Science and Technology Studies podcast – part 2

There’s a post I’ve been thinking of writing, but I thought I might first comment on something else. I wrote a post about a Science and Technology Studies podcast that I’d listened to. This is a topic I find interesting, but my post wasn’t wildly complimentary. Essentially, I felt that their message was a little simplistic, a bit one-sided, and maybe a little arrogant. I do think there is maybe a tendency for scientists to over-simplify the role of science in society, or how science should influence policy making. Similarly, though, I think that some critiques of science, or of scientists, can also misunderstand aspects of the science, the scientific process, and how scientists perceive their role in society, and policy making.

However, I’ve just started listening to the third episode of their podcast, and they started with a brief discussion of their first public critique. Maybe it’s not mine, but since they refer to it as the first, and have linked to it from their website, I think it might be. What was interesting was how they interpreted it. It was apparently framed as them not knowing much about science, as challenging science in unacceptable ways, that they were anti-science, and that it was suggesting that unless someone was a scientist, they don’t have anything interesting to say about science. It seemed to remind them of the science wars.

Of course, maybe this doesn’t refer to my critique, but if it does, it certainly wasn’t what I was going for. I was certainly not trying to suggest that they know nothing about science, that they shouldn’t challenge it, that they’re anti-science, or that they don’t have anything interesting to say. If that is how it seemed, I apologise. I had thought that I had highlighted a few things that I found interesting, and had highlighted how I thought dialogue between physical scientists and social scientists was important, but maybe I didn’t get that across very well. The reason I write about this topic is because I find it interesting and important, not because I’m trying to shut anyone down. If I thought that science and technology studies researchers have nothing interesting to say, I don’t think I’d have listened to the podcast in the first place.

One thing that I found somewhat disappointing about this is the sense that academics who see themselves as in a position to critique another discipline don’t seem to engage all that well with criticism themselves. My perspective, which maybe others disagree with, is that we’re all essentially the same; there isn’t some hierarchy that allows one discipline to have a special position where they get to criticise another discipline, but not face any criticism themself. In a sense, I think we’re all researchers and we should be willing to defend our research when suitably challenged. Of course, I don’t think that people have to defend their ideas against unreasonable challenges, so maybe mine was seen as unreasonable (it was, apparently, sociologically interesting).

It’s of course possible that I misunderstand the role of science in society so badly that I should really just sit back and listen to science and technology studies (STS) researchers and not expect them to engage with anything I have to say. However, having discussed this issue with other colleagues and with other people who engage in public discussions about science, I don’t think I’m alone in being somewhat taken aback by some of the views expressed by STS researchers.

I’ve also found it very difficult to engage in discussions with STS researcher. That could, of course, by an indication of my inability to engage in a suitable way, but it does sometimes seem as though the expectation is that role of STS is to observe and critique science, but not to actually engage with scientists. As I said in my first post about this, I do think that there are some in the physical sciences who do have an overly simplistic view of the role of science in society and that there is a lot that physical scientists could learn from social scientists. However, I also think the reverse is true; that social scientists could also learn a lot from physical scientists.

It is possible that STS researchers have a perfect understanding of the role of science in society, while physical scientists have no understanding whatsoever. However, it would still seem quite important for STS researchers to try to understand why some physical scientists seem to not engage well with what STS research is suggesting. Okay, I’ve just previewed this post, and it’s become extremely long, so I’ll stop there.

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68 Responses to Science and Technology Studies podcast – part 2

  1. Something that I think I’ve never fully got to grips with when it comes to Science and Technology Studies is precisely what its motivations are. Is it simply to research how science and technology interacts with the broader society, or is it to influence how science and technology interacts with the broader society. If the former, carry on. Publish your research, talk about it, let others decide on its relevance. If the latter, how strongly are are the researcher’s own values influencing this?

    My concern is the idea that someone’s research gives them some special place when it comes to deciding how something in society should work, rather than their research providing information that others (themselves included, of course) can use to make these decisions. If anything, I think this is very important and I would like to be convinced that there is this key research area (STS) that can really help us to better interface science and technology with society. Currently, I’m unconvinced.

  2. RickA says:

    I wonder the same thing about the IPCC reports.

    Are they just to synthesize the state of climate science, or are they trying to influence and advocate a particular point of view, or course of action?

    So I feel your pain.

  3. Rick,
    The IPCC reports are meant to be policy relevant, but not policy prescriptive. Having reread my first comment, I do realise that there will be scenarios where some research might suggest something so clearly that the response is quite obvious. In such a case, you may well expect the researchers to have justifiably strong views about how society should respond. Similarly, when policy makers get advice, they should get it from people with suitable expertise. Ideally, that advice should be objective, but that doesn’t mean not highlighting the implications of the various policy options.

