STS as science or politics?

I came across a paper by Harry Collins, Robert Evans, and Martin Weinel called STS as science or politics? For those who don’t know, STS stands for Science and Technology Studies and I have written about it before. I haven’t always been all that complimentary, but I should probably acknowledge that this may reflect more on my ignorance than on anything else.

The reason I found the paper by Harry Collins and colleagues interesting is that it seems (if I’m reading it right) that I’m not alone in my confusion and in some of my critiques. An impression I have is that the STS narrative is essentially that science is inherently value-laden and that scientists should be more aware of the societal/political implications of their research (and also the societal/political influences on their research). A consequence of this is a perception that there is no objective reality and also that expertise somehow depends on societal, and political, values (I may not have this quite right, but I think this is roughly it). Some have argued that this means that STS bears some responsibility for the post-truth world in which we now live (for example, Shawn Otto suggests this in his book The War on Science).

Others, however, suggest that STS bears no responsibility and that debates about the nature of expertise are irrelevant. Harry Collins, and colleagues, disagree, saying

In contrast, we argue that whether or not STS had a causal influence on the emergence of post-truth politics, there is a clear resonance between the two positions and that the current political climate makes empirically informed and scientific analyses of expertise and the form of life of science more important than ever.

and

[the] claim is that STS is not to blame for post-truth because the arguments never pointed in that direction. Thus the ‘science warriors’ must have been mistaken because STS had never threatened scientific truth.

This highlights an aspect of STS that has always bothered me. Certainly the narrative that I have got from STS is that science is somehow value-laden and that scientists should not ignore the societal/political relevance of their research and how their research might be (is) influenced by society/politics. However, they seem to ignore this when it comes to STS itself; it’s as if they think STS can produce “emergent truths” despite their own research suggesting that this is somehow not possible in other research areas (this may not be fair, but is my impression). If “science warriors” regarded STS as threatening scientific “truths” then, by STS’s own arguments, surely this is a valid conclusion, even if it wasn’t explicitly what STS was actually suggesting?

Part of my confusion about STS is that I think I initially thought that it was more about how society could identify scientific knowledge (and expertise) than about the scientific knowledge/experts themselves. However, in their paper Harry Collins and colleagues, seem to actually suggest that this should be one of the key roles for STS research. For example

understanding who can legitimately contribute to expert debate requires social scientists to use their special understanding of the formation of knowledge to reject the misuse of expertise by certain elite experts and give credit to the work of low status, experience-based experts.


and

[e]xpert knowledge, and particularly the substance and degree of consensus between experts, needs to be properly understood so that it can be, and will be, fairly and accurately presented to public and policy-makers.

It’s interesting that the above comes from researchers in the same discipline as those arguing that we should move beyond climate consensus.

Okay, this post is getting rather long, so I’ll just quote some parts from the conclusion of the Collins et al. paper.

Hard questions for STS were posed long ago but were largely ignored in the relatively politically benign years before the recent terrifying outburst of populism. Sismondo argues that these questions are based on a misunderstanding of what STS claimed and that…… This would be right if STS was a political movement for promoting democracy but it is not. STS is an academic/scientific discipline aimed at understanding the nature of knowledge.

….. Unless we want to engage in post-truth activities ourselves we should not be pretending that our major contribution to this new understanding of knowledge – recognising the role of social and cultural factors in the creation of scientific knowledge – does not have the potential to give comfort to post-truth politicians and their supporters. We need to face up to the fact that it does, and find new ways to justify a choice between the knowledge-claims competing to inform public opinion and policy. It is ironic that the one place this is not recognised is in the heartlands of STS.

My own view is (unsurprisingly) very similar to that of Harry Collins and colleagues; it is important to understand the nature of knowledge, but those who do so should be careful of providing ammunition for those who are promoting misinformation for their (and their supporters) benefit. This is especially ironic if those doing so are those who argue that people should be very conscious of the societal/political implications of their research.

Links:
STS as science or politics? which is really worth reading in case I’ve misinterpreted some of what was presented.
STS vs Physics.
Eli on Post modern views of science.

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51 Responses to STS as science or politics?

