Social justice in science class

Can science be a catalyst to bringing about social justice and tolerance? Can deductive and inductive reasoning help to mitigate racism, sexism, and bigotry?

Our school recently had a painful episode, when a group of mostly white students at our predominantly white institution made disparaging comments about a historically black university. The comments were public and meant to humiliate. While school authorities took steps to denounce the remarks, I overheard other students defending some of the comments and those who made them. It seems they had fact-checked one of the statements and, finding it factual, decided that the comments could not show bias. 

As a science educator, I noticed that these students had used scientific thinking to analyze the situation. Why were my conclusions so different?

The answer is that scientific analysis can be thought of as a two-way street. One way it can progress is through the inductive method. In this method, a scientist gathers facts to create a consistent picture of the world. But science can also be deductive. Deductive methods start with an idea of how the world is and then seek to confirm that idea by gathering evidence to support it. 
(Feb 5, 2020 06:27 AM)Leigha Wrote: Can science be a catalyst to bringing about social justice and tolerance? Can deductive and inductive reasoning help to mitigate racism, sexism, and bigotry? 

Philosophical activity and intellectual propaganda have always had a role.

But as Weinberg comments below, science doesn't generate "oughts" or moral and cultural prescriptions, and that arguably applies to buttressing existing "good intentions" social agendas subjectively going one way or another, due to the contamination of procedure (the latter's objectivity or neutrality). Science can be abused to assist or implement such, however, which is what happened both in the past with regard to recruiting "science" to support items like eugenics and is occurring today with the close affinity that humanities ideologies, social movements, and political agendas have with the human sciences. Investigators in the latter disciplinary realm can have cognitive filters and conform to ideological orientations whose expectations may influence how they set up (as well as choose) a study or how the resulting data is interpreted.

The replication crisis and the rest of the mess stem from career self-interests of scientists, which ranges from publishing anything purely to survive to conforming to popular policies and trends (virtue posturing) to accommodating private sector priorities (business. industry, etc).

Biological organisms in general do all sorts of horrid things to each other as part of their innate social patterns and instincts, and bands of humans without formal systems regulating their behavior have done the same in the past (not to mention ample barbarities committed by "civilized" populations). That's another reason for science staying out of using "nature" to justify _X_ deeds, customs, conduct patterns -- because evolution exploits anything as long as the species continues to reproduce sufficiently. It's also why the human sciences will always be corrupted to some degree by the artificial tastes of the surrounding culture, to prevent it from giving blessing to the monstrous. But that contamination still must be managed and mitigated as much as possible because those "artificial preferences/fictions" can become either blatantly dark or dystopian in extremity regardless of whose "good intentions" they start out as (eugenics had "good intentions" from the perspective of those advocating it).

Steven Weinberg: I must admit science isn't everything. It certainly isn't. There are things that are outside the scope of science and which are still terribly important to human beings. There is metaphysics of a sort that goes beyond the kind of learning processes I mentioned. But there is also aesthetics and morality. It seems to me that there's an unbridgeable gulf between statements with the word "is" and statements with the word "ought." There is no way a scientist [science] can ever tell you how you ought to behave. It may tell you, if you have some fundamental moral principles, how you can satisfy them, how you can bring about what you take as a desired goal. But it can never tell you what your goals ought to be.

There is a moral order. It is wrong to torture children. And the reason it is wrong to torture children is because I say so. And I don't mean much more than that. I mean that not only I say so, John [Polkinghorne] says so, probably most of us say so but it is not a moral order out there. It is something we impose and bully for us. And in this respect I think religion is no better. . . . I think that even those who believe in a god still have the responsibility to answer the question, "What is right?" And they have to answer it for themselves and, if they accept the morality provided by god, that is their choice, so that they, like the atheist scientist, have to make a free choice of moral behavior which is not dictated by a theory of the universe religious or scientific.