  4. brigittenerlich says:

    STS is both an academic field and a social movement/activism – I only found that out quite belatedly – Some STSers might be more on the academic spectrum, others more on the activism one. This means they should, in principle, be very clear at every point about what they want to achieve and about the values they espouse. I also feel that the field is overgrown with strawmen. This makes it difficult for those working in the field to see clearly what’s going on in science and to understand what scientists do. It sort of makes it impossible to see the wood for the strawtrees, as well as impossible to appreciate genuine trees. Oh dear!

  5. Brigitte,

    STS is both an academic field and a social movement/activism

    Thanks, and that is interesting. Probably explains some of my confusion. I don’t have any particular objection to academics being activists (in many respects, I would encourage it). I think I do have an issue with activism being presented as some kind of research. I agree that they should be very clear as to what they are trying to achieve and how this is influenced by their values. Given my understanding of some of the STS critiques of science, it would seem rather ironic if this were not the case.

  6. Everett F Sargent says:

    I only got to the Interview part of the transcript. If I didn’t know any better, not saying that I do know any better though, I would think of that conversation as just two ‘sort of’ intellectuals talking ’bout stuff.

    I mean really, where do we go to get in line and pick up our pHd’S in sts? Oh damn, there I go again, that invasive technology made me do it.

  7. Willard says:

    > It was apparently framed as them not knowing much about science, as challenging science in unacceptable ways, that they were anti-science, and that it was suggesting that unless someone was a scientist, they don’t have anything interesting to say about science.

    Never let good reading get in the way of good shirt ripping.

  8. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:

    >> Never let good reading get in the way of good shirt ripping.

    I blame Tom Kuhn. He started it.

  9. Everett F Sargent says:

    “I blame Tom Kuhn. He started it.”

    That would explain a lot, Oh wait, you meant the other Tom Kuhn. Never mind.

  10. Willard says:

  11. izen says:

    “It was apparently framed as them not knowing much about science, as challenging science in unacceptable ways, that they were anti-science”

    The framing of the STS researchers may be a more accurate critque than the actual comments they received.

    Kuhn’s ideas were just a passing paradigm.

  12. Steven Mosher says:

    bitcoin fixes this
    (inside joke)
    merry xmas

  13. Dave_Geologist says:

    I had a short comment planned the other day, but thought I wouldn’t bother as it would repeat what I said before. Then I’d be challenged to back my claims up with examples, and didn’t want to do the work. But then Feyerabend fell into my lap…

    The short version was that in my experience, most STS writers seem to write about a fantasy science, scientists and scientific method, not the actual ones actual scientists are familiar with. I’m not talking here about their philosophical conclusions, but about errors of fact or gross misunderstandings of the subject they’re philosophising on. While I accept that they may have more professional expertise than I when it comes to interpreting subject matter professionally in their area of professional expertise, if they start with observational errors, sometimes so bad it appears they Didn’t Do The Research, one has to wonder at the quality of their conclusions. Of course I might do equally badly because although I don’t make the data collection errors, I lack the professional expertise to go further. But I wouldn’t expect to be taken seriously in the STS world.

    I got two-thirds of the way through Feyerabend but gave up there as I’d already wasted ten minutes and didn’t want to waste five more.

    A look at history shows that science hardly ever gets its results in this way. When Copernicus introduced a new view of the universe, he did not consult scientific predecessors, he consulted a crazy Pythagorean such as Philolaos.

    Did he? According to Wiki “he cited Aristarchus of Samos in an early (unpublished) manuscript of De Revolutionibus (which still survives), though he removed the reference from his final published manuscript. Copernicus was probably aware that Pythagoras’s system involved a moving Earth. The Pythagorean system was mentioned by Aristotle”. And Philolaos seems to be semi-legendary according to his Wiki so how do we know he was crazy? is ad hom standard in STS academia? Maybe, he got it in early by saying he’d had a bad reception from a scientific audience and suggested that was because it was “rightist”. Philolaos had the Sun going around his “Central Fire” – hey, maybe he’d sussed out Sagittarius A*!

    He adopted his ideas and he maintained them in the face of all sound rules of scientific method.

    Really? A list would be nice. It’s the sort of thing we do in science: methods, observations, conclusions. In fact ISTM that it was his opponents who did that: “Tycho objected to the idea of a moving Earth on the basis of physics, astronomy, and religion, and said that the Copernican system “… expertly and completely circumvents all that is superfluous or discordant in the system of Ptolemy. On no point does it offend the principle of mathematics. Yet it ascribes to the Earth, that hulking, lazy body, unfit for motion, a motion as quick as that of the aethereal torches, and a triple motion at that.” This was of course pre-Newton. Time to recommend Asimov’s The Relativity of Wrong once again.

