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Archive for the ‘Initial Commentary’ 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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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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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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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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[Editor’s note: The following is a guest post from Sabrina Starnaman, Ph.D. candidate in Literature at UC-San Diego and currently a visiting scholar at UT-Dallas. I asked Sabrina to write this post because she comes out of that part of the humanities that Sokal was most attacking: literature and cultural studies. Sabrina kindly agreed, and below she raises some important issues to think about.]

Rereading the texts that comprise the Sokal affair and its aftermath, I am struck by how fresh it still feels, even more than twenty years later. In fact, in a current disciplinary theater of conflict within Cultural Studies the Sokal hoax has been alluded to many times (see Michael Berube’s September 14, 2009 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled What’s the Matter with Cultural Studies which started the most recent debate). While I am not a Science Studies or Cultural Studies of Science scholar, I do come from a Cultural Studies background and that is how I interpret the significance of the event. It is a milestone in the history of Science Studies and the Cultural Studies of Science. It is still referenced as a supreme example of academic betrayal. Perhaps one of the harshest blows is that it created just the sort of evidence that a disparate set of critics could use to set upon a field of work, bloodying it afresh with little regard for the complexities of historical, institutional, and political context.
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This week, we’re discussing the first four chapters of George Reisch’s book, How the Cold War Transformed Philosophy of Science, Don Howard’s “Two Left Turns Make a Right” (from Logical Empiricism in North America, which also has several other great essays), and Alan Richardson’s “Engineering Philosophy of Science: American Pragmatism and Logical Empiricism in the 1930s”

In the Introduction to Science, Truth, and Democracy, Philip Kitcher begins,

From time to time, when I explain to a new acquaintance that I’m a philosopher of science, my interlocutor will nod agreeably and remark that that surely means I’m interested in the ethical status of various kinds of scientific research, the impact that science has had on our values, or the role that the sciences play in contemporary democracies. Although this common response hardly corresponds to what professional philosophers of science have done for the past decades, or even centuries, it is perfectly comprehensible. (xi, emphasis added)

And later, he describes his book “as an attempt to venture into areas that philosophers of science have neglected“(xiii, likewise).

One of the goals of this week’s readings is to call into question the historical claim that the sort of topics discussed by Kitcher (and likewise, by Longino, Kourany, etc.) have been generally neglected by philosophers of science.

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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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