Archive for October, 2009

While most of it is not directly relevant to the issues in this class, Hasok Chang’s 2004 book, Inventing Temperature: Measurement and Scientific Progress, is one of the better works of history and philosophy of science in the last several years. In it, Chang traces several different aspects of the attempt to create, standardize, expand, and theorize the measurement of temperature from the early 1700’s to the late 1800’s, narrating the history and exploring the philosophical implications.

Towards the end of the book,[1] Chang attempts to get at some overall lessons about measurement, justification, and scientific progress. He concludes, as many philosophers of science have, that in order to understand scientific progress, we need to “look away from truth”(227). Instead, what we need to look toward are what Chang calls “epistemic values” or “epistemic virtues,” and what Douglas calls “epistemic criteria” and “cognitive values.” Chang says,

I follow Lycan (1988, 154-156) in insisting that the epistemic virtues are valuable in their own right, regardless of whether they lead us to the truth. Even if truth is the ultimate aim of scientific activity, it cannot serve as a usable criterion of judgment. If scientific progress is something we actually want to be able to assess, it cannot mean closer approach to the truth. (228, emphasis mine)


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In this week’s readings (chapters 4-6 of the book), Heather Douglas makes good on a lot of the titillating suggestions from last week. Before switching to discuss that, let me bring out some nagging questions from last week’s post and class discussion. Then I’ll bring up some important points for this week’s readings.

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Knowledge is the number one commodity in a post-industrial society. Thus, it is only natural that the way knowledge is obtained and how it is applied would become big business under this circumstance. Almost every major university traverses the tricky arena of intellectual property and supports the entrepreneurial endeavors of their faculty, students and staff through research and commercialization departments. Private companies spend billions of dollars every year on the research and development of new technologies that bolster their profits. Ultimately, this reality has both positive and negative side effects on knowledge itself. There is no question that the “innocence” of knowledge can be altered by the corrupting force of the dollar. However, we can also attribute great advances in our understanding of the natural world to the support of private and public funding. This dichotomy is, and will remain, at the core of how knowledge is obtained and applied in the 21st century.        

In this paper, I will not linger on the question of whether or not “pure knowledge” is harmed by the forces of commercialization. (Despite the corrupting power of the dollar on theory, I think it is safe to say that the scientific community as a whole is mainly helped by the value placed on knowledge in a post-industrial society). Rather, I will attempt to explain how our hyper-dependence on technology and the subsequent value placed on scientific knowledge affects public opinion and policy making. I will attempt to clarify this argument by looking at the following areas:

1. What is a post-industrial society and does the United States fall under that criterion?

2. What forces provide the greatest amount of funding to the scientific community and what research areas receive the most funds?

3. How is scientific research and data used in policy making? 

4. Does our daily dependency on technology allow for a climate in which the masses are too easily influenced by leaders who use “scienctific knowledge” to back their political agendas?

5. Just how corrupting is the influence of funding? Are scientists producing knowledge to meet the needs of political leaders? Or are leaders simply taking, and often times distorting, knowledge obtained through “pure” science?

I am aware that these are ambitious questions that will most likely be left partially unresolved at the end of this paper. Your feedback and guidance is highly appreciated during my quest to resolve these problems!

