What is a Scientist?
I have a clear notion. There are two parts. The first part is a pattern of thought. The second is depth of training in a particular area of expertise. My college degree is in Physics, but only a four-year degree. In Physics a four-year degree is only a fraction of the way to competence, so I am not a Physicist.
There is a pattern of thought essential to a good scientist (or a really good engineer). Of this I am quite certain. You need to be a good observer. You need to be a good skeptic. You need to be thoroughly analytical. This part is easy for me. My father was a good engineer. I read quite a lot, and before college had learned to be a good, skeptical, and analytical observer. The aim in college is to teach you this new mode of thought, and beyond this to transfer some of the wisdom acquired through experience by your instructors.
Of course, following the usual human tendency, I assumed my peers were at least as good at this mode of thought as was I.
In college, I did not need to learn a new mode of thought. The time in college I very much valued, as it seems that the hints from experience offered by my instructors fully sunk home. Those same lessons became so deeply embedded in my way of thought that I could not imagine a true “scientist” applying anything less.
What later I found is that “scientists” very often miss the obvious – or what I thought should be obvious. The lessons from my college professors (in Physics – admittedly the “hardest” science), suggest an analytical path that many scientists do not fully follow. This I have the hardest time understanding. Could it be that not having to acquire a new mode of thought meant I absorbed more from my instructors?
I do not know. By my standards, I am not a scientist. But … I very often come up with (what seems to me) obvious questions, on reading about the works of some scientists. Even more surprising – it seems very often to turn out that my (distinctly amateur) questions lead to interesting answers. How can that be so often true?
I am not a scientist, but perhaps I am a bit more than an intelligent layman. Maybe that long-ago acquired mode of thought made more of a difference than I expect.