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Science, Technology, and Mathematics > Philosophy of Science

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Reality Check Cover

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Reality Check

How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future

Donald R. Prothero

The battles over evolution, climate change, childhood vaccinations, and the causes of AIDS, alternative medicine, oil shortages, population growth, and the place of science in our country—all are reaching a fevered pitch. Many people and institutions have exerted enormous efforts to misrepresent or flatly deny demonstrable scientific reality to protect their nonscientific ideology, their power, or their bottom line. To shed light on this darkness, Donald R. Prothero explains the scientific process and why society has come to rely on science not only to provide a better life but also to reach verifiable truths no other method can obtain. He describes how major scientific ideas that are accepted by the entire scientific community (evolution, anthropogenic global warming, vaccination, the HIV cause of AIDS, and others) have been attacked with totally unscientific arguments and methods. Prothero argues that science deniers pose a serious threat to society, as their attempts to subvert the truth have resulted in widespread scientific ignorance, increased risk of global catastrophes, and deaths due to the spread of diseases that could have been prevented.

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Removing Barriers

Women in Academic Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics

Edited by Jill M. Bystydzienski and Sharon R. Bird

Movement into academic science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields has been slow for women and minorities. Not only are women and minorities underrepresented in STEM careers, there is strong evidence that many academic departments are resistant to addressing the concerns that keep them from entering careers in these fields. In light of recent controversies surrounding these issues, this volume, examining reasons for the persistence of barriers that block the full participation and advancement of underrepresented groups in the sciences and addressing how academic departments and universities can remedy the situation, is particularly timely. As a whole, the volume shows positive examples of institutions and departments that have been transformed by the inclusion of women and recommends a set of best practices for continuing growth in positive directions.

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Science and the Quest for Meaning

Alfred I. Tauber

In this deeply thoughtful exploration, Alfred Tauber, a practicing scientist and highly regarded philosopher, eloquently traces the history of the philosophy of science, seeking in the end to place science within the humanistic context from which it originated. Avoiding the dogmatism that has defined both extremes in the recent “Science Wars” and presenting a conception of reason that lifts the discussion out of the interminable debates about objectivity and neutrality, Tauber offers a way of understanding science as an evolving relationship between facts and the values that govern their discovery and applications. This timely philosophy of science presents a centrist but highly consequently view, wherein “truth” and “objectivity” can function as working ideals and serve as pragmatic tools within the sociological context in which they reside. For if the humanization of science is to reach completion, it must reveal not only the meaning it receives from its social and cultural settings but also that which it lends to them.

Packed with well-chosen case studies, Science and the Quest for Meaning is a trust-worthy and engaging introduction to the history of, and the current debate surrounding, the philosophy of science.

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The Science of Modern Virtue

On Descartes, Darwin, and Locke

The Science of Modern Virtue examines the influence that the philosopher Rene Descartes, the political theorist John Locke, and the biologist Charles Darwin have had on our modern understanding of human beings and human virtue. Written by leading thinkers from a variety of fields, the volume is a study of the complex relation between modern science and modern virtue, between a kind of modern thought and a kind of modern action. Offering more than a series of substantive introductions to Descartes’, Locke’s, and Darwin’s accounts of who we are and the kind of virtue to which we can aspire, the book invites readers to think about the ways in which the writings of these seminal thinkers shaped the democratic and technological world in which modern human beings live. Thirteen scholars in this volume learnedly explore questions drawn from the diverse disciplines of political science, philosophy, theology, biology, and metaphysics. Let the reader be warned: The authors of these essays are anything but consensual in their analysis. Considered together, the chapters in this volume carry on a lively internal debate that mirrors theoretical modernity’s ongoing discussion about the true nature of human beings and the science of virtue. Some authors powerfully argue that Locke’s and Darwin’s thought is amenable to the claims made about human beings and human virtue by classical philosophers such as Aristotle and classical Christian theologians such as Thomas Aquinas. Others make the opposite case, drawing attention to the ways in which Descartes, Locke, and Darwin knowingly and dialectically depart from central teachings of both classical philosophy and classical Christian theology.

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Science, Policy, and the Value-Free Ideal

Heather E. Douglas

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.

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Science Transformed?

Debating Claims of an Epochal Break

edited by Alfred Nordmann, Hans Radder, and Gregor Schiemann

Advancements in computing, instrumentation, robotics, digital imaging, and simulation modeling have changed science into a technology-driven institution. Government, industry, and society increasingly exert their influence over science, raising questions of values and objectivity. These and other profound changes have led many to speculate that we are in the midst of an epochal break in scientific history. This edited volume presents an in-depth examination of these issues from philosophical, historical, social, and cultural perspectives. It offers arguments both for and against the epochal break thesis in light of historical antecedents. Contributors discuss topics such as: science as a continuing epistemological enterprise; the decline of the individual scientist and the rise of communities; the intertwining of scientific and technological needs; links to prior practices and ways of thinking; the alleged divide between mode-1 and mode-2 research methods; the commodification of university science; and the shift from the scientific to a technological enterprise. Additionally, they examine the epochal break thesis using specific examples, including the transition from laboratory to real world experiments; the increased reliance on computer imaging; how analog and digital technologies condition behaviors that shape the object and beholder; the cultural significance of humanoid robots; the erosion of scientific quality in experimentation; and the effect of computers on prediction at the expense of explanation.

