Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/454

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

on their interpretation. It is just on that account that they were obliged to have recourse to procedures of discussion so unscientific.

This is why I think they did not disagree about a fact: we have not the right to give the same name to the rotation of the earth, which was the object of their discussion, and to the facts crude or scientific we have hitherto passed in review.

After what precedes, it seems superfluous to investigate whether the fact in the rough is outside of science, because there can neither be science without scientific fact, nor scientific fact without fact in the rough, since-the first is only the translation of the second.

And then, has one the right to say that the scientist creates the scientific fact? First of all, he does not create it from nothing, since he makes it with the fact in the rough. Consequently he does not make it freely and as he chooses. However able the worker may be, his freedom is always limited by the properties of the raw material on which he works.

After all, what do you mean when you speak of this free creation of the scientific fact and when you take as example the astronomer who intervenes actively in the phenomenon of the eclipse by bringing his clock? Do you mean: The eclipse happened at nine o'clock; but if the astronomer had wished it to happen at ten, that depended only on him, he had only to advance his clock an hour?

But the astronomer, in perpetrating that bad joke, would evidently have been guilty of an equivocation. When he tells me: The eclipse happened at nine, I understand that nine is the hour deduced from the crude indication of the pendulum by the usual series of corrections. If he has given me solely that crude indication, or if he has made corrections contrary to the habitual rules, he has changed the language agreed upon without forewarning me. If, on the contrary, he took care to forewarn me, I have nothing to complain of, but then it is always the same fact expressed in another language.

In sum, all the scientist creates in a fact is the language in which he enunciates it. If he predicts a fact, he will employ this language, and for all those who can speak and understand it, his prediction is free from ambiguity. Moreover, this prediction once made, it evidently does not depend upon him whether it is fulfilled or not.

What then remains of M. LeRoy's thesis? This remains: the scientist intervenes actively in choosing the facts worth observing. An isolated fact has by itself no interest; it becomes interesting if one has reason to think that it may aid in the prediction of other facts; or better, if, having been predicted, its verification is the confirmation of a law. Who shall choose the facts which, corresponding to these conditions, are worthy the freedom of the city in science? This is the free activity of the scientist.