    Part 2 after lunch 😉

  14. Dave_Geologist says:

    ..contd. There’s then a claim that Chinese traditional medicine is more effective than corresponding Western medicine because it used different ideologies (actually, the stuff that works uses the scientific method, e.g. isolating biochemically active organics which is no different conceptually from willow park or penicillin, and applies the same techniques as in the West; the rest is mumbo-jumbo and placebo), and that science will accept acupuncture after a delay (nope, half a century on, still placebo), And that we have learned that there are phenomena such as telepathy and telekinesis which will also be accepted by science in due course (nope, still waiting; as with the memory of water or the radio transmission of that memory). IIRC even Rhine has been debunked for a Statistics 101 error: treating under-predictions and over-predictions relative to chance as both being a significant effect, rather than considering the null hypothesis of random scatter about zero effect. And that Chinese science would be strengthened by the introduction of traditional medicine into curricula not weakened, and its success proves his point. Yes, but look at those successes: not qi; boring old chemistry, physics, geology, biology, genetics etc. Electrons don’t care whether you’re a capitalist or a communist, or religious or atheist. “Wherever we look we see that great scientific advances are due to outside interference which is made to prevail in the face of the most basic and most ‘rational’ methodological rules.” Haven’t looked very exhaustively, Paul (I italicised the start because that’s what makes it an easily debunked sweeping statement: of course there are serendipitous exceptions).

    When I got to “The fact that science has results counts in its favour only if these results were achieved by science alone, and without any outside help. A look at history shows that science hardly ever gets its results in this way”, I decided it was all getting too silly. Although I admit that when I encounter “the fact is” as a bald unsupported claim it does rather get my back up.

    I believe Feyerabend is regarded as something of a luminary. Sorry, all I see is a naked emperor.

  15. Willard says:

    Feyerabend isn’t an STS guy, Geo, so I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make.

    Reading is easy. Try to find the main claim. Don’t get carried away by your incredulity. You should do fine.

  16. Dave_Geologist says:

    He certainly seems to have dabbled Willard. More than by just taking pot-shots at Kuhn. Or am I missing some nuance about STS?

  17. Willard says:

    I would not call the fact that STS did not exist in Feyerabend’s times a nuance.

  18. Willard says:

    To make my point more explicit:

    A decisive moment in the development of STS was the mid-1980s addition of technology studies to the range of interests reflected in science.

    We should not conflate philosophy of science with STS. The first is usually made in philosophy departments. The second is made in a new kind of department.

    While some may argue that STS is an inter-disciplinary field, I don’t believe universities are made for that kind of thing. Those who study STS are nowadays specializing in STS. Which means they have little training in philosophy of science. They sure love to display their Kuhn Fu, however.

    Feyerabend’s point against method is correct, both historically and conceptually.

  19. izen says:

    “Feyerabend’s point against method is correct, both historically and conceptually.”

    Dubious I think.
    Especially the claim that consistency is not a useful tool in the scientific development of utile knowledge.

    Scientific knowledge evolves, DG has already mentioned Asimov’s relativity of wrong, and that is a useful example of how it evolves.
    Rather like genetic evolution it does NOT evolve by sudden radical mutation with the addition of novel features. Sudden lateral intrusions of new features are not a significant feature. Most of the time the system of science, like genetic evolution acts to suppress change if it is fit for purpose. When faced with external factors which threaten its survival it has exploited existing components or potential but dormant concepts within its toolbox to evolve new structures of understanding.

    Galilaeo built on existing heliocentric traditions within Arabic astronomy.
    The variance of lightspeed and the ‘ultra-violet catastrophe’ at the end of the 1900s prompted established, but largely ignored ideas of fields (from J K Maxwell) and atomism going back to Dalton that allowed relativity and quantum mechanics to emerge.
    Neither supplanted Newtonian theories, or basic laws of electrodynamics, and thermodynamics; they added a larger and more complex underlying structure to the conceptual base.

    I would strongly doubt that the current problem facing cosmology and fundamental particle theories by dark matter/energy will be solved by adopting an ‘anything goes’ approach, but will cause the evolution of new structures of understanding that will in retrospect be seen to be implicit in some existing aspects of our conceptual knowledge.
    And will almost certainly be consistent with most of our current understanding even if it adds additional as yet undiscovered complexities to the structure of scientific knowledge we have already developed.

  20. David B. Benson says:

    izen — See the Wikipedia page on Einstein-Cartan theory. Fits with so-called supergravity for which a Breakthrough Prize was recently awarded.

    And by the way, there is no so-called dark energy. There is a recent, beautiful paper explaining the evidence as local flow against the cosmic background.

  21. David B. Benson says:

    Correction: Breakthrough Prize, not Noble.

  22. Willard says:

    > Dubious I think. Especially the claim that consistency is not a useful tool in the scientific development of utile knowledge.

