In a recent debatable Curtis asked if history and philosophy of science can be applied in socially relevant ways. The consensus answer seems to be “yes”. For instance, Rebekah Higgitt wrote,
In my view history and philosophy of science are always socially relevant for demonstrating the processes by which science is created, where science ‘sits’ within society, and how and why it – or aspects of it – have achieved their current levels of authority.
Since at least the days of the Vienna Circle, historians and philosophers in the western tradition have held to the tacit assumption that clear and careful analysis of science will contribute to a more rational society. This belief in a close link between politics and the study of science has been echoed by such figures as John Dewey, Karl Popper, and Philip Kitcher. Earlier, and more pessimistically, Thomas Hobbes believed that society would collapse if there was not an absolute monarch to make final pronouncements on scientific (and other) matters.1
Recent events might suggest that Hobbes was on to something, as it seems that society is losing its capacity for rational debate. Browsing blogs on opposite2 sides of the ideological spectrum reveals incommensurable world views on a scale never envisaged by Thomas Kuhn. Who would have thought we’d ever have competing encyclopedias? John Stewart’s “Rally to Restory Sanity” was an attempt to address this problem:
So what does this have to do with HPS? Well, I have some questions. First, for the historians: Is this really new, and if so, to what degree? Was there a golden age of rational politics where politicians looked to experts to provide sensible policy advice and political parties worked together to solve social problems? And second, for the rest of us: if we agree that HPS is relevant for society, why does the public discourse over science seem so disconnected from that of our discipline? Where have we gone wrong? Or have we done everything we can and the fault lies with some other group (eg. journalists)?