  1. I should, again, acknowledge that my views about STS may well be confused and some of what I’ve expressed may be unfair. I’m more than happy for people to convince me that my views are wrong. I have, on occasion, tried to have discussions with STS researchers, but they’ve been mostly rather un-enlightening. I did once even suggest that I meet with an STS researcher who had criticised one of my posts and the response suggested that either I had done something truly awful in the past (which I had forgotten, and still do) or that the idea of meeting with a scientist was simply beyond the pale (it could, of course, have just been me).

  2. Andrew Dessler says:

    I have an extremely negative view of STS primarily because I learned of it through Roger Pielke Jr. While I’m sure there is some validity to the idea that social values affect science, in climate science its main use is to to attack climate scientists.

  3. Andrew,
    I have a rather negative view too, but I’m still interested in the possibility of someone actually putting some effort into convincing me that I’m wrong.

  4. jacksmith4tx says:

    I know this seems trite but doesn’t this confusion tie back to fact that our science creates technology that is altering reality (at exponential rates). “-A consequence of this is a perception that there is no objective reality-“, not surprised I see it forms one of their central tenants.
    I don’t doubt human morals are at play, how could they not be if ‘science’ is just a thought process and be done in any language, by anybody. What ethical nightmares must torment scientist who are developing telepathic human interfaces.
    There is some validity to the idea that a small percentage of the population actually can alter the speed at which technology advances but I question if we are in control of the direction.

  5. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    If you would indulge me…

    An impression I have is that the STS narrative is essentially that science is inherently value-laden and that scientists should be more aware of the societal/political implications of their research (and also the societal/political influences on their research). A consequence of this is a perception that there is no objective reality and also that expertise somehow depends on societal, and political, values

    I don’t know if that really is the narrative…but assuming it is, I am wondering what do you disagree with there?

    Also, you say:

    My own view is (unsurprisingly) very similar to that of Harry Collins and colleagues;

    I’m not sure why you’d find that surprising? It seems to me that the paragraph directly above where you express surprise lays out a fairly obvious point. Do you simply mean that you’re surprised that you might be in agreement with someone from the field, because you previously assumed everyone from the field exempted STS from the responsibility of recognizing “the potential to give comfort to post-truth politicians and their supporters.”?

  6. David B. Benson says:

    I fail to understand how STS differs from philosophy of science. Or rather, should differ. Some of the practitioners of the latter have made definite contributions. A prime example is Francis Bacon.

  7. Joshua,

    I don’t know if that really is the narrative…but assuming it is, I am wondering what do you disagree with there?

    I guess what I think is that there is an objective reality and, in my view, a goal of science/research is to find emergent “truths” which represent this objective reality. Societal values are clearly important, and play a role, but we endeavour to reduce this as much as we possibly can.

    Do you simply mean that you’re surprised that you might be in agreement with someone from the field, because you previously assumed everyone from the field exempted STS from the responsibility of recognizing “the potential to give comfort to post-truth politicians and their supporters.”?

    No, I simply meant that I agree with the idea that it’s important to understand the nature of knowledge. Harry Collins has apparently arguing for a version of STS which he calls Studies of Expertise and Experience and suggests this has not been well-received by others in the field. I think it would be useful if there was a better understanding of the nature of knowledge and a better understanding of how to identify expertise, but this does not seem to be a goal of STS.

  8. jacksmith4x,

    I know this seems trite but doesn’t this confusion tie back to fact that our science creates technology that is altering reality

    No, I disagree. Science is producing technology that allows us to do things we couldn’t do before. However, underlying this is an unchanging reality. We aren’t modifying conservation laws, for example.

  9. David,

    I fail to understand how STS differs from philosophy of science.

    A lot of it is, I think.

  10. izen says:

    @-“I fail to understand how STS differs from philosophy of science.”

    Philosophy of science might have useful insights into the epistemic validity of STS. However STS (or the toxic post-truth parts) would relegate philosophy of science to merely an emergent process to legitimate social convention.

  11. dikranmarsupial says:

    I agree with ATTP that I think there is an objective reality, but that doesn’t mean we are able to have complete or objective knowledge of that objective reality, however that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and get as close to it as we can. I certainly agree that we should try and understand the nature of knowledge (Massimo Pigliucci has coedited a new book on scientism “science unlimited” which looks interesting).

    I find this “value-laden” a bit tricky, gravity isn’t value laden, scientists obviously are (being human), but it isn’t clear how science is value “laden” (“tinged”?).