    This has no bearing on the claim that science has no special method to claim over other human endeavour. As my avatar used to say, science is an extension of commonsense. The reification of what all scientists do to understand the world under some method belongs to the same kind of mythology that we can witness elsewhere.

    I can concede that Paul’s flourish often goes too far. He’s being overtly provocative for no good reason. There is still merit in what he says, as there is in other father figures of philosophy of science. In the end, I think it’s mostly a matter of taste. Some prefer Kuhn, others Lakatos. Contrarians go for Popper. If you wish to go with Asimov, that’s fine with me too.

    What also matters to me is that one reads what one criticizes. Presenting reasons to dismiss isn’t criticism. That’s OK. We only have one life. That’s just not criticism.

  23. David B. Benson says:

    I don’t think that those famous philosophers of the 20th century actually had much influence on mathematics and physics. Possibly biology?

    Even less for modern STS, which might possibly state something useful in the social sciences. But what little I have read reporting on STS research gives me the impression that it is trite and useless. Sorry.

  24. Willard says:

    Sometimes I tell myself the same about these comment threads, David.

    But then I *do* read them.

  25. izen says:

    “There is still merit in what he says, as there is in other father figures of philosophy of science.”

    I would suggest that he is less a father figure, more the naughty uncle.
    Occasionally posing as a (naked) emperor.

    My own tastes would tend more towards Lewontin and Smullyan.

  26. Everett F Sargent says:

    Perhaps some STS’ers will join this discussion and help defend their own field here. Although I somewhat doubt that will happen, which raises another question, as in, why not, Is STS just another form of differentiation of humanity into ever increasing cliques (or tribes)? I happen to think so.

    For whatever reason(s) most here (in this thread) appear to be somewhat skeptical of STS as a field of study or perhaps STS’ers overall net contributions to society/societies as a whole. Or some such.

    My main question is somewhat timeless, so it began well before the Stone Age (e. g. warring factions, but don’t quote me on that one as I wasn’t there to witness it 1st hand), but let’s begin with the Stone Age and their invention of … wait for it … stone tools. I’m just sort of wondering what the superpositioning of STS’ers into the Stone Age would have meant to Stone Age societies of their time (e. g. the ethical and invasive introduction of stone tools).

    If STS is simply a rather somewhat modern phenomenon which appears to be rather lacking in a very strong theoretical basis of any kind, then it appears to me to be just the scatological (the previous word is just my attempt at humor) study of societies,

    I’m rather very INTP, and I rather really do appreciate humor and music, very much more so than what any STS’er would, could or should ever divine. Any and all humans are in some form STS’ers if they are at all self aware of themselves and their surroundings.

    So, in conclusion, two questions: (1) What exactly makes STS’ers special (say as opposed to a plumber or a coal miner)?, and (2) Does an STS’ers #2 (e. g. their so-called droppings) really smell any different from that of the rest of humanities #2’s (do stuffy shirted ivory towered intellectuals really eat uniquely different diets from the rest of humanity)?

    OK, enough of my so-called shirt ripping. I can only blame my behaviors on societal ethics and societies invasive technologies brought to you by mostly STEM types. Did someone mention the OxySacklers or anti-vaxers yet?

  27. David B. Benson says:

    As best as archeologists can ascertain, there was no group violence, i.e., warfare, before the advent of agriculture. At least, there is no evidence for it.

  28. dikranmarsupial says:

    I think most academic subjects have their rivalries

    Or in stats Bayesian-v-frequentism. Perhaps, unlike more mature sciences, STS hasn’t learned yet not to take that sort of thing seriously.

  29. dikranmarsupial says:

    “I can concede that Paul’s flourish often goes too far. He’s being overtly provocative for no good reason. There is still merit in what he says, as there is in other father figures of philosophy of science.”

    In principle, this might be a useful distinction between science and some other fields. While there are exceptions (e.g. Jaynes) most scientists tend to be rather circumspect and not provide claims that they can’t directly substantiate. There is usually little reward for overstatement. Have recently read Baudrillard’s (deeply misjudged) novelisation of “The Matrix”, which I thought had some interesting ideas (a simulacrum where Boris Johnson is a good prime minister?), but the message seemed to get rather lost under all the hyperbole (and florid rhetoric). But perhaps that is a problem with me as a reader?

  30. David B. Benson says:

    In stats, Bayesian vs frequentist has serious, expen$ive, real world consequences. Briefly, the rules of the frequentist are arbitrary; the Bayesian approach is sensible, reasonable.

  31. dikranmarsupial says:

    David, you are wrong. Both have their uses. The real problem is that the frequentist framework is rather subtle and often used by people that don’t understand the fundamentals.

    Can you give me an example of an arbitrary rule of frequentism? I can give you one that isn’t – Bayes rule.

  32. David B. Benson says:

    dikanmarsupial — BEIR VII badly applies the frequentist approach.

