What is the definition or essence of science?

This question lays the groundwork for ideas about what we can know, and what is worth knowing.  It could be "folded" into the other questions, but I thought it might, for now, stand separately

Albert Borgmann addresses this question when he defines what makes for  a useful theory of science:  "A deductive nomological explanation makes explicit how an event fits into the lawfulness of reality.  It outlines the place of an event in the nomological network." (22)  Science, then, is a system of laws.  "The progress of science is marked by improvements in the scope, precision and consistency of the laws." (25) Borgmann adds that scientific explanation often assumes and limits what questions are of concern.  Modern theories of science explain but do not articulate the significance of objects.  He desires a deictic, or spiritually meaningful, explanation of the world.

T.S. Kuhn would agree that science appears to be a set of laws, although he would place those laws within a paradigm.  He would agree that scientific progress is reflected by the improvement in the predictive power of a theory, and also by the elegance and simplicity of the solutions it posits to current problems.

Barnes, Bloor and Henry emphasize that all scientific observations are theory laden reports.  (3) In other words, to be called science an observation must be linked to a set of ideas about the world.  They argue that beliefs determine, in some degree, perceptions:  in other words, the world does not look the same to people who have different ideas and theories about the world.

Karen Barad defines scientific practices as "intra-actions of multiple material discursive apparatuses, including but not limited to the instrumentation employed."  Science, in Barad's view, is not merely us looking; things also determine what we see. For Pickering , the same interaction holds:  there is a not-quite symmetric relationship between the world and what we learn by running our ideas "through the mangle" of resistance and accommodation.

What is science for?

This question derives from hearing the reply to a rather odd entrance interview question:  "What is the purpose of modern science?" The answer came back:  "To prevent guessing."  If science is a privileged discourse, then what is its proper role in society?  The answers to this question give a  melancholoy tone to many reflective STS writers.

Almost all of the writers active in STS would agree with Borgmann that the ideal role for science is somehow to provide for the good life.  But Latour, Law, Shapin and Fuller would all argue that scientists in practice are keen on power, and getting it.   Shapin outlines the struggle between Boyle and Hobbes for social and intellectual status, and Fuller gives the Planck-Mach debates.  

Latour references the struggles that labs have with each other for primacy.  For an ethnographer/sociologist like Knorr-Cetina, scientific groups advance knowledge peacefully, but only in the context of struggles for funds and social rewards.  

Mackenzie limns science as a tool used by struggling branches of the armed forces.  Debates about the value of accuracy were batted back and forth by different branches in order gain funds and  justify some vision of a just and efficient war.

How do we know anything? What is the relationship between language and reality?

Kuhn and others obviously find theories of language learning illumnating to studies of how scientific knowledge is developed and stabilized.  I think that the history of cross-over between language theory and theories of science would be pretty interesting to trace.

Michael Lynch and John Law's article about bird watching argues that language frames and establishes reality, for beginning bird watchers at least.  Being shown a "wren" for instance, and given the name "wren,"  makes "wren" a possible knowledge category.

Bruno Latour and Madeline Akritch have developed a semiotic path-building theory that suggests all knowledge is situated in language.  They have studied "how one privileged trajectory is built, out of an indefinite number of possibilities."  Semiotics, like science itself, is order building or path building. In his article "Was the Last Turn the Right Turn?:  The Semiotic Turn and A. J. Greimas" Timothy Lenoir surveys the recent writings of Latour, Akrich, Haraway and N. Katherine Hughes, tracing their theories of semiotics to the source, structuralist semiotician A. J. Greimas.  Lenoir suggests that since Greimas based his work on the idea of nuclear memes and developed a "rigid" semiotic square of meaning, he is a potentially embarrassing ally for post-structuralists.  Lenoir does think that semiotics could be promising if it focuses not on structures but on how individual signs become calcified by the contingencies of history (299)  He prefers the thick analysis of particular objects such as Haraway's discussion of the Gulf Oil advertisement "Understanding is Everything." 

Kuhn also believes that language governs the ways that we think. A metaphor contains the taxonomy and salient features of a phenomenon, expressing by comparison and contrast what a thing can and cannot do. A new theory of meaning will include "tropes" and "taxonomy," or a knowledge of shared categories and shared relationships between them. A sign that many in the community have changed paradigms could be the holistic language change that accompanies a paradigm shift.  Metaphors, Kuhn argues, are "essentially a higher-level version of the process by which ostension enters into the establishment of reference for natural-kind terms....Metaphors play an essential role in establishing links between scientific language and the world." (201-203)  Metaphors allow a way to compare theories that are, by terms, incommensurable.  And they suggest that there is no sufficient reason within nature itself to choose one metaphor, or one theory choice, over the other. Kuhn disagrees with Boyd, who suggests that metaphors "cut into the natural joints" in nature. As close to reality as Kuhn will sail sounds like this: "Conceived as a set of instruments for solving technical puzzles in selected areas, science clearly gain in precision and scope with the passage of time." (206) The world is a real as we agree to think it is -- but there are not natural joints. 

