Controversies have always been a part of science, but scientists who have found themselves embroiled in hot debates often find them distasteful. Researchers say that at worst, scientific arguments can result in acrimony, with allegations of dishonorable behavior among combatants. Despite the potential for ill will, others insist that disputes can be conducted with mutual respect. Some scientists say controversies can invigorate and enhance interest--and result in important advances--in the contested field.

Few scientists ever find themselves at the center of controversy, maintains Trevor Pinch, who studies the sociology of scientific controversy as a professor in the department of science and technology studies at Cornell University. "If you get engaged in a full-blooded scientific controversy, it's a rare moment in a scientific career. Most scientists, as Thomas Kuhn would say, are doing normal science. They're mapping out the paradigm. They're solving puzzles. They're not engaged in controversial work at...

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