, this integration at the personal level is for him at the same time a form of repression. See also his: On the norms of science: a report of a study of the Apollo Moon Scientists.Communication and Cognition, 7 (1974) No. 1, 125–151.Google Scholar
  23. 24.
    ByOsgood et al. (see note 12) D-statistics were introduced: instead of algebraic means of distances geometrical means are calculated. This was done to be able to construct a so-called ‘semantic space’. For our purpose linear measures are sophisticated enough. They have the advantage of being directly comparable with distances on the 7-point-scales. To prevent misunderstanding they will be called F-statistics.Google Scholar
  24. 25.
    Statistically non correlated random distributions will give a F-value of 2.3 Because of the particular shape of the distributions (see19), this ‘value of indifference’ will be somewhat lower in these cases.Google Scholar
  25. 26.
    C. E. OSGOOD, W. M. MAY, M. S. MIRON,Cross-cultural universals of affective meaning, University of Illinois Press, 1975. M. J. JANSEN, A. J. SMOLENAARS, A short report on an interculturally standardized semantic differential, European Results,Acta Psychologica, 26 (1967) 209–215.Google Scholar
  26. 27.
    Mitroff's deviation from these standard procedures was not followed. I. I. MITROFF,op. cit. 104.Google Scholar
  27. 28.
    Ibid. 108.Google Scholar
  28. 29.
    The product-moment-correlation is only a profile statistic. It does not measure distances between profiles as do D-or F-statistics. However, such a difference does not occur in this case. Therefore ‘r’ can be used.Google Scholar
  29. 30.
    Mitroff did not use any theoretical criterion for choosing the antonymous adjectives. So the results do not give arguments against the use of the semantic differential as a method for data collection.Google Scholar
  30. 31.
    I. I. MITROFF,op. cit., 76–79. The argument about the counter-norms is made byMitroff on psychological grounds Their function is to constrain the so-called institutional imperatives of science, as being described by K.Merton.Google Scholar
  31. 32.
    The word ‘liberal’ was changed in translation to ‘progressive’, which has the same affective meaning in Dutch, in opposition to ‘conservative’. (The Dutch ‘liberal’ party happens to be conservative.)Google Scholar
  32. 33.
    By one of the students of the project group a special study on this subject was made: v. d. VUSSE, Vrouwen en Natuurwetenschap,Intermediair, 13 (1977) No, 50 7–13.Google Scholar
  33. 34.
    Of course,Mitroff introduces the masculine-feminine opposition at a more general level as a framework for his criticism of science. Once this framework is chosen he should, in our opinion, have elaborated a theory of socialization and individuation of scientists first. By jumping to the conclusion that the emotional problems involved are essentiallybased on the ‘masculine’-‘feminine’-opposition, he failed to make such a structural analysis of the emotional problems at stake and so he did not ask the releyant questions of the spouses of his scientists (see note 4). See also: H. van ERKELENS, De fysika en het vrouwelijke, in:Van wetenschapskritiek naar wetenschapswinkel, Studium Generale, Rijksuniversiteit Utrecht, 1979.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Akadémiai Kiadó 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • L. Leydesdorff
    • 1
  • H. van Erkelens
    • 1
  1. 1.Centrale InterfakulteitUniversiteit van AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands

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