Central Question 4

How can, or should, STS practitioners question science? (in reference to Koertge pages 3-4, see especially the "noteworthy precepts")

Not only does a how question suggest a methodological approach to an answer, but also points to the indignant rhetorical found 'n Koertge’s introduction (e.g., How dare STSers question science?).

Can entails description. So, how can—following the idea of identifying a method of criticizing science—points to an empirical answer. We can question science by adopting a certain method or methods.

Or should underscores the normative dimension of the question—is it then 'a', or 'the', purpose, of STSers to question science?

STS practitioners pushes back—by referring to professional, well-educated people and not just a "carnival of approaches" (a professional academic practitioner cannot be reduced to a caricature of methods and political positions)—against Koertge’s description and vague notions of ideological groups that comprise STS battling the enterprise of science.

Question is a softer notion than 'criticize' and, here, I evoke a basic human imperative that we can, and should, question most, if not all, things.

Science remains vague. The reference appears to be a collective one—the whole of the natural sciences—but no one "speaks" for science (although self-appointed spokespersons invoke scientific authority). Yet, 'questioning science' trades on the ambiguous reference by indicating one might not be questioning scientific knowledge; rather, questioning scientific processes and norms.

The question is a good one insomuch as it asks the interlocutor to consider their intuitions about the reciprocal intellectual relationship of STS and science. Whether STS has the means, or standing, to question science (as an institution) is at issue. To answer, one would have to describe the means for questioning and make explicit their ideas about the political framework necessary for the process to take place. The normative aspect of the question switches the frame. If STS practitioners can, or cannot, question science then, depending on one’s answer, ought it do so or not? The normative question puts to one side the practical considerations and ask us address our ideals and, so, one purpose as to why we do STS.

Revisiting the Question

Our class discussion centered generally on Kitcher’s “two clusters” (34-35, 36)—the "realist-rationalist cluster" (RRC) and the "socio-historical cluster" (SHC) . Attractive on first gloss, I think, was Kitcher’s attempt to find a middle way, a less contentious way, for science studies to proceed (post 1998) and perform "helpful"—to the better angels of techno-scientific enterprise—research. I counter ed in suggesting that perhaps science studies would give too much away ny accepting RRC. By "giving too much away", I suggested that Kitcher’s RRC did little to re-imagine the descriptions, and normative commitments,found in earlier philosophical accounts of science. Kitcher’s RRC+SHC appeared much more reminiscent of work done in the history and philosophy of science and, so, put social and cultural explanations in science studies either in the background or, more strongly, rendered SHC explanations inconsequential.

I might revise the question as follows:

In questioning science can, or should, STS practitioners assume the rational, progressive nature of scientific inquiry?

If one assumes the 'can' aspect of the question, a 'yes' or 'no' answer suggests at least the following possibilities. Of course, yes, one can assume the rational, progressive nature (RPN) of science and, in so doing, commits to a traditional, perhaps more bounded, notion of science. By answering 'no', we commit to another, but different, bounded notion of science—one found in contemporary STS.

Kitcher’s clusters read as normative injunctions. Thus, science studies should commit to RPN because, in part, it squares with the scientists' beliefs—one might avoid the science wars by working from the RPN premise.

Why should we not accept RPN? Science studies practitioners have a good argument, established on empirical grounds (even on realist empirical grounds) that science is not RPN, or, in keeping with the middle way ethos, less RPN that Kitcher, and advocates of the traditional position, hold. We should not assume RPN, then, because it is not true given the outcome of research conducted by science studies. We should we not accept RPN because doing so flies in the face of evidence. So committed, we would need to provide and defend the evidence we have developed.

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