    I don’t understand what you are stating about Bayes’ Rule. It isn’t frequentist and isn’t arbitrary.

  33. David B. Benson says:

    dikanmarsupial — A more recent sensible idea in health maintenance failed, just barely, the p=0.05 arbitrary limit. If the authority had instead used Bayes’ Factor we would know how good the treatment is, on average.

  34. dikranmarsupial says:

    David B. Benson

    Bayes rule is a rule of probability – it applies equally to frequentist and Bayesian statistics.

    You claimed that “the rules of the frequentist are arbitrary” and yet when challenged to give an example of such an arbitrary rule you can’t, but don’t admit it.

    “the p=0.05 arbitrary limit.” this is not a rule of frequentist statistics, it is bad habit blindly followed by those who use NHSTs without understanding the framework. Fisher (who invented NHSTs) wrote that the appropriate threshold depends on the nature of the experiment (ironically it is the same sort of information that Bayesians encode as a prior).

  35. David B. Benson says:

    dikanmarsupial — p=0.05 is taught in every elementary statistics course, all that most scientists and engineers take. Whereas applying the Bayes’ Factor to two hypothesis and then AIC to consider the stronger is robust and easy to understand and apply.

    The consequences of the use of bad frequentist statistics by the NRC reports culminating in BEIR VII are profoundly bad for the health professions, for nuclear reactors and who knows what else.

  36. David B. Benson says:

    dikanmarsupial — actually, this history might be a suitable study for STSers.

  37. dikranmarsupial says:

    “dikanmarsupial — p=0.05 is taught in every elementary statistics course, ”

    does that make it a rule of frequentists statistics? No. Read the link I gave you. Just because something is taught badly, that doesn’t define what it actually is.

  38. dikranmarsupial says:

    There have been plenty of good books on the history of this already, I’ve read a few of them myself – the one by Hacking is rather good (shame his name is Ian, rather than, say, “Peter”).

  39. David B. Benson says:

    dikanmarsupial — That it is taught to beginners, who usually don’t take more, makes p=0.05 a rule. Failure to quite make it caused the audience to get up and leave the talk I mentioned earlier.

    Bad texts make bad applications. At least Bayes’ Factor

  40. David B. Benson says:

    The history I was referring is the history of radiation limits and its mismanagement.

  41. dikranmarsupial says:

    O.K. I can see you are not listening and not interested in finding out what frequentist statistics actually involves, just perpetuating the usual misunderstandings. Here is the quote from Fisher that shows you are wrong:

    …no scientific worker has a fixed level of significance at which from year to year, andin all circumstances, he rejects hypotheses; he rather gives his mind to each particular case in the light of his evidence and his ideas.[/blockquote] Sir Ronald A. Fisher 1956 – Statistical Methods and Scientific Inference. Oliver & Boyd, Edinburgh.

    Personally I’d take Fisher’s textbook as being more authoritative than badly taught statistics classes.

  42. David B. Benson says:

    dikanmarsupial, nobody working with radiation in the health industry or the nuclear reactor radiation safety industry, nor the radiation as industrial measurement industry has ever even heard of this book, much less read it.

    Moreover AIC provides clear guidance to the degree of rejection of the inferior hypothesis. All appear to understand this, as opposed to the ober dicta of p=0.05. Sorry to be so crude, but many of the decision makers are but civil servants without a thorough background in statistics.

  43. dikranmarsupial says:

    David, sorry, there is no point in trying to have a discussion with someone that isn’t listening and just wants to push their position without acknowledging the counter-arguments. I was pointing out that only the unreasonable actually take these sorts of partisan issues seriously – I think you have made my point, so I’ll leave it there.

  44. David B. Benson says:

    dikanmarsupial, but it is you who keep trying to make a purely academic exercise out of something which has consequences far beyond academia.

    Read BEIR VII and cringe.

  45. Dave_Geologist says:

    As best as archeologists can ascertain, there was no group violence, i.e., warfare, before the advent of agriculture. At least, there is no evidence for it.

    I can recommend a whole academic book about it David. Lots and lots of evidence, from both anthropological and archaeological studies. Violence and Warfare among Hunter-Gatherers. It’s just us humans being human. See Gintis’ comment: “There is surely no “gene for war” any more than there is a gene for violin playing. But war, like violin playing, is well within human capacities and war is likely to break out between groups when their common presence in the world threatens the secure future of each”.

    Hunter-gatherer warfare is sometimes understated by the use of definitions which restrict the definition of warfare to a minimum number of combatants, to action at a distance from your home territory, to whether civilians are systematically killed, etc. Warfare vs. fighting. So “counting coup” gets excluded as an expression of personal manhood or a rite of passage rather than organised warfare (even though the coup tradition is embedded in the culture, and you take it out an a rival tribe member not one of your own). Conflict over life-and-death resources gets excluded because “they had no choice”, but state conflict over lebensraum or economic resources or water or agricultural land does not. Avenging a relative gets excused but not avenging a co-religionist.

