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Archive for November, 2009

Well, it’s been far too long since I’ve blogged. My apologies to all and sundry. Tonight I will try to sum up where we’ve been the last few weeks and how the readings for tomorrow relate to the issues from the previous week.

Lately we’ve winded our way from Heather Douglas’s new book, Science, Policy, and the Value-Free Ideal to McGarity and Wagner’s Bending Science to articles on the commercialization of science by James Robert Brown, Martin Carrier, and Matthias Adam in The Challenge of the Social and the Pressure of Practice.
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We spent the last three weeks of class discussing Heather Douglas’s new book, Science, Policy, and the Value-Free Ideal. In the course of our discussions, a number of burning questions came up. I sent some of those questions to Professor Douglas, and she kindly agreed to answer our questions.


Q: Are there not more compelling arguments for the value-free ideal in light of Rudner’s arguments? As it stands, we had a hard time seeing the philosophical motivations for the eventual acceptance of the ideal in the mid-20th C.

Heather Douglas: When I first began looking at this literature, I was really surprised at how weak the arguments for the value-free ideal were. Now, it might be that I missed something in the historical body of work from that period, and so I would love to hear about key aspects of arguments I just overlooked. There could also be arguments made for the value-free ideal that were not articulated at the time– perhaps about the need for similar standards across scientists to assist with the unity of science. Of course, Kuhn 1977 would make that sort of approach problematic. I have a hard time figuring out any purely philosophical motivations, so I would be open to the excavation of them.
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By way of both further discussion of Heather Douglas’s book and introductory remarks on Bending Science: How Special Interests Corrupt Public Health Research, I’d like to raise a few questions about McGarity’s and Wagner’s approach on the basis of some of the distinctions given to us by Douglas.

In particular, I’m concerned that McGarity and Wagner are relying on an over-simple idea of what science is about and what would count as “bending” science. That’s not to say that they haven’t brought out some truly disturbing cases, or that many of their worries aren’t valid. Nonetheless, I think there are important critical concerns to raise, here.
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