Article  The myth of value-free science + Science & ideology (philososphy of science)

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The myth of value-free science

EXCERPTS: We demand a lot from scientists. They are required to be objective, rigorous, and accurate, and to conduct their work free from the constraints of religion or politics...

[...] The risks of prejudiced exploitation of scientific knowledge are increased by a pernicious myth about science that scientists would do well to acknowledge. It is the myth that science is objective and value-free. Conceptualising science as a bias-free form of knowledge gives scientific research a powerful kind of authority. And this characterization is indispensable to those that wish to exploit or weaponize it.

Let’s consider the history of eugenics...

[...] The point here is that interpretation of science is everything. And the interpretation, from start to finish, unfolds in a subjective landscape. ... science is “saturated” in values. Every stage of the scientific process, from study choices to who receives funding, involves value judgements about what project is more meaningful than another. And so, while the scientific method, in its demand for the replication of results, offers a source of reassurance that we are discovering facts about the world, the process of generating scientific knowledge is much less balanced.

Then there is the problem of the “underdetermination” of scientific theory by evidence...

[...] Yet the myth of value-free science is seductive because it offers the promise of authority wrapped up in the idea that science might be free from the biases of the human mind. But no human endeavour is neutral and objective in this way...

[...] Of course, the field of science is not alone in its impulse to seek this kind of authority. Think of the idea of justice... no conceptions of justice have ever ascended cleanly from the highly conditional human world. When it comes to human affairs, neutrality is an impossible dream.

But before we wag our fingers at scientists, we, too, must accept some responsibility. Throughout their work, the scientist is expected to remain in a state of objectivity, yet our subsequent interpretation of science is woefully value-laden, and inherently skewed by biases about our own knowledge...

[...] What we should ... recognize the presence of uncertainty, and to subject the process to scrutiny. Many good scientists do this already – they are alert to what they don’t know and the risks of misinterpreting their results. But it should be imperative that these gaps are communicated transparently... (MORE - missing details)

Science and Ideology

INTRO: This article illustrates some of the relationships between science and ideologies. It discusses how science has been enlisted to support particular ideologies and how ideologies have influenced the processes and interpretations of scientific inquiry.

An example from the biological sciences illustrates this. In the early 20th century, evolutionary theory was used to support socialism and laissez-faire capitalism. Those two competing ideologies were justified by appeal to biological claims about the nature of evolution.

Those justifications may seem puzzling. If science claims to generate only a limited set of facts about the world—say, the mechanisms of biological diversification—it is unclear how they could inform anything so far removed as economic theory. Part of the answer is that the process of interpreting and applying scientific theories can generate divergent results. Despite science’s capacities to render some exceedingly clear and well-verified central cases, its broader uses can become intertwined with separate knowledge claims, values, and ideologies. Thus, the apparently clear deliverances of natural sciences have been leveraged to endorse competing views.

Rightly or wrongly, this leveraging has long been part of the aims and practice of scientists... (MORE - details)

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