Science Wars

Science Wars

by Andrew Ross

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In the wake of the highly fractious Culture Wars, conservatives in science have launched a backlash against feminist, multiculturalist, and social critics in science studies. Paul Gross and Norman Levitt’s book Higher Superstition, presented as a wake-up call to scientists unaware of the dangers posed by the “science-bashers,” set the shrill tone of this reaction and led to the appearance of a growing number of scare stories about an “antiscience” movement in the op-ed sections of newspapers across the country. Unwilling to be political scapegoats for the decline in the public funding of science and the erosion of the public authority of scientists, many of these critics—natural scientists, sociologists, anthropologists, historians, and scholars in cultural studies and literary studies—have taken the opportunity to respond to the backlash in Science Wars.
At a time when scientific knowledge is systematically whisked out of the domain of education and converted into private capital, the essays in this volume are sharply critical of the conservative defense of a value-free science. They suggest that in a world steeped in nuclear, biogenic, and chemical overdevelopment, those who are skeptical of technology are more than entitled to ask for evidence of rationality in those versions of scientific progress that respond only to the managerial needs of state, corporate, and military elites. Whether uncovering the gender-laden assumptions built into the Western scientific method, redefining the scientific claim to objectivity, showing the relationship between science’s empirical worldview and that of mercantile capitalism, or showing how the powerful language of science exercises its daily cultural authority in our society, the essays in Science Wars announce their own powerful message. Analyzing the antidemocratic tendencies within science and its institutions, they insist on a more accountable relationship between scientists and the communities and environments affected by their research.
Revised and expanded from a recent issue of Social Text, Science Wars will provoke thought and controversy among scholars and general readers interested in science studies and current cultural politics.

Contributors. Stanley Aronowitz, Sarah Franklin, Steve Fuller, Sandra Harding, Roger Hart, N. Katherine Hayles, Ruth Hubbard, Joel Kovel, Les Levidow, George Levine, Richard Levins, Richard C. Lewontin, Michael Lynch, Emily Martin, Dorothy Nelkin, Hilary Rose, Andrew Ross, Sharon Traweek, Langdon Winner

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822397977
Publisher: Duke University Press
Publication date: 10/29/1996
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 344
File size: 551 KB

About the Author

Andrew Ross is Professor and Director of the Graduate Program in American Studies at New York University and coeditor of Social Text.

Read an Excerpt

Science Wars

By Andrew Ross

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1996 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-9797-7


Science Is "Good to Think With"

Sandra Harding

Thinking Science, Thinking Society

IT is ironic that the major criticism of the new social studies of science and technology from the antidemocratic right in fact provides yet more evidence for the value of those science studies. The new science studies shows how the "order of knowledge" has also been the "order of society." When challenges to the social order have arisen, these challenges have also changed the prevailing ways that the production and legitimation of knowledge have been organized, and vice versa: the social order and the structure of a culture's sciences are generated through one and the same social transformations (see, for example, Merchant 1980; Restivo 1988; Shapin 1994; Shapin and Schaffer 1985). This is pretty close to what the antidemocratic right believes: the new science studies, feminism, "deconstructionism," and multiculturalism threaten the downfall of civilization and its standards of reason. The latter criticism does not contest that the order of knowledge and the social order shape and maintain each other, but only the way science studies reveals how such science-society relations have worked in the past and operate today, and the proposal in some of these science studies tendencies for more open, public discussion about the desirability of prevailing science-society relations. It is significant that the Right's objections virtually never get into the nitty-gritty of historical or ethnographic detail to contest the accuracy of social studies of science accounts. Such objections remain at the level of rhetorical flourishes and ridicule.

Democracy-advancing social movements, building on and expanding the earlier class-based analyses, have argued that the natural and social sciences we have are in important respects incapable of producing the kinds of knowledge that are needed for sustainable human life in sustainable environments under democratic conditions. The conventional conceptual frameworks of the natural and social sciences have been designed for quite different projects—in short, for producing the kinds of information useful to the administrators and managers of nation states, multinational corporations, and militaries. These institutions have central interests in continuing European expansionist projects that benefit primarily elites, and they all embody particularly destructive ideals of manliness and womanliness that facilitate such expansion. Important kinds of information and understanding wanted by those who bear disproportionate shares of the costs of how these institutions organize social relations, both in the North and the South, cannot be gathered through the kinds of conceptual frameworks that natural and social sciences have developed for such administrative/managerial projects.

