Last night I found this quote in one of my favorite popular science books, in which Carl Sagan tells us what he construes as science. It jibes nicely with my conception of “science broadly construed” that I discuss in Faith Versus Fact. And when I’ve argued that car mechanics practice science when diagnosing a problem, or that plumbers practice science when locating the source of a leak, I’ve angered those philosophers who busy themselves with the “demarcation problem”: what is science and what is not science. While philosophers tie themselves into knots about this semantic issue (I guess they have nothing better to do), some of them simply know that plumbing and auto mechanics aren’t science. So to Massimo Pigliucci and all those philosophical pecksniffs who can’t stand the idea of plumbers doing science, I offer this quote as evidence that you’ll have to go after not just me, but Sagan as well. In fact, Sagan’s construal of science is even wider than mine.
One of the reasons for its success is is that science has a built-in, error correcting machinery at its very heart. Some may consider this an overbroad characterization, but to me every time we exercise self-criticism, every time we test against the outside world, we are doing science. When we are self-indulgent and uncritical, when we confuse hopes and facts, we slide into pseudoscience and superstition.
Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, p. 27