Science in Democracy, by Mark B. Brown

Mark B. Brown’s Science in Democracy is a must-read for anyone concerned with the interaction between science and politics. It is a tour of political theory — from Machiavelli, to Rousseau, to Dewey, to Latour — as well as an argument for rejecting the traditional “liberal rationalist” view of science and politics, and a guide to facilitating a better relationship between them.

Although I have always been very aware of the connection between science studies and political theory, I have had no more than a vague conception of the theoretical and historical roots of that connection. Brown’s first task, in part one of the book, is to explain liberal rationalism and how it became the dominant view of science and politics. Roughly, liberal rationalism is the idea that there is, and should be, a strong separation between scientists, politicians, and the public. Scientists are expected to be disinterested, objective, and politically neutral. Politicians are supposed to act in the interests of their constituents. The public is supposed to articulate those interests, but not to participate in the operation of either politicians or scientists, lacking the expertise necessary for participating in either sphere. In fact, the very ability to participate in either sphere may, in this view, disqualify one from being considered a proper member of the public at all. Many efforts at public engagement deliberately exclude anyone with knowledge or “preexisting views” relevant to the issues at hand (231-232). Machiavelli plays a dual role for Brown in this respect, both as an early advocate for the kind of public participation in politics that Brown advocates and as the historical originator of a “rhetoric of expertise” that created a strong division between the scientist and the public. Jean-Jacques Rousseau plays a much less ambiguous role, as an avatar of the most extreme vision of liberal rationalism. Rousseau advocated excluding not only the general populace from social or scientific deliberation, but also advocated excluding all but the most exceptionally talented — the Bacons, Newtons, and Descartes — from science or government.…

Weekly Roundup

As reported by The Onion Radio News, the National Science Foundation has concluded that science is hard; the consensus comes nearly a decade after the Science is Hard Theorem was first published.

Sharpen your pencils and critical reading skills by tagging along with Matthew Nisbet in his course entitled ‘Science, Environment and Media’ offered at American University and online via Age of Engagement. So far only the syllabus and first assignment has been posted so it’s just the right time to join in! Or perhaps you would be more interested in Culture, Mental Health and Psychiatry.

According to Scientific American, Obama attempted to gather momentum in scientific innovation during his State of the Union address this week. The most demanding scientific quandaries need a Sputnik-like rallying-cry, whatever that might mean.

Interested in figuring out exactly where you are… without your handy Global Positioning System? Check out a recent post on The Renaissance Mathematicus and longitude will never be the same.…

When Gucci Makes Hearing Aids I’ll Be Deaf

I am 42 years old. Tinnitus runs in my mother’s family. My mother has it; my uncles and aunts on her side have it; my grandmother had it for as long as I could remember. When I was in my mid-twenties, I began to notice my hearing deteriorating. Because this problem was in my family, my doctors monitored my progress. Early tests revealed that this problem wasn’t too severe. I resisted further hearing tests until my mid-thirties, when it became too much of a problem to ignore. At this point, I had a further hearing test and discovered I had lost enough high frequencies to be considered hearing impaired. I now have to wear an ugly National Health Service protuberance from my ear until I earn enough to afford a high tech Danish hearing aid that can sit in my ear (almost) invisibly.

So, am I deaf?…

Reuniting STS with HPS

I have recently attended a talk by Harvard Professor Sheila Jasanoff at Bar Ilan University’s STS Program. Jasanoff is one of the founding members of the field of STS (which stands for “Science and Technology Studies” or “Science Technology & Society ” aka “Science Studies” and “Social Studies of Science” – which tells you something about its fragmented history). She talked about the history of STS and her vision of its future.

Jasanoff’s talk was partly a response to a recent attack on STS by historian of science Professor Lorraine Daston1 on behalf of the older sister discipline of history of science. Daston has argued that while both STS and history of science drew the lesson that science is social from Thomas Kuhn’s influential book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), they have interpreted it differently. Historians of science (cultural historians, to be precise, who for Daston are the most dominant today) have interpreted “social” as “historically situated in a particular culture”. They drew the right lesson which is that science should be studied in its historical context without historians’ imposing their present knowledge back on the past. By contrast, STS scholars interpreted “social” as “political”, and drew the wrong lesson that science should be studied like politics. Consequently, STS scholars have been applying general political or quasi-political theoretical frameworks to different case studies from science. These frameworks presuppose that science is basically the same in different periods, and hence can be analyzed in the same terms. By doing that, STS scholars have abandoned the study of what science is, or so Daston argues.

