social construction of science

Warren Gallin wgallin at gpu.srv.ualberta.ca
Thu Apr 11 11:29:27 EST 1996


[Discussion between Neo and Susan deleted]

>
>I've really enjoyed this discussion and thanks to Neo and others who 
>have made efforts to persuade me.  Given the absence of anyone else 
>arguing against the constructivist view,  I guess I'm the only 
>non-constructivist out here.  Ah well, I'm used to being the only one!
>
>susan
>susan_forsburg at qm.salk.edu

A lot of this discussion seems to pivot on the semantics of what a fact is. 
I'll take a shot.

The underlying assumption that I do my science with is that there is a real
physical world, independent of whether or not there is an observer present. 
As a scientist, I view it as my job to try to describe that real physical
world in terms that are understandable to other people, and maybe at one
extreme to at least eliminate certain possible descriptions of that real
world based on rationally designed experiments.
    I take the non-constructivist view (no need to feel lonely out there
Susan) that the underlying physical reality is observer-independent, and
that a rational scientific approach to analysis and description can yield a
story that accurately reflects that reality.
    So, in keeping with Susan's example, I agree that there is sufficient
evidence that RNA polymerase exists and that it has certain properties that
these descriptions accurately reflect an aspect of the real physical world. 
Denial of that, based on an argument that the analyses that lead to that
conclusion are founded on a process developed predominantly by one small
group of people, rather than presenting an alternative analytical paradigm
and explaining why that is a better description of reality seems to me to be
non-productive and sloppy.
    On the other hand, there are certainly numerous cases of applying an
inappropriate analytical approach to a problem and getting results that are
incongruent with reality because of that faulty analysis.
    So my bottom line is that the constructuvust analysis of the process of
science can be usefully applied on a case-by-case basis, but to tatk it as
the all-encompassing truth about scientific process is by definition
inappropriate; after all, the constructivist view is essentially a world
view propagated by only a segment of teh population, and by its own criteria
can not be taken as an ultimate truth.
    Or am I once again missing something?

Warren Gallin
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Alberta
Edmonton,  Alberta     T6G 2E9
Canada
wgallin at gpu.srv.ualberta.ca



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