Perspectives on Science

Perspectives on Science 8.1, Spring 2000



    Chen, Xiang.
  • To See Or Not To See: The Uses of Photometers and Measurements of Reflective Power
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    Subject Headings:
    • Potter, Richard, 1799-1868.
    • Photometry -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century.
    • Optical instruments -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century.
      Armed with a photometer originally designed for evaluating telescopes, Richard Potter in the early 1830s measured the re(integral)ective power of metallic and glass mirrors. Because he found significant discrepancies between his measurements and Fresnel's predictions, Potter developed doubts concerning the wave theory. However, Potter's measurements were colored by a peculiar procedure. In order to protect the sensitivity of the eye, Potter made certain approximations in the measuring process, which exaggerated the discrepancies between the theory and the data. Potter's measurements received strong criticisms from wave theorists, not because they felt they needed to defend their theory, but because they believed that Potter was wrong in using the eye as an essential apparatus in the experiments. Potter's photometric measurements and the subsequent debate reveal the existence of two incompatible sets of measuring procedures, each of which consisted of a body of practices concerning how photometric instruments should be used properly. In the debate, the differences regarding measuring procedures shaped the participant's judgments of experimental evidence and eventually their evaluations of the optical theories.
    Risjord, Mark W., 1960-
  • The Politics of Explanation and the Origins of Ethnography
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    Subject Headings:
    • Ethnology -- Political aspects -- History.
    • Ethnology -- Philosophy.
    • Ethnology -- Methodology.
      At the turn of the twentieth century, comparative studies of human culture (ethnology) gave way to studies of the details of individual societies (ethnography). While many writers have noticed a political sub-text to this paradigm shift, they have regarded political interests as extrinsic to the change. The central historical issue is why anthropologists stopped asking global, comparative questions and started asking local questions about features of particular societies. The change in questions cannot be explained by empirical factors alone, and following Jarvie, this essay argues that political factors motivate the change. Jarvie's understanding of the role played by egalitarian politics is criticized, and the essay develops a new model of how political or moral values can become constitutive of scientific inquiry. On the erotetic view of explanation, whether one proposition explains another depends on the choice of contrast class and relevance criterion. Since political or moral values can motivate these choices, explanation can depend on non-epistemic values. The essay argues that the comparative questions of nineteenth-century ethnology presupposed that Europeans were superior to other races. It closes by arguing that Fanz Boas recognized the political values implicit in nineteenth-century ethnology and rejected its questions on those grounds.
    Vicente, Kim J.
  • Is Science an Evolutionay Process? Evidence from Miscitation of the Scientific Literature
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    Subject Headings:
    • Science.
    • Memory.
    • Bibliographical citations.
      This article describes a psychological test of Hull's (1988) theory of science as an evolutionary process by seeing if it can account for how scientists sometimes remember and cite the scientific literature. The conceptual adequacy of Hull's theory was evaluated by comparing it to Bartlett's (1932) seminal theory of human remembering. Bartlett found that remembering is an active, reconstructive process driven by a schema that biases recall in the direction of proto- typicality and personal involvement. This account supports Hull's theory of science because it shows that the characteristics of reconstructive remembering are consistent with the generic properties of an evolutionary process. The empirical adequacy of Hull's theory was evaluated by comparing the predictions made from this evolutionary viewpoint against evidence from the history of science. Six cases studies of well-known psychological experiments that had been subject to repeated miscitation errors were collected and reviewed. All six case studies revealed a systematic pattern of distortions that is consistent with the schema-induced biases of reconstructive remembering. These findings support Hull's claim that science is an evolutionary process with scientists as interactors, scientific beliefs as replicators, and schemata as means for that replication.

Review Essay

    Grafton, Anthony.
  • Starry Messengers: Recent Work in the History of Western Astrology
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    Subject Headings:
    • Barton, Tamsyn, 1962- Power and knowledge.
    • Brind'Amour, Pierre, 1941- Nostradamus astrophile.
    • Fögen, Marie Theres. Enteignung der Wahrsager.
    • Geneva, Ann, 1945- Astrology and the seventeenth century mind.
    • Science -- Rome -- History.
    • Nostradamus, 1503-1566.

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