  1. Daston, Lorraine. 2009. Science Studies and the History of Science. Critical Inquiry 35(4): 798-813.

Weekly Roundup

Podcasts of the talks from the conference held at Cardiff University on under-represented groups in philosophy are freely available to listen and download here.

Scientists burst out singing on YouTube. Symphony of Science is a new Internet project which takes bits from popular scientific lectures and makes them into video clips, in which the original presenters sing their lectures.  The first clip is composed of bits from Carl Sagan‘s A Glorious Dawn. The final results of this project, are… well, judge for yourself.

A new study published by the British Medical Journal challenges the existing recommendation to exclusivity breastfeed babies for their first six months. A post on Feminist Philosophers comments on that: “Did we make you feel horribly guilty and tell you that you were ruining your child’s life if you didn’t exclusively breastfeed for six months? Oops. Sorry about that … Come on, folks, how about a bit of epistemic humility in discussing these issues? Nah, that would involve complexity and we all know mothers’ brains can’t cope with that”.

Minneapolis astronomy instructor Parke Kunkle made a splash this week after reminding the astrologically inclined that Earth’s “wobble” has shifted the zodiac signs over the last two thousand years. Turns out yesterday wasn’t the dawn of Aquarius after all.

Aaron Sidney Wright, a fellow historian and philosopher of science, provides a clear philosophical summary of Jonah Lehrer’s insightful article on the decline effect, noted in a previous Weekly Roundup. Certainty and the internal/external inevitabilities of bias present serious problems for those that “want to believe in the results of science”.

מדענים מזמרים ביוטיוב?

פיזיקאים, אסטרונומים ומדענים אחרים מוצאים את עצמם בתוך שירים על מדע, חלל והחיים

אסף שגיא

פורסם: 14.01.11, 11:40


<< מה ההבדל בין תימני לרוסי?

פרוייקט מוזיקלי אינטרנטי בשם Symphony of Science לוקח קטעים מתוכניות והרצאות מדעיות והופך אותם לשירים מקוריים עם וידאו מרהיב. הקליפ הראשון בפרוייקט, A Glorious Dawn, מורכב מקטעים מתוכנית המדע ש

Countdown to Re-entry

David Pugliese of Postmedia News broke the story on Monday January 3rd that the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) want to make the development of a Canadian rocket a high priority.1  The justification follows the normal rationales: Canada currently relies on other countries (bad for sovereignty), native capabilities exist and should be fostered (good for Canadian labs and industries), and a niche market might develop that Canada could fill (excellent for the economy). In other words, there are several proponents of rocketry and they are trying to drum up popular support through the Conservative-friendly media outlet. The plan will probably collapse before any rockets are ever launched, but in the immediate future we can at least expect the usual suspects to study the idea and issue several position papers in favour of the plan.

Review: The Scientific Life by Steven Shapin: A Moral History of a Late Modern Vocation

[amtap amazon:asin=0226750256]

In  The  Scientific  Life,  Steven  Shapin  argues  that  people  and  their virtues matter in late modern science. While scientists struggle to remain objective and impersonal, it is the personal, familiar, and charismatic–the traits once swept aside as vices by the scientifically virtuous–that have come to embody the “truth-speakers” of late modernity. With an enormous and  sometimes  daunting  wealth  of  primary  sources  (from  technical commentaries to his own sociological fieldwork), Steven Shapin breathes life  back  into  these  quotidian  virtues.  The  Scientific  Life  is  as  much a disjointed genealogy of scientific virtue as a reminder that trust still matters at the cutting-edge of scientific “future-making.” Shapin’s mastery of historical narrative is clear; anyone interested in the American scientific persona and how it has transformed in the twentieth century would do well to wade patiently through this thick and rewarding text. But hang up your expectations of historical linearity (and, sometimes, thematic coherence) as you weave through motley professionals, theorists, and critics drawn from over a century of science commentators. Perhaps this work is best described as textured: rich in detail, woven intricately, but hardly smooth to the touch.