The antidemocratic right often accuses the new science studies of relativism, but it is wrong about just what it is to which the new science studies "relativizes" sciences. Science studies does not claim that sciences are epistemologically relative to each and every culture's beliefs such that all are equally defensible as true. Rather, the point is that they are historically relative to different cultures' projects—to cultures' questions about the natural and social orders. Different questions produce different answers containing distinctive, sometimes conflicting, representations of nature and, indeed, of science, and the representations that conflict do not fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

For example, the representations of nature, society, and science appearing in the answers to those questions of most interest to nation states, multinational corporations, and militaries often conflict with the representations that appear in the answers to the most pressing questions for those who bear the costs of those institutions' projects. If you want to do modern agribusiness, modern technosciences can help; if you want to maintain a fragile environment and biodiversity, those sciences, so far, have been of little assistance. This is so in part because the representations of nature's regularities and underlying causal tendencies in technosciences and in some forms of environmentalism are conflicting. The representations of nature, society, and maximally effective knowledge production in the sometimes more effective "local knowledge systems" conflict with those in modern technosciences. This is as true of different sciences within the same culture as it is of "the same science" in different cultures, of course. The conceptual frameworks of modern physics, chemistry, and biology on the one hand, and environmental sciences on the other hand do not fit together perfectly. The latter require learning to negotiate between the principles of these modern sciences and of both local and social knowledge of environments, neither of which has a place in the conceptual frameworks of those modern sciences (see Seager 1993). Indeed, the conceptual frameworks of those three modern sciences no longer appear unifiable (Dupre 1993).

Of course, this kind of historicization of scientific projects does indeed generate a different epistemology for science than the standard ones that set out to show how reasonable it is that truth always manages to land on the side of the latest arrival among modern sciences. This epistemology supports thinking with/between more than one knowledge system, from their "borderlands," so to speak (Anzaldúa 1987; Collins 1991). It is exactly in opposition to the claim that there are no rational standards for deciding between them. This kind of epistemology simply openly asserts that whatever their explicit topic, rational standards are always about both the natural and social orders. I turn shortly to suggest how important such an epistemology is for the barely initiated project of developing anti-Eurocentric Northern science studies.

Displacing Anxieties

Another way to state my point here is that science is always "good to think with," as Lévi-Strauss said about sex. For "educated classes" whose own status depends on the same appeals to objectivity, rationality, expertise, and progressiveness on which science's legitimacy depends, science discourses can be mobilized to encourage people to think in politically seductive ways about any and all social issues. And, of course, when it is possible to mobilize both sex and science discourses to reflect on the resources and dangers of social change, one can be assured of generating a great deal of heat, however much light gets produced. The necessity for "society" to control "wild women" and powerful, malevolent "mothers" has again and again been mobilized in appeals for support for modern science's ways of predicting and controlling nature, from Machiavelli's famous concerns for "man's fate" to the antidemocratic right's recent clarion calls for the citizenry to join in stamping out feminism and, in particular, feminist science studies. One of the sins of the latter, we are told, is critically quoting the same kind of earlier appeals by figures such as Machiavelli and Bacon. I guess we are not supposed to ask for whom science is supposed to be kept a safe haven from these phantasmic wild women and malevolent mothers. Clearly, feminist science studies is a threat because it makes visible what is not supposed to exist— therefore, what does not really exist, according to this kind of magical thinking.

Ideals of manliness are also threatened by what are perceived as national economic and political failures in the United States. Purportedly morally and culturally inferior others, femininized in the national discourses of domestic and international relations, are swarming across the U.S. borders, reproducing at higher rates than European Americans and claiming powerful voices in national and international politics (see Enloe 1990; Parker et al. 1992; Tickner 1992). Who is entitled to set the national standards for rationality, objectivity, and the goals of science is no longer so obvious.