    When I saw “‘science warriors'” early in the paper, I did wonder whether this kind of thing is rather loading the discussion with additional values that contaminates the thing they appear to be trying to study. Isn’t this sort of partisan labeling is a very “post-truth” thing?

    “understanding who can legitimately contribute to expert debate requires social scientists to use their special understanding of the formation of knowledge to reject the misuse of expertise by certain elite experts and give credit to the work of low status, experience-based experts.”

    I don’t think it is possible to understand who can “legitimately” contribute to expert debate without having a solid understanding of the topic of that debate. Otherwise you risk ending up as a Dellingpolian “interpreter of interpretations”. However if they want to “reject the misuse of expertise by certain elite experts and give credit to the work of low status, experience-based experts” then the climate debate is an excellent case study for them to make a start. Give examples of “misuse of expertise by certain elite experts” and identify “work of low status, experience-based experts” that warrant credit and we’ll see how you do.

    “but those who do so should be careful of providing ammunition for those who are promoting misinformation for their (and their supporters) benefit. “

    well said.

    caveat: may contain uninformed opinion.

  12. Marco says:

    ATTP, I think Jack is referring to *human* reality.
    Consider this a good example of the importance of language and context: your term “X” does not necessarily mean the same for others.

    Also, throughout history we have found plenty of examples where “laws” later turned out to be “not absolute laws”. Newton’s laws are a good example where we now know they are only applicable under certain boundary conditions. But even more important (my rather vague memory says this was pointed out by Martin Vermeer on Stoat, quite some years ago), Einstein’s and Newton’s views on “reality” are philosophically different. That is, “reality” has in a way changed.

  13. Marco,

    I think Jack is referring to *human* reality.
    Consider this a good example of the importance of language and context: your term “X” does not necessarily mean the same for others.

    Okay, I hadn’t considered this. So, yes, I guess technology has changed the reality within which we exist, but that doesn’t necessarily imply a change in the underlying reality.

    But even more important (my rather vague memory says this was pointed out by Martin Vermeer on Stoat, quite some years ago), Einstein’s and Newton’s views on “reality” are philosophically different. That is, “reality” has in a way changed.

    This is a interesting point. In some sense, though, I think one can argue that Einsteinian reality came about partly because of some aspects of Newtonian reality that people felt uncomfortable about – instantaneous action at a distance, for example. But, yes, I agree that our understanding of the underlying reality can change, but that is – I would argue – part of the actual scientific process, not something that happens by simply observing it.

    To be clear, though, I’m not arguing that values are not important and that we shouldn’t be aware of them and how our research might impact upon them, and vice versa. My sense, though, is that this is sometimes taken too far.

  14. not something that happens by simply observing it.

    I should be clear that I meant “observing the scientific process” rather than participating in it.

  15. Willard says:

    > I fail to understand how STS differs from philosophy of science.

    STS is usually done by non-philosophers. Easier career path. Take Steve Fuller. He studied sociology, but he mainly handwaves to philosophers. He can thus aggravate two disciplines at the same time (three if you add history) without being bothered by criticism.

    It’s a young research programme, and someday Brigitte may rule it all. But I suppose there are SteveFs, ReinerGs and WarrenPs everywhere. It’s academia after all.

    Being thankful for their concerns is hard. Harder than women’s studies for me, where the researchers are at least open about what they’re tring to achieve.

    I fail to see why Junior should be considered an STS guy.

  16. Willard says:

    Pinker’s at it again:

    What I said extends to linguists with the caveat that linguistics is HARD.

  17. Willard says:

    Too bad I got stuff to do, for this could get interesting:

    Grundmann started his academic career with an analysis of the legacy of Marx’s theory for the understanding of environmental problems. This work was a direct product of his PhD research at the EUI in Florence, in the late 1980s under the supervision of Steven Lukes. Grundmann described ecology as being no longer confined to the realms of biology since the 1970s. The term, as it had been coined in the 1870s by Ernst Haeckel, a German biologist and monist, was about a branch of biology dealing with the interaction of organisms and their surroundings. The current use of the term started to put the interaction of pollution in a political context and was later to describe a political movement as well. The thesis was published by Oxford University Press in 1991 and a related article by Grundmann himself and an answer and review of the study by Ted Benton appeared the following year in the New Left Review.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reiner_Grundmann#Marxist_view_on_Ecology

    Bernie would have won that debate.