    But those are No True Scotsman definitions. People living in groups of a few dozen can’t put together a cohort of 100 soldiers. People who don’t build permanent settlements may not put down roots in one spot and defend it at all costs. That doesn’t mean that their motivations are any different. As a percentage of the population, hunter-gatherer violence involving relatively few fatalities can be bigger than in conflict between organised armies sourced from city populations in the hundreds of thousands. Archaeological sites routinely have a higher proportion of skulls fractured by a weapon than modern cemeteries. Obviously some of those may be mass graves following a conflict, but then by definition there has been conflict.

  46. dikranmarsupial says:

    “As best as archeologists can ascertain, there was no group violence, i.e., warfare, before the advent of agriculture. At least, there is no evidence for it.”

    would be a bit weird for chimpanzees (and other primates) to have group violence but not humans.

  47. David B. Benson says:

    Dave_Geologist, thank you.

    dikanmarsupial, it depends upon population density. Chipanzees are at their limit.

  48. dikranmarsupial says:

    David the same is going to be true of humans.

  49. David B. Benson says:

    Joman Japan appears to have been peaceful:

    So violence depends upon the particular society.

  50. dikranmarsupial says:

    That article seems to agree with what Dave_Geologist was saying. The argument was that ““As best as archeologists can ascertain, there was no group violence, i.e., warfare, before the advent of agriculture. At least, there is no evidence for it.”. The article gives counter examples (e.g. Nataruk). The existence of relatively peaceful hunter-gatherers does not save the generalisation.

  51. David B. Benson says:

    dikanmarsupial, agriculture is what, 9,000 years old? So where is the older evidence of warfare? Might be lower population density then. Might just be lack of evidence.

  52. dikranmarsupial says:

    As I said, it is in the article (I even referred to it by name)

    For instance, earlier this year, archaeologists led by Marta Mirazón Lahr found the earliest known evidence of organized conflict at Nataruk, a 10,000-year-old site near Lake Turkana, in Kenya. Mirazón Lahr and her colleagues claim that the 27 people who died at Nataruk were killed in a planned, organized attack by another group, probably in a conflict over the rich resources of the early Holocene lakeshore where they lived.

    [emphasis mine]

  53. Dave_Geologist says:

    David, the population density point was alluded to by Gintis: “war is likely to break out between groups when their common presence in the world threatens the secure future of each”. An obvious way for one group to threaten the secure future of another is for its population to grow to the point where its own territory no longer sustains it. Given that a human couple is capable of bearing a dozen or more children, as long as more than two survive the population will grow. If it doesn’t it will probably crash and they’ll die out – exact replacement fails when a bunch of people die in an accident or get eaten by a tiger. Because an agrarian society can sustain a higher population density in one place than a hunter-gatherer one, the population at which it bangs up against the sustainable limit of its territory will occur at higher population numbers. So you will get something that looks more like armies than raider bands, probably with some sort of hierarchy because that’s the only way to organise 1000 people.

    Dipping into the book, Raymond Kelly for example agrees that early hominins probably had competitive social groups, and talks about “lethal intergroup violence” existing before “warfare”. But what is warfare if not lethal intergroup violence? He posits the thrown spear as (my summary) the defensive umbrella of the Paleolithic, whereby chimpanzee-like raids by warriors 😉 with a single spear each were too costly against a static defence armed with stockpiled weapons. But the bow and arrow surely negated that advantage, not Neolithic agriculture? I don’t think anyone would argue that agriculture and cities are not required to make an army with large numbers of trained men, either militia or professional soldiers, and specialised weapons and equipment. If you require that in your definition of warfare, then the conclusion that pre-Neolithic societies did not fight wars is a given; but that does not mean that they were peaceful, or that tribes did not fight within and amongst each other.

  54. Dave_Geologist says:

    Yes, David, it depends on the society. The Japan and Turkana examples. Dipping into the paleoAmerican chapter of the book, most weapon-wounds are multiple, frontal, non-lethal and are present in around half of male skeletons. One might presume that this was some sort of semi-ritualised conflict, where it was enough to claim victory, not kill your opponent. Or that there was a deterrent tradition of tribal revenge in the event of a killing. They were hunting big game so knew how to inflict lethal wounds! OTOH there are defensive fortifications in the US NW, which were not defending against mammoths – they were long gone. “Wait and parry” is a chapter sub-heading which goes to the Kelly argument: there was a period where the technology favoured defence over offence; that doesn’t mean no-one had offensive designs on their neighbours. An increase in intergroup violence is attributed to the development of better bow technology for hunting big game which could be repurposed, or to more sophisticated designs of securely attached stone arrowheads which could kill a man clad in leathers as easily as it kills an elk.

