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L 1 W hen 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, ethical, and political values should have no influence over the reasoning of scientists, and that scientists should proceed in their work with as little concern as possible for such values. Contrary to this intuition, I will argue in this book that the value-free ideal must be rejected precisely because of the importance of science in policymaking. In place of the value-free ideal, I articulate a new ideal for science, one that accepts a pervasive role for social and ethical values in scientific reasoning, but one that still protects the integrity of science. Central to the concerns over the use of science in policymaking is the degree of reliability we can expect for scientific claims. In general, we have no better way of producing knowledge about the natural world than doing science. The basic idea of science—to generate hypotheses about the world and to gather evidence from the world to test those hypotheses—has been unparalleled in producing complex and robust knowledge, knowledge that can often reliably guide decisions. From an understanding of inertia and gravity that allows one to predict tides and the paths of cannonballs, to an understanding of quantum mechanics that underlies the solid state components of computers, to an understanding of physiology that helps to Chapter 1 Introduction Science Wars and Policy Wars Douglas text.indd 1 4/16/09 2:47:00 PM 2 • introduction guide new medical breakthroughs, science has been remarkably successful in developing theories that make reliable predictions. Yet this does not mean that science provides certainty. The process of hypothesis testing is inductive, which means there is always a gap between the evidence and the theory developed from the hypothesis. When a scientist makes a hypothesis, she is making a conjecture of which she is not certain. When the gathered evidence supports the hypothesis, she is still not certain. The evidence may support the theory or hypothesis under examination , but there still may be some other theory that is also supported by the available evidence, and more evidence is needed to differentiate between the two. The hypothesis concerns a great many more instances than those for which we will carefully collect data. When we collect more data, we may find that seemingly well-confirmed hypotheses and theories were false. For example, in the late nineteenth century, it was widely accepted that chemical elements could not transform into other elements. Elements seemed to be stable in the face of any efforts at transmutation. The discovery of radioactivity in the early twentieth century overturned this widespread belief. Or consider the theory of ether, a medium in which it was once commonly believed light traveled. Despite near universal acceptance in the late nineteenth century, the theory of ether was rejected by most physicists by 1920. Going even further back in history, for over 1,500 years it seemed a well-supported theory that the sun revolved around the Earth, as did the fixed stars. But evidence arose in the early seventeenth century to suggest otherwise and, along with changes in the theories of mechanics , overturned one of the longest standing and best supported scientific theories of the time. After all, how many times had humans seen the sun rise and set? And yet, the theory was ultimately incorrect. Data can provide evidential support for a theory, but can never prove a scientific theory with certainty. Aspects of the world that were once thought to be essential parts of scientific theory can be rejected wholesale with the development of new theories or the gathering of new evidence. Because of the chronic, albeit often small, uncertainty in scientific work, there is always the chance that a specific scientific claim is wrong. And we may come to know that it is wrong, overturning the theory and the predictions that follow from it. The constant threat of revision is also the promise of science, that new evidence can overturn previous thought, that scientific ideas respond to and change in light of new evidence. We could perhaps have certainty about events that have already been observed (although this too could be disputed—our descriptions could prove inacDouglas text.indd 2 4/16/09 2:47:00 PM introduction...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780822973577
Related ISBN
9780822960263
MARC Record
OCLC
794702159
Pages
224
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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