Radicals and a science fetish?

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Nov 21 2006 00:35
Radicals and a science fetish?

It seems to me that radicals of all shades are really uncritical of established science, and constantly refer to scientific findings to bolster communistic arguments. I 'spose it goes right back to Marx and Engels who studied the natural world to learn the laws governing matter. Latter it was anarchists like Kropotkin and more recently Bookchin who studied nature, looking for all kinds of moral lessons. You see it nowadays with people discussing what monkeys do in their spare time like it has some sort of relevance to human sociality.

The problem with this is that the natural world is so multi-faceted and complex you can concoct any bedtime parable for a new society that you like. Take for instance the current view that humans evolved in Africa and later spread round the globe. 'Progressives' (sorry) point to the fact that we thus all have African heritage, and thus attack racism. But I'm pretty sure a racist can just convince themselves that Africans are primitive and white people are the next evolutionary step. More pertinent is the off-cited data that there is no meaningful genetic difference between the worlds populations. But think about this: humans and chimps are 99% similar. Nowadays genetic difference per se is not seen as indicative of organismal differences; rather it is about the spatio-temporal regulation of genes during development. This regulation is effected by the minute differences in DNA, which theoretically could exist between the 'races'. My bet is that in the next few years racist scientists will be studying gene regulation between 'races' as 'proof' that the races are in fact different. Are the communists who cling to the aura of established science gonna change their politics when this data hits the journals?

The problem I feel is that science is percieved to sit outside the market and represent what Graeber would call a domain of 'values', like the church, family, etc. Here science can concern itself with Truth and Knowledge, right? Wrong. Scientists compete for funding money and prestige. To be successful they have to convince people that they are doing the best science. Note they don't have to be doing the best science, they just have to convince people they are doing it. And think about this: a group of, say, population geneticists, has an interest in promoting the perception that population genetics isn't a load of hogwash. OK, but who besides trained population geneticists has the skill to critique it? The experts capable of doind so are, well, population geneticists. So round we go.

We all know from our work and play that race dosn't mean shit. Do we need to refer to a bunch of liberal scientists latest findings only to find out tomorrow that now they've changed their mind and race means something...and next generation of scientists deconstructs it....and next generation......and on and on. The natural world is awe inspiring and inspirational but it carries no moral lessons. I don't care that chimps hunt and bonobos shag if we're talking about right and wrong. I don't care that the earliest human fossils are in Africa, so what? - no ones looked anywhere else. When science isn't about egos and empires it will be much better, and scientists wont keep having to shove their square peg data into the round hole of people's insecurity about the world.

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Nov 21 2006 01:02
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hmmm I don't know if you've been living under a rock since the 60's or something but science has been taking abit of a kicking from "radical" social scientists and intellectuals for quite a while.

...but then you get endorsements for people like Dawkins from people of all shades just coz he's an evolutionary biologist.

Are you talking about the post-modern critique? Coz no one listens to a word those guys say.

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Nov 21 2006 01:43
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I'm quite interesting in Critical Realism as a means of avoiding flattening science into just another belief system.

Sounds cool. I need something that dosn't put science on a pedastool but that dosn't totally reject legitimate enquiry. Reccomend me some authors or I'll kick you in the nuts.

Feighnt
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Nov 21 2006 01:48

it probably has a lot to do with the influence of Positivism, which, from my shaky grasp of the idea, seemed to suggest that science was right, and always right, and never biased. which has been shown to be pretty well crap, of course, and your post, jason, brings up some good examples. i dont think all radicals have been quite so uncritically praising of science, though... even way back then, Bakunin pointed out in God and State that science could be warped to meet the needs of the ruling classes, even though Bakunin seemed to have massive faith in science. radical feminists, from what i've seen, have given a considerable criticism to science too - and for good reason, since tons of science can be negligent towards women and make all sorts of assumptions based on sexist concepts.

i think a lot of the fetishizing of science comes, in part, from tradition (influence of Positivism), and also, in part, from a simple, honest, and clear-sighted appreciation for knowledge and exploration of the world and how things work, and the benefits which science can bring. from a libcommie sort of perspective, that which educates and opens the minds of regular folk would be important and, mostly, would be very positive in empowering such people.

but, with that said, i dont think the cheering for science is done completely uncritically... there are certainly people who are science-blind, i have no doubt, but there are many others who truly realize that, depending on who it is directed towards, and in whose hands it lays, science can be very different in what it yields (in both theory and product).

