A couple weeks ago we linked to a letter in Science calling for climate scientists to engage the public and media more vigorously, in order to “counter misinformation and deception.” As Greg Lusk mentioned in his post, this is similar to Evelyn Fox Keller’s call for increased engagement by historians and philosophers of science. However, Keller wasn’t just calling for more engagement, but better engagement. She argued that science is perceived as an elitist enterprise—a perception encouraged by scientists themselves—but in reality the scientific arguments are possible to frame in understandable and accessible terms.
Will Thomas at Ether Wave Propaganda has posted a survey of historical literature on the relation between agricultural practices and science, which should be interested in anyone wanting to understand why modern food production, and modern science, look the way they do.
Feminist Philosophers has a good post commenting on some recently discovered documents that will likely force a reconception of the role of women in science during the early days of the Royal Society.
Comments on NASA’s recent discovery that the world’s lakes are warming.
An Epilog post that connects the problematic aspects of modern neurocognitive technologies up with the problematic aspects of historical forms of psychosurgery.
In this post I’ll be rewinding back to the precursor to wildlife filmmaking: photography. Concern about a film’s authenticity or the decisions of particular filmmakers are in line with a much older discourse regarding the authenticity of photographs of animals, and with the prevalence of professional and amateur photographers today, publishers walk a fine line between disclosing the gory details (which nowadays include staging, rented animals, and Photoshop) of how certain shots were obtained and losing an audience expecting the increasingly spectacular between the pages of National Geographic.
Most would agree that the history of science and science policy are somehow linked: the various incarnations of history of science as a field of study aim to uncover “how science works”, be it through a “traditional” focus on a more or less linear intellectual progression, through the lens of its relationship with a broader social and political sphere, or by looking at its deeper social interactions between scientists. In this sense, I’m convinced that almost any historian of science—especially those operating in the context of having to “justify” the impact of their work—would recognize, on some level, important connections between the knowledge they produce and science policy. One could even argue that the raison d’être of modern science policy lies in the realization that science itself does not operate as an isolated endeavour—it’s too important to be run only by practicing scientists. But can we say something more specific about what ties the history of science and science policy in the making? I hope to put forth a few partial suggestions to help answer this question or, at the very least, provide some food for thought.
This week’s debatable relates not only to the history of science, but also to the history of the history of science, the history of philosophy of science, and the history of the sociology of science. It’s also related to the present day: I want to know what everyone thinks the current state of the ‘science wars’ is.
Remember back in the 1990’s, when there was that huge, mutli-faceted debate happening between working scientists, realists, and rationalists on the one hand, and anti-realists, skeptics, postmodernists, relativists and sociologists of science on the other? There was a time when scientists were so angered by the things that some sociologists of science and other science critics were saying that they attacked on all fronts: many working scientists and other “anti-postmodernists” would vitriolically and categorically condemn the work of science critics as nonsense. They would associate such critics, for example at their own relatively exclusive conferences, with creationists and UFO-theorists. And perhaps most famously, in a special issue of a sociological journal meant to be an assessment and evaluation of the “Science Wars,” Alan Sokal, a trained physicist, famously published a hoaxed article made up of near-gibberish strings of fancy words, “arguing” for many conclusions about which the editors of the journal were known to be sympathetic.1
Less well known, when compared to the “Sokal Affair” is the so-called “Bogadanov Affair”, which some science critics claim demonstrates how physicists, too, can have the wool pulled over their eyes, as the editors of Social Text were when Sokal published in their special issue. ↩
Gregory Petsko, a Professor of Biochemistry, speaks out in favour of the humanities, and the unique virtues they can instil in working scientists.
James Ladyman, a philosopher of science working primarily on naturalized metaphysics, has petitioned his fellow academics “to make this website go viral.” If you are in the UK, and/or you value the humanities, it is especially worth checking out.
A letter in Science (via Age of Engagement, where you can read part of it if you don’t have a subscription) calls for scientists to mobilize to “make concerted efforts to provide people, organizations, and governments with critical information, to address misperceptions, and to counter misinformation and deception”.
Other (?) climate scientists are forming a “rapid response team” with the mission of countering climate disinformation campaigns by aggressively engaging the media.
For those who liked the Atlantic’s article on John Ioannidis, Aaron over at False Vacuum pointed me towards this fantastic article from Science News entitled “Odds Are It’s Wrong“. It covers much of the same ground as the previously-mentioned article, but gives more details on the history of statistics in scientific practice.
Philip Kitcher recently gave two lectures at the opening of the University of Western Ontario’s Rotman Institute of Philosophy. His first talk was entitled “Authority, Responsibility, and Democracy”, and his second “Alienation and its Dangers”. Both should be of interest to Bubble Chamber readers. (The audio quality on the first is somewhat poor though.)
In our post-Kuhnian times as philosophers and historians of science, it is important to remember that interests besides the holy, disinterested pursuit of Truth, Progress and Knowledge affect the development of scientific thought and practice. There is now a blossoming field of study devoted to understanding how scientific communities, personal and social values, and similar human concerns shape scientific developments. Recently, some people have taken another, quite pressing, (possibly?) nonscientific concern that affects the development of science: money.
This post is inspired by a group of people who are doing what might be called the Philosophy of the Business of Science: they are investigating the practicalities of funding and grant processing using philosophical tools for the purpose of trying to figure out how these aspects of the scientific endeavor shape changes in the landscape of science, and whether there are better systems that could, if implemented, improve this landscape. I had a chance to see a symposium on peer review in the sciences put on by a group of these people at the 2010 Philosophy of Science Association (PSA) biennial meeting in Montreal last weekend, and I want to share some of what I learned there with you. I also want to tell you a little bit about another pair of philosophers whose project is aimed more directly at funding structures in the sciences. But before I get into the gory details, let me orient you to the problems at hand.
Are our most emotive and personal forms of description — the story, confession, history, narrative — neglected by scientific thought? Or does science hide in narrative? We don’t expect scientists to tell us a tale in the meticulous detail of their publications; narrative is reserved for the scandals of memoirs, the courtroom appeal, and the patient’s history. Narrative may even be powerful in science education, but that doesn’t mean it’s essential to the scientific process. In last week’s debatable, Boaz Miller asked whether scientific knowledge is anything special. This week, I want to dig deeper to ask if narrative is essential to all forms of knowledge, including scientific knowledge. Tell me why, within or without a story…
Will Thomas at Etherwave Propaganda is embarking on a new research project broadly to do with 20th century agricultural technology in Britain, and about ideas of “pure vs. applied research, scientific vs. local knowledge, and scientific advice vs. state action”. We’re looking forward to hearing more Will!
Democrats often criticized Bush for manipulating reports from scientific agencies, but they are now being faced with similar accusations, as the New York Times reports. It seems a report that was purportedly due to outside experts was edited to recommend a moratorium on deep-sea drilling, while the experts recommended no such thing.
RealClimate has an interesting post about the image of science in the media vs. how it really is. It will probably strike many here as naive, but it’s always valuable to see how scientists see themselves and their discipline, right?
I missed the PSA session on “ClimateGate”, but there’s a great summary of the session at Scientopia!
The Bubble Chamber is a blog written by historians and philosophers of science for discussing contemporary issues of science and society through the lens of historical context and critical analysis.
Founded by the University of Toronto's Science Policy Working Group, The Bubble Chamber is a forum for those interested in a critical assessment of science in society and the development, regulation, and trajectory of science.