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Scientific Models in Philosophy of Science

Daniela M. Bailer-Jones

Scientists have used models for hundreds of years as a means of describing phenomena and as a basis for further analogy. In this book, Bailer-Jones assembles an original and comprehensive philosophical analysis of how models have been used and interpreted in both historical and contemporary contexts. Bailer-Jones delineates the many forms models can take (ranging from equations to animals; from physical objects to theoretical constructs), and how they are put to use. She examines early mechanical models employed by nineteenth-century physicists such as Kelvin and Maxwell, describes their roots in the mathematical principles of Newton and others, and compares them to contemporary mechanistic approaches. Bailer-Jones then views the use of analogy in the late nineteenth century as a means of understanding models and to link different branches of science. She reveals how analogies can also be models themselves, or can help to create them. The first half of the twentieth century saw little mention of models in the literature of logical empiricism. Focusing primarily on theory, logical empiricists believed that models were of temporary importance, flawed, and awaiting correction. The later contesting of logical empiricism, particularly the hypothetico-deductive account of theories, by philosophers such as Mary Hesse, sparked a renewed interest in the importance of models during the 1950s that continues to this day. Bailer-Jones analyzes subsequent propositions of: models as metaphors; Kuhn's concept of a paradigm; the Semantic View of theories; and the case study approaches of Cartwright and Morrison, among others. She then engages current debates on topics such as phenomena versus data, the distinctions between models and theories, the concepts of representation and realism, and the discerning of falsities in models.

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Scientific Understanding

Philosophical Perspectives

Eidted by Henk W. de Regt, Sabina Leonelli, and Kai Eigner

To most scientists, and to those interested in the sciences, understanding is the ultimate aim of scientific endeavor. In spite of this, understanding, and how it is achieved, has received little attention in recent philosophy of science. Scientific Understanding seeks to reverse this trend by providing original and in-depth accounts of the concept of understanding and its essential role in the scientific process. To this end, the chapters in this volume explore and develop three key topics: understanding and explanation, understanding and models, and understanding in scientific practice. Earlier philosophers, such as Carl Hempel, dismissed understanding as subjective and pragmatic. They believed that the essence of science was to be found in scientific theories and explanations. In Scientific Understanding, the contributors maintain that we must also consider the relation between explanations and the scientists who construct and use them. They focus on understanding as the cognitive state that is a goal of explanation and on the understanding of theories and models as a means to this end. The chapters in this book highlight the multifaceted nature of the process of scientific research. The contributors examine current uses of theory, models, simulations, and experiments to evaluate the degree to which these elements contribute to understanding. Their analyses pay due attention to the roles of intelligibility, tacit knowledge, and feelings of understanding. Furthermore, they investigate how understanding is obtained within diverse scientific disciplines and examine how the acquisition of understanding depends on specific contexts, the objects of study, and the stated aims of research.

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Secrets of the Hoary Deep

A Personal History of Modern Astronomy

Riccardo Giacconi, Nobel Laureate in Physics

The discovery of x-rays continues to have a profound and accelerating effect on the field of astronomy. It has opened the cosmos to exploration in ways previously unimaginable and fundamentally altered the methods for pursuing information about our solar system and beyond. Nobel Prize winner Riccardo Giacconi’s highly personal account of the birth and evolution of x-ray astronomy reveals the science, people, and institutional settings behind this incalculably important and deeply influential discipline. Part history, part memoir, and part cutting-edge science, Secrets of the Hoary Deep is the tale of x-ray astronomy from its infancy through what can only be called its early adulthood. It also offers the companion story of how the tools, techniques, and practices designed to support and develop x-ray astronomy were transferred to optical, infrared, and radio astronomy, drastically altering the face of modern space exploration. Giacconi relates the basic techniques developed at American Science and Engineering and explains how, where, and by whom the science was advanced. From the first Earth-orbiting x-ray satellite, Uhuru, to the opening of the Space Telescope Science Institute and the lift-off of the Hubble Space Telescope to the construction of the Very Large Telescope, Giaconni recounts the ways in which the management methods and scientific methodology behind successful astronomy projects came to set the standards of operations for all subsequent space- and Earth-based observatories. Along the way he spares no criticism and holds back no praise, detailing individual as well as institutional failures and successes, reflecting upon how far astronomy has come and how far it has yet to go. Crisp, informative, and prognostic, Giacconi’s story will captivate, inspire, and, at times, possibly infuriate professional and amateur astronomers across the breadth of the field and at all stages of their personal and professional development.

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Shifting Standards

Experiments in Particle Physics in the Twentieth Century

by Allan Franklin

Allan Franklin provides an overview of notable experiments in particle physics. Using papers published in Physical Review, the journal of the American Physical Society, as his basis, Franklin details the experiments themselves, their data collection, the events witnessed, and the interpretation of results. From these papers, he distills the dramatic changes to particle physics experimentation from 1894 through 2009.

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