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Nov 21 2006 02:11

Jase, a book called "What is this thing called science?" by Alan Chalmers is a pretty good introduction to philosophies of science IIRC correctly from my first year uni course on philosophy of science way back in 97. It covers all the major theories including Bhaskar. I'm pretty sure Chalmers largely agrees with Bhaskar.

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Nov 21 2006 04:22

Thanks Pete and Revol. Nice post Feighnt.

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Nov 21 2006 04:45
jason wrote:

Sounds cool. I need something that dosn't put science on a pedastool but that dosn't totally reject legitimate enquiry. Reccomend me some authors or I'll kick you in the nuts.

you could do no better than start with Martin J Walker. Written many books on the medical science industry and the politics of modern day science. It may come as no surprise he takes a very critical view of the concept of science as a neutral or natural form.

- Dirty Medicine: Science, big business and the assault on natural health care

- The Brave New World of Zero Risk: Covert strategies in British science policy

- SKEWED: Psychiatric Hegemony and the Manufacture of Mental Illness

- HRT Licensed to Kill and Maim: The unheard voices of women damaged by HRT

(don't let the titles put you off; they are his one and only indulgence).

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Nov 21 2006 08:14

Dialectical Biologist and Biology as Ideology are both good by Lewontine (probably mis-spelled that).

John Gray talks a bit about scientific rationalism being merely a post-christian claim to absolute truth, and as such not that different from religious truth, in Al-Qaeda and What it Means to be Modern. I should re-read that part coz I think there is a lot to it.

Edited fucked up formatting

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Nov 21 2006 11:39
revol68 wrote:
jason wrote:
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I'm quite interesting in Critical Realism as a means of avoiding flattening science into just another belief system.

Sounds cool. I need something that dosn't put science on a pedastool but that dosn't totally reject legitimate enquiry. Reccomend me some authors or I'll kick you in the nuts.

Well i haven't read Roy Bhaskar beyond a couple of essays but he's the dude at the centre of critical realism (though he's took abit of a new age spiritual turn of late, so avoid his new shit!). I've mostly read his stuff in relation to theory, Christopher Norris has alot of time for critical realism and I remember reading an appraisal of Foucault from a Critical Realist perspective that was pretty good.

A good first book to read by Roy Bhaskar is the amusingly-titled Plato, etc: the problems of philosophy & their solution. He's writing with reference to other more "mainstream" thinkers, so it's easier to get a handle on what's distinctive about CR. Also, he explains every little thing about those wacky diagrams that critical realists use, and there's a glossary in the back with CR terms like "third edge" & all that shit.

gurrier
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Nov 21 2006 13:54

It's actually really, really easy and simple.

Science is inherently unbiased and objective by definition. All it is really is the study of how we can get closer to objective truth.

On the other hand, scientists, scientific experiments, what people claim is science and what people claim has been scientifically proven and so on are very very far from being the same thing as science itself, and all are normally biased and non-objective in all sorts of ways.

In order to separate science from the various things that claim to be science, you apply the scientific method.

It's not rocket science!

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Nov 21 2006 14:20
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All it is really is the study of how we can get closer to objective truth.

Sounds very (ancient) Greek to me...

Are you being ironic? Seriously... I can kinda see what you mean if I choose to use my Platonic glasses, but come on...

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Nov 21 2006 14:51
revol68 wrote:
Where did you pull that out of? Your arse or a Key Stage 3 science textbook?

or maybe your getting philosophical and saying science is a Platonic form, or maybe a Derrida style necessary impossibility.

I have a pretty extensive list of publications in relatively prestigious peer-reviewed international scientific journals and conferences. I also sit on several programme committees and review papers prior to acceptance for such publications.

I find the various discussions here about science to be generally risible and I can predict with utmost confidence that any half-decent scientist would consider them similarly silly.

You don't even know what you're talking about, it's just posturing and pseudo-intellectualism. I mean, what are you talking about when you waffle on about "science"? It sure doesn't sound like the same thing that scientists mean.

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Nov 21 2006 14:53
gurrier wrote:
I have a pretty extensive list of publications in relatively prestigious peer-reviewed international scientific journals and conferences. I also sit on several programme committees and review papers prior to acceptance for such publications.

does the latter fact explain the former? tongue

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Nov 21 2006 14:57
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does the latter fact explain the former?

Respectable scientific publications have a randomised, blinded review-distribution mechanism. You never know whose paper you are reviewing and you never know who has reviewed yours and reviewers never come from the same institutions as authors.

