"For the invention of an apparatus to produce extremely high pressures, and for the discoveries he made therewith in the field of high pressure physics".More of an experimentalist than a theoretician, Bridgman, however, was interested in the philosophy of physics. His ideas, under the label "operationalism", when applied to other fields, met with less than spectacular results.
Many of his observations (like those below, from his 1950 book "Reflections of a Physicist"), however, seem as valid today as they were 60 years ago and their application could go beyond physics:
"It seems to me that there is a good deal of ballyhoo about scientific method. I venture to think that the people who talk most about it are the people who do least about it. Scientific method is what working scientists do, not what other people or even they themselves may say about it. No working scientist, when he plans an experiment in the laboratory, asks himself whether he is being properly scientific, nor is he interested in whatever method he may be using as method. When the scientist ventures to criticize the work of his fellow scientist, as is not uncommon, he does not base his criticism on such glittering generalities as failure to follow the 'scientific method,' but his criticism is specific, based on some feature characteristic of the particular situation. The working scientist is always too much concerned with getting down to brass tacks to be willing to spend his time on generalities.
"Scientific method is something talked about by people standing on the outside and wondering how the scientist manages to do it. These people have been able to uncover various generalities applicable to at least most of what the scientist does, but it seems to me that these generalities are not very profound, and could have been anticipated by anyone who knew enough about scientists to know what is their primary objective. I think that the objectives of all scientists have this in common--that they are all trying to get the correct answer to the particular problem in hand."The text is a bit longer, but you get the idea.
This sentence, however, is worth quoting separately:
"In short, science is what scientists do, and there are as many scientific methods as there are individual scientists."
Readers, however, may think that too extreme and maybe even a little naïve -- I would be inclined to agree. To determine what is and what is not science is a delicate matter. Perhaps it would be safer to add the scientists' bona fides peers to that set of "proper judges of scientificity", without deviating too much from Bridgman's textual opinion. For instance, a highly qualified and independent biochemist would probably be a good judge for the work of another biochemist. An astrophysicist, however, even an eminent and independent one, would not be a clear choice for that.
The disadvantage of that is that the boundaries of the set of proper judges are no longer clear-cut (just like the demarcation problem itself is blurry).
Be that as it may, it would certainly be too much of an stretch to add kibbitzers to that set. And this applies even to the otherwise renowned kibbitzer. Ludwig van Beethoven, for example, is universally admired for his music, but you wouldn't extend that appreciation to whatever opinions he might have entertained on neurosurgery (particularly if the surgery were to be performed on your own brain).
Under this light the previous post ("Joan Robinson and the Elephant") suddenly appears more serious: Robinson may have been an admirable woman and a remarkable economist. Two things she was not: a scientist, or a philosopher. So, I ask again: what makes her better qualified for the job of Pontifex Maximus of Scientificity than -- say -- Beethoven?
That's a much nearer elephant, which Robinson, curiously all-too eager to be a judge, did not see … at all.
Bridgman, P.W. (1955). Reflections of a Physicist. New York: Philosophical Library, Inc.