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Who Rules in Science?: An Opinionated Guide to the Wars
     

Who Rules in Science?: An Opinionated Guide to the Wars

by James Robert Brown, Brown
 

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What if something as seemingly academic as the so-called science wars were to determine how we live?

This eye-opening book reveals how little we've understood about the ongoing pitched battles between the sciences and the humanities--and how much may be at stake. James Brown's starting point is C. P. Snow's famous book, Two Cultures and the Scientific

Overview

What if something as seemingly academic as the so-called science wars were to determine how we live?

This eye-opening book reveals how little we've understood about the ongoing pitched battles between the sciences and the humanities--and how much may be at stake. James Brown's starting point is C. P. Snow's famous book, Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution, which set the terms for the current debates. But that little book did much more than identify two new, opposing cultures, Brown contends: It also claimed that scientists are better qualified than nonscientists to solve political and social problems. In short, the true significance of Snow's treatise was its focus on the question of who should rule--a question that remains vexing, pressing, and politically explosive today.

In Who Rules in Science? Brown takes us through the various engagements in the science wars--from the infamous "Sokal affair" to angry confrontations over the nature of evidence, the possibility of objectivity, and the methods of science--to show how the contested terrain may be science, but the prize is political: Whoever wins the science wars will have an unprecedented influence on how we are governed.

Brown provides the most comprehensive and balanced assessment yet of the science wars. He separates the good arguments from the bad, and exposes the underlying message: Science and social justice are inextricably linked. His book is essential reading if we are to understand the forces making and remaking our world.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Postmodernists and social constructionists claim that there can be no such thing as "objective science." Indeed, many argue that the underlying "facts" of science are merely social conventions and that any view of the natural world is as likely to be as accurate as any other: "[i]t is one story among many stories," says Stanley Aronowitz. The process of scientific investigation and the knowledge that it yields, therefore, is worthy of neither particular respect nor governmental funding. University of Toronto professor of philosophy Brown (Smoke and Mirrors) ably takes on many of the claims proffered by the antiscience camp and argues that the logic in those claims is faulty. Brown's engaging style makes accessible complex issues central to the philosophy of science. The positions of two of the 20th century's great philosophers of science, Thomas Kuhn and Karl Popper, for example, are summarized deftly and fairly harshly, and contrasted with those of their most famous detractors: Bruno Latour, Jacques Derrida and David Bloor. Brown somewhat gleefully recounts the renowned hoax wherein physicist Alan Sokal sent in "a concoction of cleverly contrived gibberish written in the worst postmodern jargon" to the pomo journal Social Text. But he's no apologist for science, and he contends that scientists are subject to social bias and that science and social justice should be closely linked. "Science," according to Brown, "is the single most important institution in our lives," and thus understanding how it's used and misused is critical to a well-functioning democracy. (Dec.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Brown (philosophy, U. of Toronto) explains the scope of this work in his preface, defining the many battles he is addressing—e.g. science and the religious Right, science and parts of the environmental movement, the patenting of knowledge by biotech firms<- ->although these topics overlap his principal concerns. Writing clearly, energetically, and profoundly for a motivated general audience, he looks closely at the issues of objectivity, values, and social influences and develops an underlying theme linking great science and social justice. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
A close analysis of the "science wars" examines the link between politics and epistemology. Brown (Philosophy/Univ. of Toronto) does an admirable job of engaging the general reader in such issues as the role that science plays in creating or changing the social order and the role of social factors in the creating or changing of scientific theories. He opens with a look back at C.P. Snow's Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution, which explored the gulf between the humanities and the sciences, and follows with a description of reactions to the Sokal hoax of 1996, in which a physicist lampooned the sociology journal Social Text by tricking it into publishing jargon-filled pseudoscientific nonsense. Next, Brown considers the philosophical positions and goals of the various factions: the political left, including activists friendly to orthodox views of science and social constructivists and postmodernists who are hostile, and those on the political right, such as religious fundamentalists and some sociobiologists who are similarly divided in their regard for orthodox views of science. The author takes readers through a whirlwind course in the philosophy of science in the 20th century, focusing on the concepts of realism, objectivity, and values. He acknowledges that social constructivists are right in seeing social factors at work in science, but he insists that reason and evidence play a dominant role. Brown sees the democratization of science as one of the central themes of the science wars, and he takes the position that when participants are drawn from every affected social group, more objective science will result. He argues that knowledge grows through comparative theoryassessment, and that the way to ensure the optimal diversity of rival theories is by having a wide variety of theorists from diverse backgrounds; thus the political act of affirmative action leads to more objective science. Brings the science wars home for the lay reader by identifying the combatants, examining their goals, and exposing the strengths and weaknesses of their arguments.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780674006522
Publisher:
Harvard University Press
Publication date:
12/28/2001
Pages:
256
Product dimensions:
6.22(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.90(d)

What People are Saying About This

Who Rules in Science? restores the image of the scientist as a rational actor, capable of generating reliable knowledge and defending the public interest. The book is wonderfully written and should be read as widely as possible.

Meet the Author

James Robert Brown is Professor of Philosophy at University of Toronto.

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