The word “science” is often associated with long, white lab coats, test tubes and beakers filled with bubbling chemicals and textbooks infused with never-ending formulas. However, science is not always driven by clear-cut formulas and perfectly designed experiments. Instead, the essence of science is its ability to defy these traditional paradigms and rigid methodical approaches.

As early as elementary school, I recall the scientific method being engrained into my head. First, one must formulate a question of interest, followed by a hypothesis, the experimental design and lastly, a conclusion based on the results of the experiment. Thus, science is often taught as a well-ordered and linear mechanism for understanding the world around us. In textbooks, the experiments appear to be perfectly constructed and almost always have ideal and predicted outcomes. Although science is often presented in this way, this linearity is not the ultimate driving force behind some of the biggest discoveries in the field of science.

Take, for example, Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin in 1928. Fleming accidentally left the lid off of a petri dish while cultivating bacteria for an experiment, which eventually became contaminated with a mold containing penicillin. His discovery was not driven by a perfectly designed experiment that encompassed the elements of the traditional scientific method. Rather, it was a deviation from this linearity that sparked one of the most important discoveries. Charles Darwin is another great example. Darwin’s proposed theory of evolution to explain the origin, diversity and complexity of life was faced with great opposition because it threatened religious authority and undermined natural theology. However, Darwin’s ability to deviate from the traditional mode of thinking in the face of resistance ultimately led to the discovery of what is now regarded as a fundamental principle in the history of science.

The power of such deviance is highlighted by numerous philosophers, including Popper and Kuhn. In Popper’s Conjectures and Refutations, he highlights the concept of falsifiability. He claims that the more a scientific theory prohibits, the stronger the theory is. Popper writes, “In order to be ranked as scientific, [theories] must be capable of conflicting with possible, or conceivable, observations” (39). Popper claims that “risky predictions” are essential to lead to ground-breaking scientific discoveries (36). He further argues that the empirical method alone is simply not a strong foundation for the basis of a scientific theory (35). Similarly, Kuhn also argues how traditional approaches to science are limiting in many aspects. In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, he writes, “The professionalization leads, on the one hand, to an immense restriction of the scientist’s vision…” (64). He states that defiance and deviance forces scientists to question and analyze their current modes of thinking: “the anomalies that lead to paradigm change will penetrate existing knowledge to the core” (65).

Thus, it is evident that the concept of defiance and deviance have larger implications in the real world. Deviance forces humans to think in new ways, not just in the scientific world, but in many other realms. It is the characteristic that ultimately forces humans to pursue the unanswered and often challenging questions, thereby serving to expand our world-view. In this way, deviance enriches the lives of humans by protecting us from the traps of ignorance.

SOURCES

Kuhn, Thomas S, and Ian Hacking. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The University of Chicago Press, 2012, pp. 52-65.

Popper, Karl Raimund. Conjectures And Refutations. Routledge, 2002, pp. 33-39.