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Archive for the ‘Discussion’ Category

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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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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I didn’t manage a follow-up to my post on the first part of Kitcher’s book. This is actually a topic I’ve written about, so you can see my thoughts on Kitcher in the early sections of that paper. I seem to have failed to convince anybody in class that “curiosity” is not a good way of capturing the whole of epistemic significance, but it is one of my main arguments in the paper. (I’m working on getting that paper published, so any comments on it would be appreciated.)

I’d like to talk a little bit about Kitcher’s recommendation for understanding the role of science in a democracy. First, let me point out what I think is an inconsistency in Kitcher’s setup for the discussion.

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Time to finish up my thoughts on the first section of The Challenge of the Social and the Pressure of Practice. If you haven’t done so, you might want to read my earlier post first. I hope you’ll share your thoughts as well.

One thing we don’t want to do in this complex and controversial discussion of science and values is to talk past one another, to seem to agree or disagree when we are in fact talking about different subjects. One way we might make that mistake is to not specify, or not be clear about, where, exactly, science is supposed to be influenced by values. The authors in this section are, by and large, fairly clear about this, though you might miss it if you don’t look to carefully.

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