Shapin begins by detailing the  transformation from science as calling to science as job in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century (chapters 1-3). During this period, the idea of science as vocation lost its impetus as the fruits of discovery became politically and economically valuable. Robert K. Merton’s sociology exemplified this shift, asserting that neither constitutional nor motivational differences existed between scientists and non-scientists.  The  Mertonian  “moral  equivalence”  of  the  scientist  (i.e. scientists  are  just  ordinary  folk)  eventually  displaced  Weber’s  “man  of science,”  in  whom  moral  authority  once  stemmed  from  a  merging  of curiosity and morality. The “spirited” scientist became the disinterested scientist, in personal convictions and professional identities. Despite the unclear origins of this “moral equivalence” (as Shapin prudently admits), a commitment to the idea persisted in the post-World War II era of “Big Science” and the military-industrial-academic complex.…

Weekly Roundup

A report conducted by the LSE and private healthcare firm Bupa questioned more than 12,000 people from 12 countries and found that 81 percent of those with Internet access use it to search for medical advice, but only a quarter of them check where their online advice has come from. Another study done by researchers at the Department of Pediatrics at Nottingham University Hospitals in Britain looked into 500 websites and found only 39 percent provided the correct information to a question about common childhood ailments. While these studies raise concerns about the accuracy of medical information on the Internet and public reliance on it, it is also worthwhile, in our opinion, to ask who determines what the right answers are.

Four in 10 Americans, slightly fewer today than in years past, believe God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago. Thirty-eight percent believe God guided a process by which humans developed over millions of years from less advanced life forms, while 16%, up slightly from years past, believe humans developed over millions of years, without God’s involvement, Gallup survey reveals.

Historian of science Will Thomas writes a sketch of the history of agricultural research and education in the UK on Ether Wave Propaganda.

Christine Rosen reviews a forthcoming book entitled Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?: The Net’s Impact on Our Minds and Future. In the book, 150 authors, including scientists, philosophers and artists, write on the way the Internet affects human thought.

U.S. officials have decided to close down the Tevatron particle accelerator as originally planned, and not to extend extra funding of $35 million to prolong its operation for three more years, in which American physicists hoped it could beat the CERN Large Hadron Collider in the race for finding the Higgs boson, Nature News reports.

New philosophy podcasts on Philosophy Bites. Martha Nussbaum talks about the value and importance of the humanities, and Philip Pettit talks about group agency – how groups can act, believe, and held responsible by others.

Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?: The Net’s Impact on Our Minds and Future

Michael Oppenheimer on Scientists’ Engagement with the Public

Geoscientist Michael Oppenheimer, who is the director of the Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy at Princeton University, and one of the authors of the latest IPCC report, gave a talk at the American Geographical Union meeting about the prospects and challenges that scientists who want to engage with public issues relating to their research face.


Science and the Media: Upside-Down Pyramid Thinking

This is the second post to appear in our new section called “quick thoughts.” The aim of this section is to raise an issue for comment in more detail than the weekly roundup does, but in a more succinct format than our longer 1000 word posts. We hope that this section will turn the spotlight onto those that choose to comment, rather than the author of the post.

I’ve been reading Naomi Oreskes’ book Merchants of Doubt, which I will review for Spontaneous Generations and post here on the Bubble Chamber as well. I will save my comments for that review, but the book, and a recent lunch conversation with philosophers and HPSers, has me thinking a lot about how the media reports on events within the scientific community.

While I was a master’s student, I was course instructor for “Phil120 – Introduction to Logic,” which was interestingly enough a required course for the school of journalism (I have a hot chili on, in case you were wondering). The second and third year journalism students, who constituted a majority of my class, did not understand why they needed to take the course, and they were vocal about it. As a response to this, and to low marks across the board, I gave an extra credit assignment: Use your journalism skills and interview a professor or administrator responsible for the inclusion of this class in your course requirements. Respond to this interview with your own arguments, either for or against the position presented.…