On Being A Good Scientific Sport -- By: George McCready Price
BSac 83:331 (July 1926) p. 298
On Being A Good Scientific Sport
We all have an instinctive admiration for a man who can watch the theories for which he has stood all his life being broken to fragments before his eyes, yet who can smilingly stoop and build them up again with other researches and other discoveries. We feel like playing Kipling and saying that his is the earth and everything that’s in it, and what is more he is a good sport.
But truth rather than mere sportsmanship is the ideal in the natural sciences, indeed in all lines of serious scholarship. The best sport is the one who can change his mind on being confronted with sufficient evidence. The Scotchman who said that he was open to conviction, but would like to see the man who could convince him, was not this kind of a good sport. Whether a man will or will not change his mind through the force of evidence must always be chiefly his own affair, like his choice of a wife: he will have to live with it. It is none of our funeral. What we all object to, however, is hearing a man whine and complain and abuse his opponents when his pet theories are blown to pieces. He ought to take his lesson with a better grace.
The odium theologicum has in other days often been matched by the acrimonious language of scientists toward one another. Within modern times much of this heat has cooled off, though a rising temperature is occasionally noticed in such discussions as the recurrent one between the vitalists and the mechanists. Just at present the neo-vitalists (with the emphasis on the anterior end of the word) are again having an inning, as is illustrated by the courageous declaration of the Oxford physiologist, J. S. Haldane: —”The mechanistic theory of heredity is not merely unproven, it is impossible. It involves such absurdities that no intelligent person who has thoroughly realized its meaning and implications can continue to hold it” (“Mechanism, Life, and Personality,” p. 58; 1923).
An editorial note in a recent number of Nature carries the same confident tone: — “It is not philosophy, but the
BSac 83:331 (July 1926) p. 299
progress of science and particularly the new theory of matter, which has discredited materialistic biology. We are all now convinced that if the great nineteenth-century biologists were still with us, they would not be upholding the materialism which appeared to them to offer the only possible working hypothesis” (Nature, May 24, 1924, p. 759).
Yes; possibly some of them. Mivart never was a materialist; while Romanes showed himself a genuine sport by changing his mind before he died. Possibly Huxley and some others might have done the same, if they had had th...
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