Rodney L. Pearson

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In 1989 a contentious textbook entitled Of Pandas and People was published by the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, a Christian non-profit organization based in Richardson, Texas.  The authors of the book, Percival Davis and Dean H. Kenyon, have some training in scientific fields (Davis – zoology; Kenyon – biophysics) and are the Professor of Life Science at Hillsborough Community College and Professor Emeritus of Biology at San Francisco State University, respectively.  However, both of these men are also admitted creationists and proponents of intelligent design which naturally calls into question their intentions behind publishing a school-level textbook which clearly espouses intelligent design sentiments.  After On Pandas was roundly rejected by many school boards across America during the 1990s and early 2000s, conservative Christian activists in Dover, Pennsylvania, successfully managed to convince the Dover Area School Board to accept the ID textbook as an appropriate reference book for biological studies.  Naturally, this created uproar in the scientific community and led to the 2004 “Panda Trial” (Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District), a parody of the infamous Scopes “Monkey Trial” of 1925.  The following year, the U.S. District Court ruled in the Dover case that teaching intelligent design was unconstitutional because it was religious in nature, and therefore, not science.  In this essay, I will focus on several key issues in the philosophy of science such as pseudoscience and the proper role (if any) of the scientific community in regards to formulating and regulating public education policy.  For instance, I will examine the validity of the Dover ruling by exploring various notions of pseudoscience in the McLean vs. Arkansas Board of Education(1982) decision, Michael Ruse’s essay entitled “Creation Science is Not Science (1982),” Paul Feyerabend’s “How to Defend Society Against Science (1988),” and Richard Feynman’s “Cargo Cult Science” (1999).  Additionally, I will pick up Heather Douglas’s discussion in her Science, Policy, and the Value-Free Ideal (2009) on the (legitimate) authority of the scientific community to determine the appropriate direction and scope for public education policies.  Furthermore, I will also address Philip Kitcher’s suggestion in his Science, Truth, and Democracy (2001) that scientists take an active role as ethical stewards of public policy in his “enlightened democracy” as a check against the anti-scientific, fundamentalist Christian groups which temporarily governed the Dover Area School Board and pushed for the wholesale adoption of On Pandas in the American public school system.    

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In his Wired magazine article dated 1/18/08, Clive Thompson called science fiction the “last great literature of ideas,” the only place to tackle the “profound philosophical questions” going on in our culture today.  Inherent in many of the dystopian presentations of the future are the combined fears of technological advances allowing governmental agencies to have increased power that can, at times, cause the public to be unsure of what is “real” amidst overflowing images and information, including Orwell’s famous 1984 and, more recently, The Matrix. Both stories reflect current societal fears. Technological advances, from the more simple cameras at red lights to more sophisticated developments in artificial intelligence and modes of entertainment appear to blur the lines between cherished values of privacy and autonomy. Science fiction continues to reflect these fears through representing the extreme possibilities of continuing on our current courses of elevating the technological advancements of the age.

Baudrillard, Meyrowitz and others speak of the concern of the power of the screen. It has become the new hearth, the place where all come to gather information and be told what to care about. The screen, however, does not engage in dialectical conversation with the viewers most of the time, giving more power to the producers of the image and symbol, and less to the viewer. While the screen attempts to encourage participation in an order to encourage the feeling of participation, it is only a limited participation, not a “real” interaction with larger power institutions.

This paper will explore the relationship between the fears concerning technological advances allowing for more intrusion into privacy and blurring what is and is not “real,” how those fears reflect societal values of privacy and autonomy, and this conflict between the fears and values are represented in the genre of science fiction literature. Specifically, I will look at the work of Baudrillard (Simulacra and Simulation), Meyrowitz (No Sense of Place), de Zengotita (Mediated) and Deleuze and Guattari to discuss the philosophy, fears and inherent values.  Popular science fiction examples will conclude the paper, showing how the genre tends to wrestle with these philosophical questions in unique and significant ways.

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Heather Douglas‘s new book, Science, Policy, and the Value-Free Ideal, adds significantly to the historical story we’ve been exploring for the past couple of weeks. As with Reisch, Howard, and Richardson, Douglas shows us that the “traditional” approach to philosophy of science in which issues of value are rejected or simply left out is of relatively recent vintage, only having solidified in the 1960’s. Douglas’s analysis also adds significantly to our understanding of the issues at hand about the relationship between science and social values.

One important distinction that Douglas makes in her introduction is between the authority of science and the autonomy of science, and she’s particularly concerned about the tension that arises between the two.

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Here’s some background information for my project on the psychology of William Moulton Marston.

Who Was William Moulton Marston?

Little remembered today in the halls of psychology departments, William Moulton Marston (b. 1893 – d. 1947) was in his time very widely known to the American public. Marston was by turns an academic psychologist and psychological theorist, a popularizer, and a relentless self-promoter. He did much of the basic research on and was a proponent of the lie detector test, and he wrote novels and comic books. He is perhaps best-known today by comic book fans, for creating the iconic character Wonder Woman, and in management and human resources circles for pioneering the DISC theory of personality types. His life and work are of interest far beyond these groups, however.

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