social construction of science

Neo Martinez szmrtnz at peseta.ucdavis.edu
Mon Apr 15 12:58:26 EST 1996


On 12 Apr 1996, Patricia S. Bowne wrote:

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

no problema about the name Pat, folks usually try and call me Leo or Neil..
> 
> >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.  
> 

The reason scientists have for ascribing importance to concordance is that
*such concordance is a fundamental rule of the game of science*.... just
as common law is to lawyers, just as accounting is to businesses.  Of
course we/they can and do break the rules by faking data, bribing juries
or not reporting income but the rules (both formal and informal) define
and help guide the social activity.  Why should the larger society value
scientists and their rules?  The proof is in the pudding.  It appears that
many of the technological and medical advances that people value resulted
from science.  Cosmology (e.g., big bang *theory*) provides a satisfying
and remarkably consistent world view.  Environmental Biology provides
information about how to live on the planet without destroying valued living
things (including ourselves!).  I don't know if any of this is Real and I
don't even know what Reality is other than a widely embraced and
indefensible metaphysical assertion that has led to many intolerant views. 
Let's get rid of it and instead focus on rules such as reproducible
observation and concordance. 

	Beliefs by scientists in Reality, god, or White-male supremacy
are key to the social construction of science.  However, I would rather
base my science on reproducibility and concordance than on adherence or
avoidance of such beliefs.  They aren't essential. 

> 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?

Good challenge!  My constructivist response is...

First, note who is saying this and why (this is also key in the
craniologist case).  In this case Pat is saying in for the purposes for 
argument... no problema.

Second, decide on rules of observation... whether by university financial
reports, tax returns, or interviews, a key criteria is *reproducibility*. 
If observers aren't coming up with similar observations, then this needs
to be addressed preferably before going further. (are some folks using
$/hour while others are using leisure time/year?)

Third, evaluate concordance.  State whether the observations are 
consistent with the hypothesis.

Fourth, since virtually all such observations contradict the claim, we 
would probably justify a conclusion opposite to the one postulated.

No appeals to reality have been made and the process of science has been 
engauged in.  Realists, relativists, constructivists, feminists, and 
supremacists (*not mutually exclusive categories*) can participate in 
this process.  Any problem here?

	-neo




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