    Compare “Grundmann started his academic career with an analysis of the legacy of Marx’s theory for the understanding of environmental problems” with what he wrote in his book turned into a thesis:

    If this sketch of Marxist reactions is correct, it becomes understandable why orthodox Marxism has almost completely vanished and why leftists, in so far as they were relying on standard Marxist assumptions, got confused. Orthodox Marxism has vanished from the scene, leftism has turned green, and Marxists have become ecologists.

    https://www.academia.edu/214817/Marxism_and_Ecology

    Green bashing (or is that an autocritique?) circa 1991, courtesy of OUP.

    The most precise word in that excerpt may be “sketch.” Speaking of sketches, there’s something called “the Promethean model” a bit later on that would deserve due diligence.

    So much to do, so little time.

  18. izen says:

    It is a measure of the … diversity of STS that it can credibly be said to include the sort of studies advocated by Collins –
    “[e]xpert knowledge, and particularly the substance and degree of consensus between experts, needs to be properly understood so that it can be, and will be, fairly and accurately presented to public and policy-makers.”
    From Oreskes to Cook, Lewandowsky et al.
    But apparently there is no consensus within STS that such work is untainted by the role of social and cultural factors in the creation of scientific knowledge.

  19. Willard says:

    > apparently there is no consensus within STS that such work is untainted by the role of social and cultural factors in the creation of scientific knowledge.

    In “STS,” the last S stands for “Studies,” Izen, not Science. One does not simply study social organizations without trying to make them better, at least as a side effect. The STS ClimateBall players know and love is all about sketchy analyses and narratives. Reiner’s chapter two is a thing of beauty:

    Environmental reports in the 1960s and early 1970s disturbed the world public with their alarming tone. They presented scenarios which predicted ecological collapse within a few decades. According to these studies, main ecological problems were population growth, depletion of resources, and pollution. Since then, ecological topics have proved to be a forceful challenge to the Marxist left. One only needs to recall the debate which was sparked off by the first report of the ‘Club of Rome’ published in 1972.

    Alarmism. Green. Club of Rome. Marxism. Leftism. Who needs Freedom Fighters?

    Real Marxians ought to be a bit more concrete than what ReinerG’s narrative suggests:

  20. jacksmith4tx says:

    ATTP,
    Marco picked up on the thrust of my argument. When I speak of reality I am broadly referring to human perceptions. Our technology does shape our perception of reality and for most of human history we didn’t have much of an impact on the planetary reality as the flora and fauna experience it but that’s changed.
    * About those telepathic scientist, yeah their working on it.
    Pure optical detection of spikes for the ultimate brain machine interface
    https://phys.org/news/2017-08-pure-optical-spikes-ultimate-brain.html

  21. Willard says:

    I await the day we’ll play VR ClimateBall, Jack.

  22. Joshua says:

    So this is interesting. From that Scientific American op-ed;

    Students are being taught by these postmodern professors that there is no truth, that science and empirical facts are tools….

    Looks like we could draw a rhetorical line from the campus snowflake social justice warriors to Grundmann.

    Of course, with motivation, we can draw a rhetorical line between pretty much anything and anything else.

  23. Willard says:

    Line drawing’s nothing without some equivalence algebra, J:

    You might also like:

    The last tweet reads: “This Richard Spencer press conference was supposed to take place at the Willard Hotel, but an organizer told me the Willard canceled on them.”

  24. Joshua says:

    Free speech hater!

  25. Willard says:

    There’s no such thing as hate speech, J. How can I be a hater?

  26. jack,

    When I speak of reality I am broadly referring to human perceptions. Our technology does shape our perception of reality

    Okay, but this may be a fairly key point. Of course I agree that technology the reality that we actually experience. We can travel more easily, we can communicate more easily, there’s forms of entertainment we probably didn’t imagine were possible, etc. Also, technology helps to understand the nature of reality itself. However, I think most physical scientists would argue that there is an underlying reality that is unaffected by our societal values and that a goal of science is to uncover this reality. We will almost certainly never have a full understanding of it, but we do have some confidence that truths will emerge (or, maybe, we will tend towards emergent truths).

