social construction of science

Patricia S. Bowne pbowne at omnifest.uwm.edu
Fri Apr 12 20:30:06 EST 1996


Neo Martinez (sorry about getting your name wrong before) writes,

>Asking scientists to seriously question reality is eerily 
>similar to asking religious conservatives to seriously question god.  
>The common response is that folks "just can't accept it."

Asking scientists to question a particular theory about reality
gets the same kind of (usually bad) results as asking any other group to
question a particular theory, with the exception that scientists, because
they accept the idea that there is a single reality which all our 
observations of phenomena reflect, must pay attention to your evidence.
Therefore you have more ways to convince them they're wrong.

If you set aside *the belief that reality exists*, though, there is no
reason for scientists, or anybody else, to think that concordance with
observed phenomena is important in judging their theories. 

Then you are indeed free to *try* to judge an ideology
on "whether it contributes to material wealth ... and hopefully on
whether it contributes to peoples sense of well-being and intellectual
fulfillment."

But how are you going to document or demonstrate any of these
things? What evidence will you use to show that one ideology
contributes to material wealth more than another, if there is no real
material wealth for you to measure? And why should I pay
any attention to your observations of these phenomena, if I no
longer believe that there is a single reality on which both our observations,
and my ideology, should converge?

Neo gives the example:

>The racist craniologists were probably 
>justifying their research based on truth and reality.  The assault on 
>human rights that such research led to is plenty of reason for me to pull 
>the plug on it. 

Sure, the racist craniologists did biased research. We know that,
because Stephen J. Gould has shown that their results didn't fit the
data - and as scientists, we think results and theories
should fit data. But if we all were to accept the brand of constructivism
you're espousing, we wouldn't care that their results didn't fit the
data, because we wouldn't think there was any reality out there for
the data to reflect. Our arguments over their research would degenerate
into "I like the implications", and "Well, I don't!"

Here's my challenge, anyway: For purposes of argument, I state 
that women make $2.00 for every $1.00 men make, and therefore 
we should not do anything to improve women's wages. 

How shall we debate this from a constructivist perspective, without appealing
to the existence of some independent reality which must 
hold for both of us, and which can be observed?

Pat Bowne



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