..... If, in fact, there is out there built into the structure of the universe an objective meaning, an objective moral order, that would be really quite wonderful. And perhaps part of my passion about this arises from regret that it isn't true. But, if it isn't true, then surely it's better that we not kid ourselves into thinking that it is. It's better that we salvage what we can from at least the satisfaction of creating some meaning around us.
[Social inventions like that are outside the sphere of science.]
--Was the universe designed? Steven Weinberg and John Polkinghorne: An Exchange

An example below of how the cognitive filters of some individuals can construe scientific data as supporting nihilism. Again, the point is that science shouldn't be outputting moral and cultural prescriptions or world orientations resting in territory like that. The positive spin which Weinberg introduces at the end does not fall out of science anymore than the negative "meaningless" interpretation of data necessarily did.

QUESTION: You have written that the more comprehensible the universe becomes the more pointless it seems. Could you explain what you mean by that?

MR. WEINBERG: Years ago I wrote a book about cosmology, and near the end I tried to summarize the view of the expanding universe and the laws of nature. And I made the remark - I guess I was foolish enough to make the remark - that the more the universe seems comprehensible the more it seems pointless. And that remark has been quoted more than anything else I've ever said. It's even in Bartlett's Quotations. I think it's been the truth in the past that it was widely hoped that by studying nature we will find the sign of a grand plan, in which human beings play a particularly distinguished starring role. And that has not happened. I think that more and more the picture of nature, the outside world, has been one of an impersonal world governed by mathematical laws that are not particularly concerned with human beings, in which human beings appear as a chance phenomenon, not the goal toward which the universe is directed. And for some this has no effect on their religion. Their religion never looked for any kind of point in nature. For others this is appalling, the idea that all of the stars and galaxies and atoms are going about their business, and it's just by accident that here on this solar system the peculiar chemical properties of DNA acting over billions of years have produced these people who have been able to talk and look around and enjoy life. For some people that picture is antithetical to the view of nature and the world that their religion had given them.

QUESTION: Do you believe then there is no overall point to the universe?

MR. WEINBERG: I believe that there is no point in the universe that can be discovered by the methods of science. I believe that what we have found so far, an impersonal universe in which it is not particularly directed toward human beings is what we are going to continue to find. And that when we find the ultimate laws of nature they will have a chilling, cold impersonal quality about them.

I don't think this means [however] there's no point to life. Usually the remark is quoted just as it stands. But if anyone read the next paragraph, they would see that I went on to say that if there is no point in the universe that we discover by the methods of science, there is a point that we can give the universe by the way we live, by loving each other, by discovering things about nature, by creating works of art. And that -- in a way, although we are not the stars in a cosmic drama, if the only drama we're starring in is one that we are making up as we go along, it is not entirely ignoble that faced with this unloving, impersonal universe we make a little island of warmth and love and science and art for ourselves. That's not an entirely despicable role for us to play.
Here we go again, I can't quote you. It's really hit or miss.

I tried copying and pasting, and it doubled the entire post of yours, CC. Ugh, not sure why this is happening.  Dodgy


Regarding the universe being ''impersonal.'' I agree with Weinberg, that science can only answer so much, and it can't answer whether or not the universe has meaning, or purpose. It only can tell us the mechanics of the universe, which I'm not sure offers anyone ''hope.'' Hope and compassion are needed to survive as much as the air we breathe, and the water we drink. My faith creates an entirely ''purpose-filled'' life for me, although many feel the universe's ultimate purpose, whether one is a believer or not, is survival and reproduction. Where does peace, courage, joy and happiness come into play? Didn't evolution create in us a need/want to live a purpose-driven life (but, those purposes can be personal, and everyone's mileage will vary)

Possibly Related Threads…
Thread Author Replies Views Last Post
  Have scientists found birthplace of modern humans? + New science of social genomics C C 1 88 Nov 1, 2019 06:52 PM
Last Post: C C
  Science chairman’s impact on NSF peer review: Trashes social sciences C C 3 450 Mar 23, 2018 07:52 PM
Last Post: Syne

Users browsing this thread: 1 Guest(s)