    Probably also on population density: some authors associate violence with expanding populations, and a greater permanence in group location as you can’t just wander off somewhere else because someone is already living there. I’m reminded of an article on Greg Laden’s blog, where he described a group that had half a dozen “home” sites in their home range, and moved between them as local resources were depleted. They might have appeared to a short-term observer to be itinerant, but they weren’t. They had a well defined home range, surrounded by other groups’ home ranges, and trouble would ensue if they trespassed. Perhaps the non-violent part of our history was more to do with us expanding out into virgin territory and never running into resource constraints than about what we ate; and being able to move on if things turned nasty with a neighbour. But there I go, pretending to be a sociologist or anthropologist 😦 .

  55. Willard says:

    > war is likely to break out between groups when their common presence in the world threatens the secure future of each

    For everything else there is ClimateBall.

  56. Dave_Geologist says:

    The threat is the common presence of Group IV and Group VI Willard. And a bit of IV and I, although that may take a sudden leap if we’re not careful.

    Merry Christmas everyone!

  57. Willard says:

    > I would suggest that he is less a father figure, more the naughty uncle.

    Point taken.

    You know, there are so many philosophers of science that would deserve more ice time than Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos or Feyerabend. Ian Hacking, both my and Eric Winsburg’s guru. Gaston Bachelard. Percy Bridgman. Rudolph Carnap. Nancy Carthwright. Paul and Patricia Churchland. Pierre Duhem. John Dupré. John Earman. Bas Van Fraassen. Yves Gauthier. Nelson Goodman. Adolf Grünbaum. Robert Van Gulick. Susan Haack. David Hull. Gustav Hempel. Jaegwon Kim. Philip and Patricia Kitcher. Larry Laudan. Ernest Nagel. David Papineau. Jean Piaget. Henri Poincaré. Hilary Putnam. Wesley Salmon. Jonah Schupbach. Eliot Sober. Patrick Suppes. Stephen Toulmin. That’s from the top of my hat, and notwithstanding what we can find elsewhere, e.g.

    or from a less universalist perspective:

    And I’m not a specialist in philosophy of science!

    Many interesting philosophers do good work. Case studies. Formal stuff. Beautiful writing. Name it. That work won’t disappear by a few hand sweeps from scientist curmudgeons. I might as well throw physics away because Neil Tyson say stuff or psychology because of Peven Stinker. That’s just lazy.

    Incuriosity is the best explanation for why we always return to the same ol’ names. And more generally:

  58. David B. Benson says:

    Willard, that is a fine list of names. Some I found important for attempting to establish foundations for so-called computer science, possibly better called algorithmics although nobody does that.

    To that end, one should add Alonzo Church, Curry, Feit, Stephen Kleene, J.B. Rosser. More, but I’ll stop there.

  59. Willard says:

    Good list, David. Kleene’s book is still worth revisiting I think, if only for the typography. Back in the days, they knew how to typeset books.

    You might like a guy named Leslie Tharp, whom died way too young. I think he crushed my avatar.

  60. Steven Mosher says:

    let splay have you read

    Popper(Y), Kuhn(Y), Lakatos(?) or Feyerabend(Y). Ian Hacking(N), both my and Eric Winsburg’s guru. Gaston Bachelard(N). Percy Bridgman(N). Rudolph Carnap(Y). Nancy Carthwright. Paul and Patricia Churchland(N). Pierre Duhem(y). John Dupré(N). John Earman(N). Bas Van Fraassen(N). Yves Gauthier(N). Nelson Goodman(Y). Adolf Grünbaum(N). Robert Van Gulick(N). Susan Haack(N). David Hull(N). Gustav Hempel(Y). Jaegwon Kim(N). Philip and Patricia Kitcher(N). Larry Laudan(N). Ernest Nagel(Y). David Papineau(N). Jean Piaget(Y). Henri Poincaré(N). Hilary Putnam.(Y) Wesley Salmon(N). Jonah Schupbach(N). Eliot Sober(N). Patrick Suppes(N). Stephen Toulmin(?hmm, read about).

    willard always gives good reading lists. ok boomers have at it

  61. izen says:

    An early comment in this thread suggested that STS people are as much activists as analysts.

    In that case their philosophical pov may be less interesting than their political and economic context.
    Are they Marxist ? Anarcho-syndicalist ? or neo-liberals combining Hayek with a POMO gloss ?

  62. Chris says:

    David B. Benson

    I don’t think that those famous philosophers of the 20th century actually had much influence on mathematics and physics. Possibly biology?

