In Heather Douglas’s Science, Policy, and the Value-Free Ideal (you can find a video of Douglas speaking about her book here), she claims that there is no practical way to draw a distinction between scientists-as-scientists and scientists-as-advisors. That is, you cannot cleanly separate the descriptive, empirical claims of scientists from their prescriptive advice. Mainstream philosophy of science, she claims, has gone astray since the 1940s in supporting a view of science as value-free, and scientists as detached and objective. Douglas not only argues that we need to acknowledge the unavoidable value-ladenness of science, but that values are not necessarily a negative influence on science. Rather, scientists have an ethical obligation to make value judgments in their work.
Here is one of her examples:
Suppose a scientist is examining epidemiological records in conjunction with air quality standards and the scientist notices that a particular pollutant is always conjoined with a spike in respiratory deaths. Suppose that this pollutant is cheap to control or eliminate (a new and simple technology has just been developed). Should the scientist make the empirical claim (or, if on a science advisory panel reviewing this evidence, support the claim) that this pollutant is a public health threat? Certainly, there is uncertainty in the empirical evidence here. Epidemiological records are always fraught with problems of reliability, and indeed, we have only a correlation between the pollutant and the health effect. The scientist, in being honest, should undoubtedly acknowledge these uncertainties. To pretend certainty on such evidence would be dishonest and deceptive. But the scientist can also choose whether or not the emphasize the importance of the uncertainties (81).
Douglas presents this as a slam-dunk case, and has constructed the situation, by assuming a cheap and easy fix, to be unproblematic. However, I find the implications of this argument deeply troubling.…