Monday, May 18, 2015

A Scientific Minute

After you have constructed a shared world for you and your reader, it is time to remind them of your world-view. This is the shared perspective on the facts that your scientific discipline establishes. Again, imagine that you have a minute of the reader's time. And imagine you already know how your reader sees the world. Give yourself 27 minutes to write at least six sentences and at most 200 words that remind the reader of your concepts, i.e., your "categories of observation", i.e., the mental equipment that turns the flux of your experience into stable "objects of inquiry". What theoretical frame are you bringing into this world to see it with?

As in the first paragraph, you are not going to say anything earth-shattering. You and your reader are still only trying to get to know each other. (This is the second minute of their attention.) Even deconstructionists have friends that their "hermeneutic of suspicion" doesn't shock or offend. In this paragraph, you are writing among these friends, or your peers anyway. What you say here will not surprise your reader; on the contrary, you are going to be telling them what they expect of the world. Whatever you say here, you are expecting the reader, in turn, to agree with, without much effort.

There are two general strategies for introducing your scientific point of view (the view of the world you share with your scientifically trained peer reader). You can either remind them of the consensus that brings the members of your field together, or you can remind them of the controversy that organises it into factions. Most fields will have both options available. There will be a traditional underlying consensus about some matters, and a currently ongoing controversy about other things. If you research bears mainly on the consensus (in order to challenge it, perhaps) you spend your minute bringing it into focus for the reader. If your research bears mainly on the controversy (weighing in on one side or the other), your should remind the reader where the lines of conflict run. (If you must, though I advise against it, you can define your field also by its ignorance, a "gap" in the literature.) Whatever you say here, however, even if you draw up the lines of disagreement, your reader should immediately agree with you. You are not yet taking a position in the controversy (where the reader may take the opposite position). You are merely acknowledging, uncontroversially, that it exists.

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