A Prehistory to STS D. Gruber STS 214
What is Science? • Standard definition: • “Science” is…? • The “scientific” is…
Some phrases to consider “Science is a formal activity that creates and accumulates knowledge by directly confronting the natural world.” -Sergio Sismondo (on “typical” views of science)
View of science #1: logical positivism • “Logical positivists maintain that the meaning of a scientific theory (and anything else) is exhausted by empirical and logical considerations of what would verify it.” • Put differently: only testable and quantifiable claims are scientific ones; only scientific statements should be adopted. • The main concern is verification of knowing For quote, see your Sismondo text, p. 2
LP: principle of verification • “a statement is meaningful if and only if it is either purely formal (‘abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number’… [2+2=4]), or capable of empirical verification (‘experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence’ [Amazonian lizards have green tails.])” • All unempirical and non-numerical statements must be thrown away! For quote, see http://cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/notabene/logical-positivism.html
LP: principle of verification Try these statements. See if they fit the principle. Throw out or keep? 1) "Rover is a large dog.” 2) “Some apples are red.” 3) “All men deserve to be free.” 4) “The State is the image of the divine on Earth.” 5) “Gravity suggests there is five times more material in galaxies than we can see; scientists conclude most matter in the universe is invisible and call it ‘dark matter.’” 6) “Making pancakes is fun!” See http://cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/notabene/logical-positivism.html
What are some problems with Logical Positivism? • Language: If meaning is in observations, then what of all the synonyms for observations that would suggest very different meanings and theories for those observations? (Are observations on the surface?) **Observation: Mirror neurons activate when a person sees an action and when a person does that same action. A) Meaning-Theory: Mirror neurons “mirror” or simulate the observed environment. Does simulate mean neurons act like a dumb mirror, or does it mean it builds a model (and if so, what does “build” mean? And what kind of “model”? From what of what observed elements)? B) Meaning-Theory: Mirror neurons form the basis for identification with others. What does “identification” mean”? Does it mean recognition of a person’s intents and goals? Or does it have an emotional valence? If emotional, what exactly are the emotions? When Plato categorized emotions, he included calmness. What would identifying with calmness mean? See your Sismondo text, p. 2-4
What are some problems with Logical Positivism? 3) Detection: “Non-verified” claims may be “real” (have material effects), and some phenomena are unverifiable (that is, they occur so rarely, or they are above/below the level of our capacity for sensual or technological detection, etc.). We’d have to write-off priests, metaphysicians, maybe even phenomenologists and experimental physicists. 2) Experience: Many meaningful claims cannot be understood as such with data.” For ex: consider the statement, “large men are handsome.” Or, “depression is a terrible thing.” One could say X people group believe Y, but this doesn’t get at the embodied ‘meaningfulness’ of the person’s statement. See http://cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/notabene/logical-positivism.html
What are some problems with Logical Positivism? 4) Veracity of Verification: Verification itself is a process dependent upon agreement and negotiation; to say something has been “verified” does not guarantee its truthiness in terms of recurrence or correlation with the description of the physical as understood by those who verified it. For ex: imagine a video game. A player hits a block. The user verifies that hitting the block gives the player money. How could this description prove misleading?
What are some problems with Logical Positivism? • 4 continued) thus, the problem with only accepting verifiable statements is that no statements are verifiable. Consider Hume’s thoughts and the swan story.
What are some problems with Logical Positivism? 5) Self-refutation: The claim that the only meaningful claims are ones that are quantifiable or able to be tested cannot itself be tested, nor is it a quantifiable claim. Indeed, the claim itself makes “meaningful” a social and cultural product in a way that is quite “unscientific” by its own standards. The claim doesn’t meet its own criteria.
What now? • Is there a way to be “scientific” without being so pedantic? • What can we do/change?
View #2: Falsificationism • Karl Popper (1960s) saw these problems and loosed the restrictions a bit. He said “scientific theories are imaginative creations, and there is no [one] method of creating them. They are free-floating; their meaning is not tied to observations as for the positivists.” See Sismondo book, Ch. 1
View #2: Falsificationism • Here’s what makes a statement scientific: it makes “good” or “reasonable” predictions (not totally outrageous ones), and it can be falsified. Science, thus, encompasses conjectures and refutations. Theories are allowed, and they can be abstract; they simply have to have the potential for being falsified. Abstract statements that cannot be falsified and outrageous theories may not be science, although you can believe them if you want. See Sismondo book, Ch. 1
View #2: Falsificationism • Which charges against logical positivism does Popper avoid here? • He avoids the self-refutation • He shifts the focus away from verification and toward the ability to be falsified one day. This means, if it has not been verified, it can still be “scientific,” and it may be easier to (try to) falsify some claims than definitively verify them. • But to say something is falsified is still a process of consensus dependent upon language use and a shared cultural lens. See Sismondo book, Ch. 1
A revised definition to consider • “Science is a [collection of] formalactivity [social and symbolic activities] that creates [construct] and accumulates knowledge by directlyconfronting [manipulating] the natural [material] world.”
What about STS? • STS started in the 1970s. It recognized science as a social process with a set of practices and wanted to question how science was taken as authoritative to make claims about the world (how were those claims formed? Why accept them?) and question S’s pull on social policy. Its main concerns were: • Scientific observation is not “on the surface.” • Science is a social institution held together by practices, tools, publication, and agreement; so who gets to decide what is scientific? • Science doesn’t always lead to “progress” • Science is funded and goes forward with interests such that agreement solidifies around interested parties. • How can the innovations of science be democratically controlled? • How can science work in tandem with technological development in a way that is as ethical as possible? See Sismondo book, Ch. 1
The Key Propositions of STS: • Neither science nor technology is “a natural kind.” • The sources of knowledge are complex and proceed through all kinds of artifacts and practices (there is no single method or approach). • Interpretations of knowledge and artifacts are multiple and complex, entwined with other facts, theories, claims, audiences, symbols, ways of speaking and thinking about the world. • Science and the development of technology are active, under continual change and negotiation. • The material world is used in a research process to produce knowledge (scientific knowledge is made). See Sismondo book, Ch. 1
On STS – origins / concerns • Trevor Pinch discusses STS at Cornell – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9o2B47CArw
Sources • Sismondo, S. (2010). An Intro to Science and Technology Studies. Wiley-Blackwell Press. • http://cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/notabene/logical-positivism.html