However, for many scientists and well-intentioned liberals—and there is a large overlap between these groups—it is not clear that displacing anxieties about social change onto the already most vulnerable segments of the social order will be effective. Liberalism is an appealing political philosophy to scientists, since its basic concepts and ways of thinking are precisely those of modern science's self-image. Liberal judges, lawyers, political figures, and administrators have been in the forefront of public agenda struggles against sexism and racism. It is important to remember that liberal political philosophy is being pulled in both anti- and prodemocratic directions these days, as can be seen in public resistance to the way much originally prodemocratic liberal rhetoric has been appropriated for antidemocratic projects—for example, "right to life," "racial discrimination," and, of course, "objectivity," "rationality," and "science."

This situation highlights the importance of continuing to struggle to keep liberal concepts headed in prodemocratic directions rather than abandoning them. After all, feminist and antiracist science studies have called for more objective natural and social sciences, not less objective ones! They want sciences that are competent at detecting the culture-wide presuppositions that shape the dominant conceptual frameworks of disciplines and public discourse. Such presuppositions, if unexamined, function as evidence, "laundering" sexism or racism or class interests by transporting them from the social order into "the natural order." Women, peoples of color, and poor people want to know how our bodies do work and how to protect them from the effects of sexism, racism, and class exploitation. Women want to know how to serve the health needs of the three generations dependent on them. Just what is in the food we eat and the air we breathe? Concepts such as objectivity, rationality, good method, and science need to be reappropriated, reoccupied, and reinvigorated for democracy-advancing projects (see Harding 1992).

Multicultural and Global, Gendered, Science Studies?

At this point I want to suggest that in some ways the new science studies still has far to go to achieve a maximally objective, accurate, and comprehensive representation of relations between the social order and the order of knowledge—past, present, and future. The Right consistently links science studies, feminism, deconstructionism, and multiculturalism, but science studies, both feminist and "pre-feminist," has barely begun to link its projects with those of multiculturalism. Moreover, the links between deconstructionism and science studies are only beginning to be fully explored, and most of the social studies of science woefully lack an understanding of gender relations as a part of social relations. In the latter case, these fields still tend to conduct their analyses as if feminist analyses were relevant only when women appeared in the historical record or, perhaps, as contemporary lab directors. For them, no gender relations are present when the scientists and/or the science theorists are only men, unless women are complaining.

However, the gap I shall focus on here is the first one; the postcolonialism and multiculturalism of current thinking in history, literature, cultural studies, and political economy have hardly begun to inform science studies or its feminist component. How should multiculturalism or, let us say more generally, anti-Eurocentrism, shift the largely still-Eurocentric focuses of contemporary science studies? The anti-Eurocentric histories of the North and the South have now transformed K–12 history texts. How can our understanding of modern sciences be located more firmly in such "single-stream," postcolonial histories, and in the related critical studies of so-called development that have in the last decade changed the way many in the North are coming to think about the origins and subsequent history of "Western Civilization"? (See, for example, Blaut 1993; Sachs 1992.)

Development studies themselves have for the most part appeared to the social studies of science, including its feminist components, to lie far off in the conceptual and political distance. They appear as a completely separate discourse, with few obvious points of contact to the histories, sociologies, ethnographies, and philosophies of modern science that have been centered in science studies. There are many reasons for this phenomenon. For one thing, the notions of science central to many development accounts are largely the older, purportedly value-free, "mirror of nature" ones, not the social and cultural ones developed by the social studies of science.

Moreover, even for the new science studies that insists that science cannot be "pure" of social dimensions, development appears primarily to be an issue of applied sciences and technologies—not of the "high sciences," such as abstract physics, chemistry, and biology that, paradoxically, are still centered in so much of the social studies of science. Thus the new science studies still assumes the liberal concept of development as the transfer of Northern sciences and technologies to the South; not, to imagine another scenario, as the South's development of "its own" sciences and technologies that need not be restricted to what the North has found useful, and that might thereby creatively make important contributions to the storehouse of global scientific knowledge. Thus the institutional structure of U.S. universities tends to locate development studies and their projects mostly outside the science departments, and also outside the humanities and social science departments and colleges that have largely produced science studies. Development studies are more likely to be found in schools of "applied science" such as those of agriculture and public health.

