social construction of science

Karen Allendoerfer ravena at cco.caltech.edu
Tue Apr 9 01:00:19 EST 1996


In article <v01510104ad8e8395622a@[128.173.187.13]>, mstorrie at vt.edu
(muriel lederman) wrote:

> I guess my bottom line is that phenomena are phenomena - a phenomenon
> becomes a "fact" only by being run through "people". 

This seems to be more of a matter of semantics than anything else.  What
is a "phenomenon" by your definition, vs. a "fact"? I can imagine
definitions of "fact" that would cause me to say "yes, I agree that these
'facts' gain their legitimacy by being 'run through people,'" and other
definitions that would cause me to say that I disagreed.

This means that
> science is socially constructed - scientists decide what counts as a
> "fact", what means are used to investigate phenomena, etc. - the pursuit of
> science probably doesn't vary much from person to person BUT this because
> an individual is constrained by what the majority of practitions deems
> acceptable. This is how science gets to seem objective - it is but one
> viepoint. The feminist critique says that viewpoint is androcentric.
> 
> The whole point of the feminist critique of science is that there may be
> alternative ways of describing the same phenomena and the standpoints,
> whether based in class, race or gender, should be tried - they might come
> up with something interesting.

Now, I agree with this, and sometimes they DO come up with interesting
things.  On the other hand, I have trouble when a proponent of the
"different viewpoints" philosophy says that all viewpoints must be
"equally valid."  I would say that there probably are some ways of
describing the same phenomenon that are more valid or "accurate" than
others, that is, that more completely and/or usefully describe the
phenomenon.  

   But where it seems clear that an androcentric viewpoint has made a huge
difference is in what subjects are studied first, what hypotheses are
tested first, and what explanations are offered when data are scarce.  All
that hypothesizing about how the sperm contains a homunculus and the woman
contributes "nothing" to the baby but is just a vessel--would woman
scientists have come up with that explanation, even in the absence of good
data about oocytes?  Would a woman scientist have hypothesized that the
reports of sexual abuse by Viennese female psychiatric patients were due
to "hysteria" and "penis envy?"  In the end, science is self-correcting by
the gathering of more data and the scrutiny of hypotheses, which
ultimately negate the worst excesses of the androcentric viewpoint, but
the androcentric viewpoint seems to do a lot of damage to women along the
way.

Karen



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