Richard Dawkins posted a tweet that cause a bit of a furore in some sectors of Twitter. He did try to clarify, but it still didn’t go down well.
The problem with his tweet is that science clearly is socially constructed. It’s done by people who make decisions that are strongly influenced by our social norms. In some cases, as discussed in Angela Saini’s book Superior, this not only influences how we do science, but also influences the results of some research activities, or how we interpret research results.
If we want to deal with the issues highlighted in Angela Saini’s book, and also improve diversity and inclusion in science, then we need to recognise that science is socially constructed.
However, I also understand why some scientist push back against this framing. It’s either because they think it’s implying that scientific results are social constructs, or that they will be interpreted as being social constructs. The concern being that this can imply that scientific results are constructed (made up) by people, rather than them tending towards properly representing whatever system is being studied.
I realise that the latter is not what those who highlight the social construction of science are actually suggesting, but I do get why it might sometimes seem that way. However, I do think it’s worth scientists trying to understand why it is important to recognise that societal factors play a big in role in determining how we do science, and can – in some circumstances – influence how we interpret scientific results.
However, I also think it’s worth Humanities scholars understanding why there can be push back from scientists. It’s not that they think societal factors play no role in science, it’s more that they think that this doesn’t necessarily imply that societal factors will have a big influence on scientific results, or how we interpret these results. There’s a concern that this can lead to people undermining scientific results when these results seem inconvenient. I think this is a valid concern, even if this isn’t what the social construction of science actually implies.