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Science, Policy, and the Value-Free Ideal

Heather E. Douglas

Publication Year: 2009

The role of science in policymaking has gained unprecedented stature in the United States, raising questions about the place of science and scientific expertise in the democratic process. Some scientists have been given considerable epistemic authority in shaping policy on issues of great moral and cultural significance, and the politicizing of these issues has become highly contentious. Since World War II, most philosophers of science have purported the concept that science should be “value-free.” In this book, Heather E. Douglas argues that such an ideal is neither adequate nor desirable for science. She contends that the moral responsibilities of scientists require the consideration of values even at the heart of science. She lobbies for a new ideal in which values serve an essential function throughout scientific inquiry, but where the role values play is constrained at key points, thus protecting the integrity and objectivity of science. In this vein, Douglas outlines a system for the application of values to guide scientists through points of uncertainty fraught with moral valence. Following a philosophical analysis of the historical background of science advising and the value-free ideal, Douglas defines how values should-and should not-function in science. She discusses the distinctive direct and indirect roles for values in reasoning, and outlines seven senses of objectivity, showing how each can be employed to determine the reliability of scientific claims. Douglas then uses these philosophical insights to clarify the distinction between junk science and sound science to be used in policymaking. In conclusion, she calls for greater openness on the values utilized in policymaking, and more public participation in the policymaking process, by suggesting various models for effective use of both the public and experts in key risk assessments.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. v


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xii

This book has been a long time in the making. I first conceived of the project in 2001 as an arc through the historical, philosophical, and practical terrain of science in policymaking. It seemed to me that the chronic debates and misconceptions that plague this terrain stemmed from the embrace of a particular ...

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Chapter 1. Introduction: Science Wars and Policy Wars

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pp. 1-22

When considering the importance of science in policymaking, common wisdom contends that keeping science as far as possible from social and political concerns would be the best way to ensure science’s reliability. This intuition is captured in the value-free ideal for science—that social, ...

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Chapter 2. The Rise of the Science Advisor

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pp. 23-43

With the current omnipresent need for science advice, how to ensure the soundness of such advice has become an ongoing source of difficulty in government. Yet the need for sound science advice was not always obvious. At the beginning of the twentieth century in the United States, ...

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Chapter 3. Origins of the Value-Free Ideal for Science

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pp. 44-65

While scientists took on an ever more visible, even if more contentious, public role throughout the 1960s and 1970s, philosophers of science came to ignore this public role. One might imagine that philosophers of science would illuminate this role, examining the place of expertise in a democracy ...

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Chapter 4. The Moral Responsibilities of Scientists

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pp. 66-86

The debate among philosophers of science in the 1950s concerning values in science hinged on the proper role of scientists in a modern democracy. Should scientists be giving advice to decisionmakers? And should they, when giving this advice, consider the context of use and the potential consequences of error ...

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Chapter 5. The Structure of Values in Science

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pp. 87-114

Even when making empirical claims, scientists have the same moral responsibilities as the general population to consider the consequences of error. This apparently unremarkable statement has some remarkable implications. It means that scientists should consider the potential social and ethical consequences ...

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Chapter 6. Objectivity in Science

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pp. 115-132

The value-free ideal is a bad ideal for science. It is not restrictive enough on the proper role for cognitive values in science and it is too restrictive on the needed role for social and ethical values. The moral responsibility to consider the consequences of error requires the use of values, ...

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Chapter 7. The Integrity of Science in the Policy Process

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pp. 133-155

Thus far, I have argued that scientists, when making judgments in their work, have a moral responsibility to consider the consequences of error, including social and ethical consequences, a responsibility that cannot be readily shifted to other parties. If they have this responsibility, then the proper role for values ...

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Chapter 8. Values and Practices

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pp. 156-174

Science, even science to be used in public policy, should not be value free. Scientists must make judgments about the acceptability of uncertainty, and these judgments require a range of values, including ethical and social values where relevant. The integrity of science depends not on keeping ...

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pp. 175-178

Reliance on the value-free ideal has produced something of a mess. Scientists have thought that any consideration of ethical or social values, particularly in the assessment of evidence, would undermine scientific integrity and authority. Yet one cannot adequately assess the sufficiency of evidence without such values, ...


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pp. 179-192


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pp. 193-204


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pp. 205-210

E-ISBN-13: 9780822973577
E-ISBN-10: 082297357X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822960263
Print-ISBN-10: 0822960265

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Science -- Moral and ethical aspects.
  • Science -- Social aspects.
  • Scientists -- Professional ethics.
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