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Nov 21 2006 14:59
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Are you being ironic? Seriously... I can kinda see what you mean if I choose to use my Platonic glasses, but come on...

Fuck plato. I mean, c'mon, we've had 300 years of continuous scientific revolution in the West involving real practical science so philosophers talking about it in the abstract is about the last place you'd look for knowledge.

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Nov 21 2006 15:05
gurrier wrote:
Respectable scientific publications have a randomised, blinded review-distribution mechanism. You never know whose paper you are reviewing and you never know who has reviewed yours and reviewers never come from the same institutions as authors.

aye, i'd have thought so. it was also said in jest, hence the tongue wink

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Nov 21 2006 15:10
gurrier wrote:
Fuck plato. I mean, c'mon, we've had 300 years of continuous scientific revolution in the West involving real practical science so philosophers talking about it in the abstract is about the last place you'd look for knowledge.

*snigger*

coffeemachine wrote:
you could do no better than start with Martin J Walker. Written many books on the medical science industry and the politics of modern day science. It may come as no surprise he takes a very critical view of the concept of science as a neutral or natural form.

But he, like you, appears to one of those nutters who doesn't believe HIV causes AIDS. Which is the kind of barmy thing you get if you start to ignore science.

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Nov 21 2006 15:17

Gurrier: Do you think social science is also "the study of how we can get closer to objective truth"?

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Nov 21 2006 15:36

Gurrier's posts strike me as typical of "scientists" with little or no knowledge of the nature or philosophy of science. I have met sooo many science graduates who still firmly believe that they are honestly completely objective in their science and refuse to acknowledge its nature as a social and political act.

Science does not exist in some bubble distinct from the social relations that produce it. Of course being able to be critical of science in no way leads to some fucking daft epistemological nihilism and should definitely not open the doors to all sorts of mumbojumbo shite, but it is completely necessary to being able to assess the validity of "expert" claims.

Anyojne who thinks science sits outside social, cultural and historical contexts is fuckin mad! But I met shitloads of epople like this as a trainee teachers, people with, biology, chemistry, physics, engineering degrees etc.

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Nov 21 2006 15:36
revol68 wrote:
So what defines science then? I mean these 300 years of scientific revolution, what makes it scientific. I mean there was plenty of technological break throughs and revolutionary theories before "science", these came under various names from alchemy to withcraft. I mean alot of the time they showed pratical results but completely shite theories as to how they came about.

Please list the revolutionary theories and breakthroughs of alchemy and witchcraft.

Also, please tell me about this time before science.

I know exactly what makes something scientific, but I'm not the one spouting ill-informed pretentious under-graduate drivel about science, so I'd like to hear your definition first.

revol68 wrote:
So i'm afraid pointing to mere practical results is not really good enough, and even if it was, you'd have to offer some argument as to why it is.

I just pointed out that it's the obvious place to start looking if you want to know what science is. I didn't say anything about what you'll find there. I'm still waiting for you to tell me what this 'science' thing is that you seem to know so much more than me about.

revol68 wrote:
Personally I think your stance does science a massive diservice, by reacting like an only child when others start to play with your toys you are forsaking a foundation of rational inquiry, reflexivity and self criticism.

I disagree. One of the tedious but worthwhile roles of a scientist is to point out that most commentators about it are just total bullshiters.

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Nov 21 2006 15:41

another point about how science is taught in university and secondary school. It was common practice in both for students to "fudge" results to get the "right" one, to smooth out graphs etc etc. Whereas "ideal" science should actually embrace mistakes, seek to explain them, try shit again, improve instrumentation etc

People fudge results all the time - bias is as embedded in science as it is in fucking politicians and journalism!
You don't think this goes on beyond education when funding or profits are on the line - you think people step back and say "I cannot do that, for I am a scientist!!!"? Fuck they do - they're subject to the same social, economic and political forces as everyone else.

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Nov 21 2006 15:43
gurrier wrote:
Please list the revolutionary theories and breakthroughs of alchemy and witchcraft.

I think Revol's point is that in different historical contexts different methods are considered adequate explanations of the natural world - woudl you dispute that shite like alchemy was not at one time considered legitimate?

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Nov 21 2006 15:45
revol68 wrote:
You basically claimed that we define science by using a scientific method, which is kind of like saying we define good by using a good method. Maybe you were being flippant or maybe the peer reviews your used to are abit more lax but it doesn't take much to find the flaw in your logic.

It may not take much, but it's obviously way more than you have.

