Ernst Rutherford, the "father" of nuclear physics, once airily declared "In science there is only physics. All the rest is stamp collecting". By this he meant that the theory of physics is the only significant thing in science. Such mundane activities as taxonomy in biology were just sampling contingent examples of physics.John Wilkins is amused because string theorists are beginning to classify their zoo of theories. "The last significant English speaking philosopher of science to discuss classification in science at length," he says, "was W. Stanley Jevons in his 1873 book, second edition 1878." After that, "Classification dropped out of philosophy of science for a century." That's a little pat, but Wilkins is largely right: until fairly recently, philosophy of science was about scientific theory, not scientific practice. Wilkins wants philosophy of science to attend to "a slew of scientific activities that can include the field biologist, the museum curator, the naive experimentalist, and so on, all of which was excluded from 'real' science by the analytic post-logical empiricist tradition."
Wilkins proposes to chart the activities of science on theory-classification and experimental-observational axes. This brings home the point that philosophy of science has focused on the upper left quadrant to the exclusion of all else.
The exclusion of classification from 'real' science has always irked biologists and other scientists who actually do it. "Hence my amusement," explains Wilkins.
While these physicists are trying to order the vast field of possibilities into a logical structure, which is only one kind of classification, they are not, as yet, happy about passive observation, and indeed in the context of string theory, or physics in general, it is hard to see what might count as passive observation. But there is a kind of passivity to observation even when it relies on technical apparatus like the Large Hadron Collider - you see the readouts, displays or cloud chamber photos without much in the way of theory - the interpretation is what requires theory.But here Wilkins goes too far (or not far enough?) To take technical apparatus like the Large Hadron Collider as given is as much a mistake as ignoring classification. What enables the interpretation of results from the LHC is the design, construction and tuning of the instrument, and none of these is passive.