Science Studies is a useful, mild, comprehensive, densely-figured introduction to the field: exactly as advertised. Science Studies is also one long illustration of the light-hearted principle Hess quotes midway through: for every Ph.D. there is an equal and opposite Ph.D. Hess's work introduces the thinkers and the controversies of the field in three general groupings: the philosophy of science, the sociology of science and the sociology of scientific knowledge and it offers his ideas on where the field might profitably grow.
Hess begins with the question that divides the field of science studies -- what constitutes the grounds of correct theory? In other words, how can we know that we know? He suggests that Steve Fuller offers a clear and prescriptive role for "social epistemology" and Hess uses Fuller's notion of prescription and description as a starting point to distinguish philosophy (prescription) from social studies (description). "[P]hilosophy may be helpful to social scientists and humanists when they are in the prescriptive mode, and likewise the research of social and cultural studies may be helpful to philosophers when they are making descriptive claims about science and technology. " (8) By distinguishing between descriptive versus prescriptive work, Hess mediates between those who see scientific laws as socially or historically derived, and those who see scientific laws as scientifically derived. Hess returns to this distinction when he believes it will help to untangle a controversy between camps.
Hess directs the student through the positivism of Comte, with the corollary of verifiability and pauses at the problems of justification, induction and theory choice. Hess glosses Merton, Popper and Carnap, each of whom added, in the positivist vein, to the problem of "how do we know that we know what we know " (Popper in falsification, Carnap in verification of theories) and identifies the break with various forms of positivism at Kuhn's Theory of Scientific Revolutions. Kuhn posits that a scientific theory must be accurate within its domain, consistent with other theories accepted at the time, have broad consequences, be simple, and disclose previously unnoted relationships (Kuhn, paraphrased in Hess, 26), but his strongest contribution was to suggest (to his contemporaries) that theories depend on a socially determined paradigm. What is known, or cannot be known, has as much to do with the pressures of surrounding society as it does with underlying realities. American naturalism and realism follow in Hess's survey. He suggests that realism's contribution to theory is that "preference would be given to a theory with more observational terms or theoretical terms that could be transformed someday into observational terms." (34) There is a variant of realism called "epistemological relativism," which Hess takes care to gently refute when he meets it. (34) The penultimate stop on Hess's opening survey is constructivism -- theories leaning towards descriptive work, with an emphasis on the social formation of theories (and occasional ill-tempered lapses into prescriptive work.) Hess concludes with his own proposed synthesis of four groups of criteria (drawn from positivist, conventionalist, pragmatists and feminist/anit-racist groups) to bring together the various proposals for prescriptive theory choice. (50) "Like Longino and Kuhn, I would still put accuracy, evidence, or empirical adequacy at the top of the list...One can successfully use the general guideposts that begin with Kuhn's list but amend it by consideration of subsequent philosophical traditions..." (51)
Having surveyed the philosophy of science, Hess next tackles the institutional sociology of science and its sometime opponents in the sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK). Merton, the theorist of the "complex of norms and values"" (55) is a key name in sociology of science for America, becoming an tilting windmill for later thinkers. The effects of age, prestige, gender and their relations to productivity of scientists are part of literature, as too are the evaluation of theories: gatekeeping and network loyalties are identified and taken up for consideration. Citation studies are among the more amusing and deadly questions that sociology of science considers. (There is simply no way for the statistics on references to reflect the difference between genuine peer approbation and herd mentality.) SSK practitioners, by contrast, are interested in the content of science itself, (the contents of the black box) and how that content came to be accepted as true. Langdon Winner has taken issue with SSK by arguing that the politics have been left out of discussions of content. SSK has fostered the (prescriptive) strong program theory of scientific knowledge (causality, impartiality, symmetry and reflexivity), the actor-network theory, and sub-fields in the empirical program of relativism (EPOR) and the social construction of technology (SCOT). To Hess we owe the reinterpretation of Karin Knorr-Cetina's work in indexicality: "General criteria are post hoc and ex ante schematizations of higher order selections which become meaningful and consquential only in their indexical forms, as circumstantially occasioned selections." Hess's gloss: "In other words, the actual practice of science is much messier than later reports would lead us to believe." (100). Hess's final chapter offers a quick look at how cultural studies might offer new insights into science studies. He notes the value of cultural analyses by Foucault, Gramsci, Benjamin, and concludes with the general question of power (particularly political power) as it intersects with social groups affected by and immersed in technology.
Hess's last offering is his own theory of theories: he attempts to analyze te different positions around the point of controversy, in this fashion allowing the field of contest to remain open as the combatants gain a deeper understanding of the frameworks each brings to a question. He includes in his analysis power, culture as it expresses power, an evaluation of accuracy along positivist lines, and a consideration of what could be accomplished by the policy being pursued as a result of the theory. It is indeed a theory of theories.
My own responses to Science Studies are somewhat scattered, but may
be grouped into four points. (1) Although Hess claims to position
himself clearly, probably a more sophisticated reader than I would win
closer to Hess's ground beliefs. Since Hess often stops to disentangle
an ideological knot using the concept prescriptive and descriptive, it
would be worthwhile for him to take more time on the idea than the half-page
or so he accords these ideas. However, beyond offering these framing ideas,
it may, in fact, be a virtue for Hess to stay out of the discussion.
(2) Hess's last offering, the four point analysis structure, resembles
(to my mind) the Roman shield-wall "turtle:" so sturdily defended
on all sides, it may not be all that useful for "reaching out" to combatants.
(3) Hess's Science Studies compares with Cutcliffe's Ideas Machines and
Values only in its latter two chapters, and the comparative value lies
in seeing the field limned twice, since its positions and players are engaged
in increasingly complex controversies. Like Cutcliffe, Hess is a
reference work to which I might return again. Without a detailed
knowledge of the field, it is difficult to say whether or not this summary
has done justice to all sides, but I sense that the author has done his
utmost to give a fair-minded representation of the positions and players.
(4) Finally, Hess's first two chapters would be a valuable contribution
to almost any science program, and it would have been interesting to have
attended the lectures that formed these chapters.