restricted access We Are Not Witnesses to a New Scientific Revolution
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

• 31 Do the changes that have taken place in the structures and methods of the production of scientific knowledge and in our understanding of science over the past fifty years justify speaking of an epochal break in the development of science? Some philosophical and sociological descriptions of these changes do indeed assert that such an epochal break is becoming apparent (see Forman 2007; Funtowicz and Ravetz 1993, 2001; Gibbons et al. 1994; Nowotny, Scott, and Gibbons 2001, 2003; Ziman 2000; and others). In general, this thesis is formulated in such a way as to compare the extent of the changes that have occurred or that are to be expected to the early modern scientific revolution. The point of departure for the current epochal break is presented as a tradition that persisted from the beginnings of the early modern era until about fifty years ago, and from which recent developments constitute a fundamental departure. With the completion of this transformation, science supposedly will have freed itself from its early modern origins and undergone a second scienti fic revolution. I, however, do not concur with this thesis of an epochal break in the development of science (hereafter referred to as “the epochal break thesis” for short). The critical appraisal that I offer has three parts. We Are Not Witnesses to a New Scientific Revolution GREGOR SCHIEMANN 3 3 32 • gregor schiemann 1. The Extent of the Current Process of Transformation I acknowledge that there is a serious basis to the epochal break thesis. It rests upon verifiable and to some extent profound changes in the production of scienti fic knowledge and in our understanding of science that have been occurring globally, but especially in the industrially more developed countries in recent years. Some of these transformative processes have been the subject of intensive academic discussion and public debate in the past several years. To name just a few focal points of the changes at issue: the scientification of more and more areas of society, the accelerated increase in the prominence of technology and economics within science, the growth in the complexity of scientific objects , and the dissolution of disciplinary structures in certain innovative fields of research. Although some of these changes are of a gradual nature, others are indeed drastic. On the whole, there are enough phenomena to point to for it to appear justified to speak of an epochal change in the development of science. Of course, this viewpoint presupposes that such changes (or breaks, if they are discontinuous) are possible in the first place, and also that they are observable at the time when they are occurring. As for the first of these presuppositions , I demonstrate in the following section that the transition from medieval to early modern science can be interpreted as an epochal change. However, it is questionable whether the participants in such an epochal process of upheaval can themselves recognize the significance of this process, since they lack the necessary distance to perceive the overall context in which it is occurring. This objection cannot be wholly rebutted. Although we can assume fictional standpoints external to the contemporary world, we always remain involved in the events of our own time. Nevertheless, given that we are creatures that must construct our own histories, we have no alternative. We are compelled to compare the contemporary world with past eras to gain the historical orientation that is indispensable for shaping the present in a reasonable way. But that is just the beginning of the real difficulties involved in the evaluation of the historical dimension of the present development of science. What are the “verifiable” alterations in the production of scientific knowledge? How can an “understanding of science” be pinpointed? What role can philosophy of science play in this? Is it possible to speak of “science” in the singular? To answer questions such as these, it is necessary to set up suitable criteria and to conduct the right kind of inquiries, and that is what I work toward in this chapter. Some of the criteria refer to historical material, and others to philosophical and sociological analyses of contemporary science. we are not witnesses to a new scientific revolution • 33 2. Toward a Historical Location of Science’s Departure from the Early Modern Era The second part of my critique deals with the ahistorical character of the epochal break thesis. It is not plausible to present science as having constituted mainly...