    Of course, our understanding may/will change with time. However, there will be some aspects that we regard as unlikely to change much, some that we might be confident about but are still waiting for some key piece of evidence, and some that maybe we regard as less sure. If there were people who were helping society to understand which bits of knowledge fell into which category and how to identify experts who would respond our understanding a reasonable way, that would seem quite useful. It’s not, however, what I see happening.

  27. Joshua says:

    Willard –

    Please remember the wisdom of James Damore:

    “Psychological safety is built on mutual respect and acceptance”

    Spencer needs a psychological safe space too. Think of all the (neo-nazi) children.

  28. Joshua says:

    I see that Donald, always one to be considerate of others, is creating a safe psychological space for business leaders.

  29. Willard says:

    > I think most physical scientists would argue that there is an underlying reality that is unaffected by our societal values and that a goal of science is to uncover this reality.

    Why, of course.

    But let’s assume that naive realism is incorrect. How’s correcting it supposed to help us change the way we do science? On the face of it, it’s hard to see how correcting ontological prenotions will make the world a better place. Heidegger tried to pull up that trick in a most radical way: he wanted us to get back before Parmenides. Somehow, it did not work. Perhaps one day, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

    The belief in an external world, or rather that science provides an exact picture of it, is that important. Something’s amiss. Conceptual analysis ain’t psychoanalysis.

    Philosophers already have a PR problem. Sociologists’ babbling on it can’t help, methinks.

    ADD. No, not you, LawrenceH.

  30. Willard says:

    > Psychological safety is built on mutual respect and acceptance

    JamesD may have been onto something:

    Note that this started when that commenter was cheerleading for a marine vet borrowing from ironic shitposters’ “ACCEPT MY SEED.”

    Respect starts with self-respect even with virtual entities, it seems. Standing one’s ground helped me reach out to more Freedom Fighters than I ever thought I could.

  31. jacksmith4tx says:

    ATTP,
    I agree with you that the reality that we describe with physics is constant even if we don’t fully understand all it’s dimensions. But I still think the discussion around STS are just more mind tricks by skeptics. Yesterday I saw a news article how some genetic engineers used CRISPR to change the behavior of ants. They actually targeted the ants brains (I think it was their ability to smell certain chemicals) that radically (and permanently!) changed their hive behavior.
    I was very impressed with a book by Kevin Kelly a few years ago. It was called “What Technology Wants” and his presentation of the history of technology. If you can accept that all life forms represent a type of ‘organic’ technology, with DNA being the executable code, then you can begin to see the connections to the physical technology humans manipulate to alter reality. He calls this the Technium.
    https://www.edge.org/conversation/kevin_kelly-the-technium

  32. izen says:

    @-W
    “In “STS,” the last S stands for “Studies,” Izen, not Science. One does not simply study social organizations without trying to make them better, at least as a side effect.”

    I know what it stands for, and I am not completely dissmissive of the field of study. The consensus studies are an example of useful work. It has also contributed to the push-back against the biological determinism and just-so-story sociobiology that legitimises the status quo.
    As most recently demonstrated by the Google memo zombie gender claims.

    But it came as no surprise to find that STS is classified in the US as a Liberal Arts degree.
    Academic pidgeons.

  33. jack,

    But I still think the discussion around STS are just more mind tricks by skeptics.

    Do you mean that some skeptics are publicly misrepresenting STS and that the public perception isn’t representation of what actually happens in STS? If so, this is certainly possible. However, from what I’ve seen of STS, if this is the case, then they’re not really helping themselves either. Some of what they present publicly does seem rather confused and certainly seems to play into the “skeptics” hands.

  34. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:

    Sci Am:

    Students are being taught by these postmodern professors that there is no truth, that science and empirical facts are tools….

    Poor passive university students.
    Too bad that they have to believe everything that postmodern professors teach them.
    Sad!

    The solution is obvious – Keep them away from science at all costs.


    However, I think most physical scientists would argue that there is an underlying reality that is unaffected by our societal values and that a goal of science is to uncover this reality.

    In some halls of academe this view is regarded as hopelessly naive. Quaint, even.

    But, if there is no underlying reality that is unaffected by our societal values, then all realities are virtual, every proposition is a merely a tactical move in something-or-other-Ball(tm), and one must ultimately wonder – What’s all the fuss about?

