The Art of Scientific Investigation: Book Review
The Art of Scientific Investigation
by W.I.B. Beveridge
Published: 1957 (reprinted 1970)
“Scientific research is not itself a science; it is still an art or craft.” – W.H. George
“With all the complex apparatus and machinery of modern science, people tend to forget that the most important item is still the human brain. For success in research, a scientist requires not only technical knowledge and powers of observation and reasoning, but also such qualities as imagination and intuition. The book, therefore, centres round the ‘human factor’. Scientific research is shown as a great intellectual adventure, in which the character of the scientist has a profound effect on the eventual result.”
Ian Beveridge was born in 1908 on a farm in New South Wales, Australia. In 1931, he graduated from the University of Sydney with a bachelor of veterinary science, laying the foundations for what would become a brilliant academic career in research, working on infectious diseases of man and animals in some of the best-known laboratories in Australia, the United Kingdom, France, and the USA. Among other achievements, he was Professor of Animal Pathology at Cambridge University from 1947 to 1975, Chairman of the Permanent Committee of the World Veterinary Association from 1957 to 1975, and a Consultant on Comparative Medicine for the World Health Organization from 1964 to 1974.
Science is generally taught with an emphasis on knowledge, logic, and methodology, which although essential, does not properly convey how research is actually performed. Contrary to the perception of the general public and many students, scientific research relies heavily on the “human factor” of the individual scientist. Intuition, creativity, and luck, for example, all play incredibly important roles in scientific discovery.
In The Art of Scientific Investigation, Ian Beveridge reveals the basic principles and mental techniques that are essential to scientific investigation and on how to approach scientific research in ways to improve the conditions that may lead to meaningful discoveries. The book discusses great discoveries and quotes the experiences of some of the greatest scientific minds, such as Darwin, Pasteur, Faraday, Fleming, and many more.
The book I purchased is a 1970 paperback reprint of the revised 1957 edition, published by Heinemann Educational Books Ltd. One of the great features of this book is the inclusion of five pages with detailed photographs illustrating the portraits of 20 different scientists, which is a subtle way of allowing the reader to better connect with the names discussed during the book.
The book basically functions as a general advice guide for new researchers and for providing fresh insights to more experienced researchers. It describes the psychological and conceptual factors in scientific research and practice, revealing a complex and sometimes-messy picture of the enterprise of actually doing science, contrary to common portrayal of the scientific method. Each chapter handles a different general area of the art of the research worker, with each area’s purpose, pitfalls, and a tentative description of how it works.
Reading this book was a liberating experience. There was a clash between what I was taught about science and the reality of the way I was actually doing research. With sudden great clarity, this book establishes that in reality, there is a significant difference between science and scientific research.
The author did a great job at conveying his ideas clearly and concisely and at using anecdotes and examples very effectively to support his writing. I particularly enjoyed the references to the influential scientists of the time, as it is always interesting to better understand the history of science. At the time of reading, I was mostly reading for pleasure, so I am definitely looking forward to reading through the book again more thoroughly.
If you haven’t already, I definitely recommend picking up a copy. The book completely removes the mystery of science and highlights just how strong the “human-factor” is involved in research. Reading and understanding the principles and ideas discussed in this book could benefit a broad range of people, from new and experienced researchers to non-scientists and members of the general public.