Feminist science studies and technology studies have been largely separate and noncommunicating fields—or, at least, science studies doesn't draw on technology studies. Neither has been much concerned with the issues central to the interactions between technological and scientific knowledge, or to the various forms of women in/and development. Colonial science and its continuation in so-called development is more obvious to historians of science in some European countries where, for example, the archives of national colonial science histories are accessible in Paris, Copenhagen, and other European centers. Such archives are evidently scarce in the United States, with the latter's different pattern of "settler colonialism" and imperialism.

These obstacles are by no means negligible, but neither are the losses to science studies from failing to overcome them. There are two routes into the issues here that will feel at least partially familiar to science studies. One would locate studies of the history of modern science and of the empirical knowledge traditions of other cultures on anti-Eurocentric maps of European expansion, its causes and effects. The other would then construct multicultural and global feminist science studies on the map created by this first project. I sketch out these routes briefly not only for their intrinsic interest, but also because they both strengthen the case for articulating more clearly the advantages of epistemologies that can historicize sciences to determinate social projects, about which a great deal of rational, objective dialogue is possible, if not always easy to organize.

The Growth of Modern Science and European Expansion: A Problematic Codependency?

Only occasionally visible in Northern histories, philosophies, sociologies, and cultural studies of modern science, including their feminist components, are (1) anti-Eurocentric representations of the scientific traditions of other cultures; (2) accounts of the effects that European expansion and the growth of modern science had and continue to have on each other, including analyses of the consequent and otherwise existing cultural "localness" of modern sciences; (3) analyses of the losses that continued reduction in cognitive diversity insures for the human future; and (4) anti-Eurocentric philosophic discussions of the resources and challenges of other "local knowledge systems" and, especially, their interactions with modern science in both the North and the South. A still relatively small but vital literature has been produced on this array of topics (see, for example, Crosby 1987; Goonatilake 1984, 1992; Haraway 1989; Harding 1993, 1994, forthcoming a; Hess 1995; Joseph 1991; McClellan 1992; Need-ham 1969; Petijean et al. 1992; Sabra 1976; Sachs 1992; Sardar 1988; Seager 1993; Shiva 1989; and Traweek 1988, n.d.).

Chinese and Islamic sciences and technologies are the topic of the most developed comparative studies. Careful readings of these accounts also reveal understandings of the causes of the strengths and limitations of modern European sciences that are otherwise hard to come by. For example, Needham discusses how central fruitful scientific concepts, such as the "laws of nature," were indebted to Christian precepts, no less than were the unfortunately long-lasting beliefs in the heavenly crystal spheres. Needham is saying that religious beliefs that constituted central cognitive notions in modern sciences greatly advanced these sciences in some respects and retarded them in others. This kind of discussion stands on the borderlands between Chinese and modern European sciences, looking back and forth critically from one to the other (Needham 1969).


Excerpted from Science Wars by Andrew Ross. Copyright © 1996 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Table of Contents

Introduction / Andrew Ross 1

Science is "Good to Think With" / Sandra Harding 16

Does Science Put an End to History, or History to Science? Or, Why Being Pro-science Is Harder than You Think / Steve Fuller 29

Meeting Polemics with Irenics in the Science Wars / Emily Martin 61

My Enemy's Enemy Is--Only Perhaps--My Friend / Hilary Rose 80

The Gloves Come Off: Shattered Alliances in Science and Technology Studies / Langdon Winner 102

The Science Wars: Responses to a Marriage Failed / Dorothy Nelkin 114

What Is Science Studies for and Who Cares? / George Levine 123

Unity, Dyads, Triads, Quads, and Complexity: Cultural Choreographies of Science / Sharon Traweek 139

Making Transparencies: Seeing through the Science Wars / Sarah Franklin 151

Gender and Genitals: Constructs of Sex and Gender / Ruth Hubbard 168

Ten Propositions on Science and Antiscience / Richard Levine 180

Dispatches from the Science Wars / Joel Kovel 192

The Politics of the Science Wars / Stanley Aranowitz 202

Consolidating the Canon / N. Katherine Hayles 226

Detoxifying the "Poison Pen Effect" / Michael Lynch 238

The Flight from Reason: Higher Superstition and the Refutation of Science Studies / Roger Hart 259

A la recherche du temps perdu: A Review Essay / Richard C. Lewontin 293

Science Skirmishes and Science-Policy Research / Les Levidow 302

A Few Good Species / Andrew Ross 311

Contributors 321

Index 325

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