  35. Willard says:

    > As most recently demonstrated by the Google memo zombie gender claims.

    You might like:

    From teh JonH himself.

    The comment thread at Mark’s is delicious.

  36. izen says:

    @-the very Rev
    “But, if there is no underlying reality that is unaffected by our societal values, then all realities are virtual, every proposition is a merely a tactical move in something-or-other-Ball(tm), and one must ultimately wonder – What’s all the fuss about?”

    How well we play the Game.

    Like Cricket, it has Laws.

  37. Joshua says:

    Willard (when did you start capitalizing your first name)?

    Thanks for the Haidt link. I have to admit surprise the he isn’t on the side of defending conservatives from tyrannical overlords at Google. He can be hard to pigeonhole, dammit.

  38. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:


    How well we play the Game.

    Ptolemy was one of the greatest players ever.

    He was also quite wrong. That might be salient to anyone who is keeping score.


    Like Cricket, it has Laws.

    In cricket, we define the laws of the game. In science, the laws of the game define us.


    I understand cricket – what’s going on, the scoring – but I can’t understand why.

    – Bill Bryson

  39. Willard says:

    > when did you start capitalizing your first name

    Either when I bought an hotel or around the time I modified my WP handle because the Auditor’s list of verboten words sent me into Akismet hell. Can’t recall.

    OK. I’m out of the pocket for a while.

  40. Yvan Dutil says:

    Lets STS, in another form a studies. See it as literature style. The truth is that science as to work at the end of the day. Whenever social construct, it does not change the outcome. This is why laws of physics where the same in USSR than USA. And Lysenko theory failed anyway.

    But social scientist, see science as a field dominated by wealthy healthy white male, which means that their view of the world must be biased.

  41. angech says:

    Marco says. August 16, 2017 at 8:05 am
    Realities do change.
    I agree with all your comments.
    Which means you are channeling me?
    A quantum leap has occurred?
    Sherlock Holmes perhaps?
    As ATTP hinted, fundamental scientific truths must exist.

    ” However, underlying this is an unchanging reality.”
    “I guess what I think is that there is an objective reality”
    “technology helps to understand the nature of reality itself. However, I think most physical scientists would argue that there is an underlying reality that is unaffected by our societal values and that a goal of science is to uncover this reality.”

    Subjective, objective and even real reality?
    Imaginary reality?
    Are one’s dreams real?
    Can we assign different reality values to the different types of reality.
    Subjective reality is really imaginary reality (what one feels or experiences thinking at a particular moment).
    Objective reality (what I think) is the reality from one person’s own viewpoint hence it is really subjective reality.
    Real reality is the reality from everyone’s viewpoint if they are the same and always perceived as the same by everyone able to perceive and communicate reality.

    Reminds me of someone with an affective disorder many years ago.
    The person was European, the resident Anglo Saxon and the registrar High class Hindu in an Australian hospital. Common language English rather strained on the two extremes.
    The reality of what was happening, what was perceived as happening and what one imagined was happening can be described but not explained.

  42. dikranmarsupial says:

    “I understand cricket – what’s going on, the scoring – but I can’t understand why”
    – Bill Bryson

    In cricket most of the laws have some underlying reason why they are the way they are, so in principle they can be understood, not sure the same is true of the reality science is trying to capture. Ironic that Bryson should say that, coming as he does from a country that plays baseball.

    It seems to me this is a case of “statisticians, like artists, have a nasty habit of falling in love with their models”, i.e. someone gets a theory about the way things work, for instance the sociology of science, and then push it for all its worth (or possibly beyond), and are insufficiently sensitive to the deficiencies of the theory. If so STS isn’t the only example, all of academia tends to be susceptible to the same kind of thing, and is only self-correcting in the long run (i.e. over multiple careers). IMHO, naturally, it is my theory of academia ;o)

  43. russellseitz says:

    “[the] claim is that STS is not to blame for post-truth because the arguments never pointed in that direction. Thus the ‘science warriors’ must have been mistaken because STS had never threatened scientific truth.”

    One should distinguish between praxis and ideology- Bruno Latour , not so much, J.B.S. Haldane rather a lot.