I pointed out, correctly and obviously, that we use the scientific method to evaluate whether a particular claim is scientific. What would you propose instead? witchcraft?

revol68 wrote:
The whole point about this waffling about science is that it's a fucking contested concept. I mean do you think Kuhn, Popper and Bhaskar are just posturing?

Partially, yes. I think Kuhn is a complete tosspot and fuckwit. Popper got lost in the never-never land of abstract, ungrounded reasoning and I am not familiar with Bhaskar. No decent scientist reads any of that rubbish anyway, for the simple reason that, as I said above, it's all really, really easy.

revol68 wrote:
As for how most scientists define science, well a fair few of them seem to think it's something done by scientists, so that's that sorted then, eh?

Pah! So, when I have a dump, that's science? All that research flushed down the lav! ;-(

So now that we've established that you don't have an effing clue what you're talking about, I suggest that you stop calling it 'science' and choose something like 'marshmallow' instead, that would be less confusing.

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Nov 21 2006 15:45
choccy wrote:
You don't think this goes on beyond education when funding or profits are on the line - you think people step back and say "I cannot do that, for I am a scientist!!!"? Fuck they do - they're subject to the same social, economic and political forces as everyone else.

Do you not think gurrier knows that? I mean it is pretty obvious. It doesn't say anything inherent about science though.

I would have to concur with gurrier's view with most philosophical commentators on scientific matters being utter cretins; I've had several conversations with pretentious dickhead students going on about how actually science is a belief system just like religion.

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Nov 21 2006 15:48
gurrier wrote:
Science is inherently unbiased and objective by definition. All it is really is the study of how we can get closer to objective truth.

this might be true if it was carried out by robots wink

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Nov 21 2006 15:48
choccy wrote:
another point about how science is taught in university and secondary school. It was common practice in both for students to "fudge" results to get the "right" one, to smooth out graphs etc etc. Whereas "ideal" science should actually embrace mistakes, seek to explain them, try shit again, improve instrumentation etc

People fudge results all the time - bias is as embedded in science as it is in fucking politicians and journalism!
You don't think this goes on beyond education when funding or profits are on the line - you think people step back and say "I cannot do that, for I am a scientist!!!"? Fuck they do - they're subject to the same social, economic and political forces as everyone else.

As I said above:

me wrote:
scientists, scientific experiments, what people claim is science and what people claim has been scientifically proven and so on are very very far from being the same thing as science itself, and all are normally biased and non-objective in all sorts of ways.

The big problem is that you (and that idiot revol) are lumping in 'science' with 'things done by scientists that they claim are scientific'. Not the same thing. At all.

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Nov 21 2006 15:49
John. wrote:
I've had several conversations with pretentious dickhead students going on about how actually science is a belief system just like religion.

it often functions like one, with reverent deference to experts and the like, but obviously that isn't an inherent fault of rational, empirical enquiry.

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Nov 21 2006 15:51

So you are talking about an ideal of science, which is completely useless and unattainable because science is actually done by people.

I think it would be more helpful to acknowledge this and move from there.

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Nov 21 2006 15:56

anecdote to make of what you will:

i did two science a levels (biology/chemistry), and we got marked down if our results deviated too much from what was expected (bloody woodlice following each others' pheromones and not residing in the dark damp quartile angry).

i got A's 'cos i knew how to fudge and knew what was expected of me. i'd guess that goes fo a lot of education, and obviously there's funding pressures etc too. This seems like the 'actually existing science' revol and choccy are talikg about while gurrier is talking about this ideal, pure form outside of us.

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Nov 21 2006 16:05
John. wrote:
Do you not think gurrier knows that? I mean it is pretty obvious. It doesn't say anything inherent about science though.

I think it kinda does though. It shows that the strict "ideal" science is by definition unattainable and it's far more useful for us to recognise the necessary social embeddedness of science.

Quote:
I would have to concur with gurrier's view with most philosophical commentators on scientific matters being utter cretins; I've had several conversations with pretentious dickhead students going on about how actually science is a belief system just like religion.

I'm sure you know that no-one on here is actually trying to say that science is just another belief system. And of course Revol pointed to critical realism as a way of avoiding all that "well all theories are equal" shite.

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Nov 21 2006 16:10
Joseph K. wrote:
This seems like the 'actually existing science' revol and choccy are talikg about while gurrier is talking about this ideal, pure form outside of us.

the ideal which cannot exist in reality because the actual science cannot exist independent of the people that do it.