    No not in biology either David. It’s not obvious that 20th century philosophers of science had any particular intention to influence science and its progression (If I’m wrong someone here can tell me) – that may well be one of the reasons for the development of STS since these guys certainly do act like they want to insert themselves meaningfully into the mix in terms of influencing how science is done (though they often seem only to want to bitch about it in my experience) and how science impacts the wider social sphere (this is an important aim though it’s not obvious that STS people have any particular authority for doing so).

    Incidentally re biology and Philosophy of Science, I have a sneaking regard for Feyerabend’s description of a more chaotic approach to discovery and advance, since I think this is a better representation of how science is often done at the coalface. For example the fundamental 20th century advance in biology – determination of the molecular basis of genetic inheritance – was quite chaotic in its final resolution. You had intense competition with “important” people getting it hopelessly wrong (Watson/Crick- aka W/C – vs Pauling who came up with a particularly dumb structure for DNA), what might be considered somewhat sneaky behaviour (Watson being shown key X-ray diffraction data of Rosalind Franklin), somewhat fortuitous interactions (W/C learning about the dominant keto/enol isomers of the nucleotide bases), etc.

    Of course when the work is published it’s set out in a logical structured manner that gives the impression of a structured and logical approach to the study. That’s very common in my opinion and one of the reasons that we often leave the introduction to our papers to the end so that once we decide what we’ve learned from our studies and how to interpret these we go back and frame the intro accordingly (mildly akin to p-hacking, m’Lud?). That’s all quite Feyerabendian too! The reason it works is that (contrary to the opinion of some modern STS-ers) there very likely is an underlying reality out there and so however we approach this, and so long as we do so in good faith, we’re liable to bump into and uncover bits of real world reality occasionally (as Feyeraband would assuredly agree).

    Much of modern science is actually the appliance of technology and not very hypothesis-led. This is probably another reason why STS has developed and also why it’s important that non-scientist players take a strong role in addressing the socio-political implications of scientific/technological efforts and findings.

  63. izen says:

    “For example the fundamental 20th century advance in biology – determination of the molecular basis of genetic inheritance – was quite chaotic in its final resolution.”

    But deeply philosophical in its original conception.
    In ‘What is Life’ Schrodinger in 1944, set out quite clearly the underlying process of life and how a hereditary component within it must operate.
    His 1935 paper on the nature of quantum physics in which the now famous cat appears is also as much philosophy as matrix mathematics.
    The cat is still often misrepresented as both alive/dead. The exact opposite of the point Schrodinger was making about the epistemological difference between quantum variables and macroscopic variables.

  64. Chris says:

    Well yes, it had to be philosophical in its original conceptions since the physical nature of the mechanisms of genetic inheritance weren’t known (one assumes that those that philosophised on the subject, at least in the 20th century, would have considered that there was a physical mechanism and that this might be uncovered one day).

    I suppose it also depends on what one means by “philosophy”. For example was Schrodinger philosophising about the nature of the hereditary component and how it must operate or simply making a logical argument based upon what was known at the time? His little book is a mastery of logical argument. As a related example once the structure of DNA was determined it was considered that there must be a “code” that matched the base sequence to amino acid sequence in the coded protein and a mechanism for doing so. Were those who considered that to be the case “philosophising” or applying a logical argument in the light of then-current knowledge?

    Totally agree with you about the cat, izen. Obviously the cat wasn’t coexisting in a “both-dead-and-alive” state that would resolve upon opening the box as people tend to portray.

  65. Willard says:

    > good reading lists

    A clarification. My point wasn’t to drop names for the sake of it, but to illustrate how reductive it is to judge the fruitfulness of a discipline by discussing a few names alone. There are so many names that I’m tempted to let go of names altogether. There is no I in Science. We are Science.

    That being said, Ian has a good review of the correspondence between Imre and Paul:

    Lakatos and Feyerabend were fast friends, and reflection on their ebullient and cantankerous friendship should enrich our understanding of Aristotle’s dictum that a friend is an alter ego. I found their letters flatter than I expected, however. Here we have two schoolboys joshing each other, and egging each other on with talk of girls, girlfriends and pretty secretaries. The banter is so routine that it reveals nothing intimate. The fact that both men remained adolescents to the end must be a clue to their intellectual liveliness and their contempt for bland academic professionalism. The letters were written as both wrestled with philosophy, and took public positions on politics. The student revolt was under way, with Feyerabend nervously cheering in Berkeley, and Lakatos defiantly counter-revolutionary at LSE. The one thing new is that on 10 October 1970, as things are quietening down, Feyerabend – no fan of his Berkeley colleague John Searle – describes the draft of Searle’s book on the crisis in the universities as ‘marvellous’. And that he considered saying in the preface to Against Method: ‘I am for anarchism in thinking, in one’s private life, BUT NOT in public life.’

    Merry Christmas!

  66. Pingback: The science-society interface | …and Then There's Physics

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