  44. Ragnaar says:

    “Longino (1990) reinforces Popper’s focus on intersubjective criticism: for her, scientific knowledge is essentially a social product. Thus, our conception of scientific objectivity must directly engage with the social process that generates knowledge. In response to the failures of attempts to define objectivity as faithfulness of theory to facts, she concludes that social criticism fulfills crucial functions in securing the epistemic success of science. The objectivity of science is no more grounded in correspondence between theory and facts, or in all scientists seeing the same result (called “concordant objectivity” by Douglas 2011), but in the “interactive objectivity” that emerges through the scientists’ open discourse.”

    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/scientific-objectivity/#EpiConVal

    Social product. Do I want a scientific cheeseburger? Mostly I want a cheeseburger. What does science have that I want? I can be told, It’s bad. We need to do something. I don’t want that. I want McDonald’s french fries and a cheeseburger. So McDonald’s knows how to do it. A product that people want.

    Xcel has a few coal power plants. I want my cheap and reliable electricity and will gladly pay for it. Since wind and solar don’t make economic is sense, I don’t want that.

    Can small modular nuclear be deployed while doing good enough by scientists, the investors and ratepayers while minimizing risk? It could be smashing success. Where did nuclear researchers fail? There is stagnation and contraction of power plants. The scientific community lost that one, but there is hope for a comeback. The barbarians beat the scientists. Maybe they should’ve engaged and tried to have won.

    We hear from NASA, stuff is going on with the climate. Where’s my cheeseburger? You say we got a problem, now sell me something that I’ll gladly pay for.

    There is value. Often demonstrated by my clients paying me. Provide people with value. Almost all of them will be happy. What is a scientist’s product? Let’s say it’s a discovery. That will have currency within their field. Now where’s my cheeseburger?

    Actual marketing class exercise.
    Sell which chainsaw?
    Lumber jacks use bad ass chainsaws and are experts.
    Homeowners buy 1,000 times more chainsaws.
    Pick one chain saw to sell.

  45. Ragnaar says:

    I hope I am not boring too many people.

    “Clearly, however, measurement does not result in a “view from nowhere”, nor are typical measurement results free from presuppositions.”

    “Thermometers function by relating an unobservable quantity, temperature, to an observable quantity, expansion (or length) of a fluid or gas in a glass tube; that is, thermometers measure temperature by assuming that length is a function of temperature: length = f (temperature). The function f is not known a priori, and it cannot be tested either (because it could in principle only be tested using a veridical (coinciding with reality) thermometer, and the veridicality of the thermometer is just what is at stake here). Making a specific assumption, for instance that f is linear, solves that problem by fiat.”

    “Mechanical objectivity reduces the importance of human contributions to scientific results to a minimum, and therefore enables science to proceed on a large scale where bonds of trust between individuals can no longer hold (Daston 1992). Trust in mechanical procedures thus replaces trust in individual scientists.”

    “First, measurement instruments and quantitative procedures originate in commercial and administrative needs and affect the ways in which the natural and social sciences are practiced, not the other way around. The mushrooming of instruments such as chemical balances, barometers, chronometers was largely a result of social pressures and the demands of democratic societies. Administering large territories or controlling diverse people and processes is not always possible on the basis of personal trust and thus “objective procedures” (which do not require trust in persons) took the place of “subjective judgments” (which do). Second, he argues that quantification is a technology of distrust and weakness, and not of strength. It is weak administrators who do not have the social status, political support or professional solidarity to defend their experts’ judgments. They therefore subject decisions to public scrutiny, which means that they must be made in a publicly accessible form.”

    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/scientific-objectivity/#EpiConVal

    Accountants had a greater part of history than I thought. You have to count standard units or try to. Commerce gives you things to count and Administrations gives us tax authorities to take some of Commerce’s results. Scientists could no longer have grand insights, but had to have measurements and start counting too. Because how can a count lie? It can, but that can have consequences. Still, within a few dollars, close enough. CPAs count stuff and are trusted. We rarely have grand ideas, not our forte. But scientists used to, until we didn’t trust them unless they too counted stuff. Perhaps we trust them enough to count things, but not to have grand insights. Where is everything the scientists counted 100 years ago? It’s not like we rely on it too much, the temperature records. If you’re doing climate, count and keep good records. 100 years of them would be nice. And lots of samples. Auditors live on that stuff. And count stuff in the oceans too. And that ice. So I am not misunderstood on everything, I am a fan of small sample sizes and also Berkeley Earth. Auditors figured out a long time they didn’t have to count everything. They sample. They combined that with internal controls and other stuff. They realize the margin of error can be narrow enough to save time and money.

