Here’s my preliminary thoughts on today’s reading, Part I of The Challenge of the Social and the Pressure of Practice: Science and Values Revisited, The Play of Values Within the Core Areas of Scientific Research.
First off, let me say, for those of you who made it through all the readings, good work! I realize now that this is one of the tougher sets of readings, in terms of quantity (five essays by separate authors), technical sophistication, and diversity of topics (some intricacies of confirmation theory, the history of biometrics and population genetics, feminist philosophy and politics, images of science, pragmatism, realism, and constructive empiricism, etc.). Most weeks will either be less material, material that is all of a piece, or at a lower level of technicality.
To bring all this together, I want to touch on some main themes and questions in this section. These authors run the gamut from old-fashioned anti-values folks, to fairly nuanced middle positions, to strong advocates for a science entirely inflected with social values. Comparing their views helps to bring out some differing assumptions and approaches.
First off, coming out of what Kourany calls the “Value-Free Ideal” of science, there is the common notion that whatever influence social values, politics, etc. have on science, it is necessarily a kind of infection, a challenge to the objectivity or validity of science. John Norton, for example, calls such influences “external factors,” and claims that scientists aim to “eradicate” their “intrusion” into the content of scientific theories (18). Margaret Morrison likewise views the influence of social values as something to be eradicated, something that “compromises… the objectivity of scientific knowledge”(45), and she demonstrates the ways in which scientists attempt to keep values and politics separate from scientific methodology (and the ways that others fail). That Pearson and Fischer manage to defend their methodology independently of their eugenicist political commitments, while Mayr fails to separate his methodological critique of their work from his worries about racism, speaks for the objectivity and quality of the former research and against the later criticism.
Helen Longino has a more subtle view. She maintains a distinction between so-called “constitutive” and “contextual” values. Constitutive values are those epistemic or cognitive values which many recognize as playing a role in science (traditionally: empirical adequacy, simplicity, conservatism, fruitfulness, etc.). Contextual values are those explicitly socio-political values. However, she argues that there are multiple possibilities for sets of constitutive values, and one role of contextual values is to help argue for adopting certain constitutive values over others. (Efficacy of those values in achieving our cognitive goals is another way to argue for them, but those goals themselves will be influenced by social values.) Finally, the different possibilities for constitutive values makes way for pluralism, and here Longino recommends a situation in which open criticism and “tempered equality” of intellectual authority suffice to push everyone towards stronger articulation of their own views (a somewhat more structured version of the alternative ideal of science that Feyerabend offers in Against Method).
Kourany, on the other hand, argues for a full-fledged ideal of science in which social values play a central role, an ideal she calls “socially responsible science.” She challenges Longino’s version of pluralism, arguing that it leaves open the possibility that ideal science will nonetheless reinforce prejudices and fail to aid in the reform of society in the direction of social justice. If the right socio-political conditions aren’t present, if the right mathematical or technological resources aren’t available, or funding problems interfere, Longino’s ideal situation of criticism may not be enough. Instead, what we need is for social values to explicitly structure science towards both a political standard of social justice as well as an epistemic standard of empirical adequacy. She analyzes at some length Carolyn West’s research on race and spousal abuse. Kourany argues that
West’s research program is controlled through and through by sound egalitarian social values. But it is equally controlled through and through by sound epistemic values. Though the science here is thoroughly politicized, in short, it is not at the expense of its mission to provide genuine knowledge… research such as West’s, with its two kinds of interrelated objectives, social and epistemic, shaped by two kinds of values, social and epistemic, should be judged by two kinds of standards, not one—by moral/political as well as epistemic standards. Such research should be found wanting if it fails sound epistemic requirements. But it should also be found wanting if it is shaped by unacceptable social values.
Plenty of other stuff to talk about: the different parts of science where values can play a role, the difference (if any) between inserting cognitive values and making ones theory of induction/confirmation more sophisticated, the notions of evidence in play, the concept of a “technoscience” vs. the pure/applied science distinction, and more. But now I’ve got to run to seminar! More thoughts from me later. What do you think?