How are facts established? What is the effect and importance of instruments of measument?

A series of case studies illustrate this concern.    Pinch's "Golem" series (which I read last semeseter) is very good, and the books and articles below  also seemed solid.  I think there isn't much argument that new instrumentation leads to new knowledge.  One might explore the circumstances that tend to encourage the devleopment of new instruments to see if there are patterns.

"The Culture of the Instrument," by Lusin Bagla-Gokalp, takes a closer look at two forms of a particular instrument:  the laser Doppler anemometer and the hot wire anemometer.  Scientists used to the older, hand-held instrument, which lent itself to small scale experiments, were unenthusiastic about a new, grant-requiring, difficult-to-operate, opto-electronics-inspired machine.  The instrument changed the nature of the social relations in the lab as well as the kinds of experiments that could be done.

Knorr-Cetina would also see an important distinction between those instruments which require the support of several governments, such the HEP laboratories, and those that permit small-scale bench top experimentation, such as the microbiology labs.  Pickering makes the same point with reference to the bubble chambers of Donald Glaser and Luis Alvarez. 

Inventing Accuracy also asks how facts are created as facts.  Mackenzie notes the political uses of uncertainty about untested missiles. Uncertainty was "boxed" or closed off according to the shifting definitions surrounding centrally contested facts.  Mackenzie argues that there is no pre-existing social need for anything, so -- the job can be dropped, and facts can be re-engineered into new artifacts. 

How are facts changed? 
Is there a predictable model for progress, stability, closure, systems?  What should the framework for discussing this subject include?

There were at least four models presented in this semseter's readings.

Bijker's includes the interpretive flexibility of objects as they are passed through relevant social groups, and the stabilization and closure of a technology across time into exemplars (such as cars) holding together systems of technology. 

Lars Fuglsang, "Three Perspectives in STS in the Policy Context"  says that 
there are three views in held by practitioners in STS studies:  those who believe technology dominates and drives society; those who believe that society shapes science and technology; and those who believe society and technology interact continuously.  Fuglsang sees links between the three views in the following ways:  there is a phase of flexibility when a new technology is being developed, and a phase of momentum when the technology is becoming ubiquitous and (possibly) petrified into place.  Technology has a creative and destructive force in a national economy, and its potentialities for a group or an age cannot possibly be predicted. 

Melding the open-ended frameworks of Bloor and Bijker, Russell Mills uses mountain bike design to develop his thesis in "Toward a Grammar of Artifacts." Mills argues that technological features are not fixed, but rather can carry a variety of meanings, and that these meanings will be, and are, altered by new contexts.

Kuhn divides scientific development into normal and revolutionary.  There are three characteristics which are shared by all revolutionary changes: the first characteristic is the gestalt switch, the blinding flash, in the mind of the researcher.  "Revolutionary changes are holistic." (28) The second characteristic is the ability to re-conceive constituent elements of a problem,  first by adding a new word for a newly discovered property, and second, by changing the way that all other established vocabulary relates both to the new word, and also to nature itself.  The third characteristic is a change in governing metaphors. A metaphor contains the taxonomy and salient features of a phenomenon, expressing by comparison and contrast what a thing can and cannot do. 

Has technology
gotten  beyond human control? How is technology imposed upon the voiceless, ignorant and apathetic?

Almost none of the authors would agree that technology operates without human control, but all would agree that the forces arrayed around technology are very powerful indeed.  Among those most worried:  Mackenzie, Fuller, Borgmann,  Volti and Winner. 

Mackenzie's concerns were glossed above:  essentially, he would like to live in a world free from the threat of nuclear destruction.  Fuller also references the MAD theory of defense in his first chapter. One guesses that here are two fans of "How I Stopped Worrying And Learned to Love the Bomb"

Winner says that technology is figured as a beyond control because, in many cases, the constituent interest groups in control of certain technologies  do not and cannot  predict the results of their  decisions.  Reverse adaptation is his term for the acceptance of technological, rather than human, ends.  In a smiliar vein, but focused on the individual, Borgmann argues that technological devices suggest and encourage "empty" consumption without the body and mind wholness provided through focal objects.

Rudi Volti  focuses on jobs and  social life.  He suggests that STS are particularly informative in the area of work.  Developing technology removes and creates jobs, changing not only the quantity of available jobs, but also the quality of available jobs.  Although the goods available to all consumers has risen dramatically, the rich have also gotten incrementally richer through the technology shifts of the last 20 years.  Knowing and understanding technology and science as one of the springs of power and authority allows us to make better, more informed decisions about how to meet human needs. 

What is the relationship between science and technology?