  46. izen says:

    @-““First, measurement instruments and quantitative procedures originate in commercial and administrative needs and affect the ways in which the natural and social sciences are practiced, not the other way around. ”

    This is perhaps a prime example of how STS gets it wrong.
    Or not even wrong.

    The first measurement instruments and quantitative procedures originate in agriculture and relate to astronomy. It is the material reality of cosmology that has forced society to adopt the initial Babylonian definition of seconds and minutes as both measures of time and angle. Astronomical observation with astrolabes and a unified quantitative procedure predate thermometers and chemical balances.
    If you know when to sow the crops, there is a better chance of making more cheeseburgers. And if you travel for trade, navigation by the stars can be used by anyone if the method is recorded in a replicatable form.

    The emergence of measurement instruments and quantitative procedures originate in the nature of material reality and are defined by necessity. For thousands of years society found trade guilds were sufficient as a means of disseminating and maintaining valuable skills.
    Teaching those skills more widely generated academic institutions. If the subject was theology in the training of priests no need to develop observational measurement and quantity seems to have been required. It was in Astronomy and chemistry that success was only possible by adopting such methods. It is the only way to disseminate the knowledge in a reproducible form that ensures exact replication of the procedure that will improve navigation, make better iron, or more cheeseburgers.

    There is much of STS that seems to observe an interactive system which is primarily shaped by the nature of the material world and separate out the junior partner, giving it the dominant causative role.
    If science was shaped by the wishes of society, or the desire for a cheeseburger, then it might have made more progress on the three primary drives throughout history.
    Turning base material into Gold. A medicine for immortality, and accurate knowledge of the future from observation of the heavens.
    Alchemy and Astrology were forced to become chemistry and cosmology using instruments and quantitative procedures not by the whims of social fashion but the pragmatic optimisation dictated by an external reality.
    Resulting in more cheeseburgers.

  47. Susan Anderson says:

    I’m gobsmacked by the favoring of what one wants now versus caring about the future and other people. I can’t begin to deconstruct this, except to point out that anyone in a long-term relationship, particularly one involving children, or any other kind of community that does things together, must consider other things than their immediate needs, and weigh future benefit against immediate desires (deferred gratification). I actually showed up because I found this Popper gem:

    This is not as off topic as it looks (but I am in Boston where our state and city are providing the kind of government quality I could wish on the rest of my dear country). This does extend to the climate discussion in the moving of the Overton window of tolerance for opinion over knowledge. Mental violence is also a thing. There is a market piece too, as our economy is shut for a summer weekend day and one of the world’s finest academic centers is also partly shut down to benefit so-called “free speech”. We in the US are ashamed of the copycat ignorance, prejudice and violence we seem unable to stop.

  48. Susan Anderson says:

    Oops, the link didn’t display (I was afraid that might happen). Here’s another possible link for the Popper display; if that doesn’t work try a search for Popper intolerance images:

    If that doesn’t come through, here are the words that conclude it:

    Any movement that preaches intolerance and persecution must be outside of the law
    As paradoxical as it may seem, defending tolerance … requires to not tolerate this intolerance.

  49. Pingback: STS: All talk and no walk? | …and Then There's Physics

  50. Ragnaar says:

    izen:
    So the chief had to say sow seeds during a time frame. Let’s say the hunters said, we want to settle down and farm. And assume they had to have a more useful calendar to do that. The chief realizing he didn’t have one went the witch doctor and said help me out. The witch doctor than made circle of stones and watched the sun set, and eventually figured it out. The witch doctor would have never done that without the people demanding it. He’d just as soon do other things. One year it snowed in May, killing all the plants. It was going to be lean year. The people and the chief demanded to know what the hell happened? The witch doctor than taught them how the circle of stones worked. At first they didn’t believe him. But the Sun kept setting where predicted and his life was spared.

  51. Willard says:

    More algebra:

    Seems that StephenS doesn’t know about his “but CAGW”:

    I sent him a DM. Might turn into a post, if he responds.

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