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
Are there places where the debate still rages? Has it migrated out of journals and the media into the popular discourse and cyberspace?2
Has a ‘propaganda war’ against science critics succeeded in quelling all resistance to uncritical images of science?
Have scientists actually taken up what is valid and worthwhile from their critics, and begun to practice their craft within a more adequate self-image?
Did everyone just get sick and tired of partaking in intractable argumentation? What happened, and where are we at?
- 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. ↩
- We might have had that happen right here on The Bubble Chamber, when Steve Fuller, a prominent sociologist of science, commented on Mike Thicke’s review of his recent book, and what seems to be an online enemy of his retaliated with some very angry comments. ↩