Does one have primacy over the other?  Vannevar Bush's Science the Endless Frontier argues that science comes first, but most current scholars see a complex interaction between practice and theory.  Sometimes scientists are left to explain a working but not-quite-understood technology.  This question also has political  dimensions and addresses concerns raised  in the previous semester's work.  I quote, therefore, a few authors outside of this group. 

In his book Science, Technology and Society: New Directions Andrew Webster raises the question of innovation, how it is encouraged, measured, and evaluated. He forefronts the growth of science parks and the public policies that (like science parks) hope to solve social problems by creating technological growth. He notes that in the scientific realm, skills
developed by particular scientists for particular processes make repetition of experiments and technology transfer difficult. Even if replication and transfer were easy, those industry and government programs promoting innovation and technology transfer do not necessarily equal prosperity and peace. 

Also writing from a political perspective is David Sarewitz.  He says there are indeed fetters to the research of scientists. More money is likely to go to the projects perceived to have the most value in defense of the nation, and research done for businesses, which must have practical and salable results. Sarewitz says, "there is, in essence, a basic research market, driven not only by the curiosity of talented scientists and the work of their predecessors but also by funding levels, job opportunities, public expectations, economic interests, and politics." (41)

What is the best way [most accurate way] to accommodate [account for] the whatever lies "out there" beyond our minds?

This question has special interest for me. I take it that all facts, information and self-knowledge start from faith.

Kuhn  argues that it is no longer possible or necessary to ask whether scientific truth corresponds to an external mind-independent world.  "Rather, what's to be evaluated is the desirability of a particular change-of-belief, a change which would alter the existing body of knowledge claims so as to incorporate, with minimum disruption, the new claim as well....Justification does not aim at a goal external to the historical situation but simply, in that situation, at improving the tools available for the job at hand" (96)   Knowledge evolution happens as new groups form, and these groups are governed by familiar human motives. Respect for power and authority are among those motives, but so, too, are the desires to be rational, to find solutions that are more accurate, broader, simpler, etc. (118)   Scientists produce and evaluate change of belief, and they use criteria that correspond to rationality in their own belief-system, but not to an external real world.

On this question Fuller is in opposition to Kuhn. Fuller refers to C. I. Lewis, a Kuhnian ancestor, who argued the difference between an analytic explication of a concept and a truth of objective fact. In this vein, Fuller wants to find a pragmatist viewpoint, a standing back from science for a longer look, and a comparison between theories. Kuhn believes that since we all live in the same world, the common beliefs we share are not evidences of reality external to our minds, but of our common liabilities and delusions.  At the same time, these common beliefs are also incontestable ideologies.  The impregnability of theory in an armor of irrationality-- is what exercises Fuller's greatest indignation. In Fuller's understanding, "irrationalism" stands for the inertia and complacency of a paradigm. Rationality is the turn of mind that resists habit, that uses criticism and challenge.  He adds"I believe that objectivity should be a continuously emergent property of the interaction of proponents and opponents of knowledge claims.  Biases, such as they are, would then be negotiated, canceled out, or otherwise overcome in open discourse, not prior restraint.  The model social entity of this collective dialectical process is movement, which gains strength not by resolving its internal differences but by involving ever larger segments of society in the articulation of those differences.

How are scientists privileged in policy and political decisions? Albert Teich, in "STS from a Policy Perspective," says that government engagement in STS questions is unavoidable, and should be pursued thoughtfully. Among the issues in tension are funding for basic research -- which may not yield immediate or clear results --  and public accountability for yearly goals; the choice between fields -- e.g. biology, physics,  micro-electronics -- to receive government funds; and how "sound scientific practices" is to be understood in law.  Academics in the STS field should address these issues so as to become part of the policy debates. 

Bijker has been a consistent advocate for barrier crossing:  he believes that two  good STS (and SSK) goals would be (1) to encourage more public scientific and technical literacy and (2) to foster interaction between the academic "experts" and the lay people whose lives are entwined by technology. 

In "Making Disciplines Disappear in STS," Susan Cozzens creates a map of STS which has essentially three countries:  the problems of STS, the responses of academics, industrialists, workers, families emeshed in problems engendered by  STS concerns, and the core Thought of STS.  As her title indicates, Cozzens wishes for disciplines to disappear, because in the main, her experience leads her to believe that academics have "coded" themselves out of public debate, and that they are unwilling to admit others into the network of legitimate STS practitioners, however unreal and unlikely such as stance may be.  A coherent set of questions and responses to STS issues (Core Thought) can only be developed if disciplinary, work, class and academic barriers are removed.

Steve Fuller also  underscores the need for political engagement among scientists, sociologists and philosophers:  "A recognition of the role of politics in science might invite a reconceptualization of science as intrinsically political, which would then be reflected back on the sociologist of science's own practice.  This is the prospect favored by Marxists and feminists -- as well as myself." (335).