Reading through Robert Musil’s “Rachel Carson and Her Sisters,” I was struck by how closely the author argued that “Silent Spring” was heavily influenced by her network of colleagues throughout her life.
I couldn’t help but wonder why we are so reluctant to define scientists in this manner. We find that popular accounts of scientists are often built around a “lone genius” stereotype of Einstein coming up with relativity on his own. We do this even though we know that Einstein was swimming in a community of scientists questioning the limits of classical mechanics.
Does this model change how we perceive scientists and engineers interacting with non-experts? We see discussion of the interaction of Marc Edwards and other experts with the Flint water crisis. These obscure that Professor Edwards functioned as part of a team of researchers at Virginia Tech when looking at the lead levels. We are writing out graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and technicians from the story.
If we are writing out highly trained people who work with the lead scientist on a project like this, doesn’t that make it easier to write out the non-expert as well? Ignoring the narrative of a lab head sharing authority with his or her grad students makes it easier to embrace a narrative where non-scientists are passive bystander.
Does ignoring that scientists function internally with each other, with different levels of experience and expertise, make it easier to write off non-scientists as non-experts?