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Sat Jan 21, 2012, 12:04 PM

Good Science Always Has Political Ramifications (Scientific American)

Why? Because a scientifically testable claim can be shown to be either most probably true or false, whether the claim is made by a king or a president, a Pope, a Congressperson, or a common citizen.


Knowledge is DEMOCRATIZING political power

Let's consider the relationship between knowledge and power. "Knowledge and power go hand in hand," said Francis Bacon, "so that the way to increase in power is to increase in knowledge."

At its core, science is a reliable method for creating knowledge, and thus power. Because science pushes the boundaries of knowledge, it pushes us to constantly refine our ethics and morality, and that is always political. But beyond that, science constantly disrupts hierarchical power structures and vested interests in a long drive to give knowledge, and thus power, to the individual, and that process is also political.

Why did the church go to such absurd lengths to deal with Galileo? For the same reasons we fight political battles over issues like climate change today: Because facts and observations are inherently powerful, and that power means they are political.

Failing to acknowledge this leaves both science and America vulnerable to attack by antiscience thinking—thinking that has come to dominate American politics and much of its news media coverage and educational curricula in the early twenty-first century. Thinking that has steered American politics off course and away from the vision held by the country's founders.

Great essay that is an excerpt of a book that discusses the anti-science issue in the U.S. and is also a complement to this article and the other information included in this post:

Religious belief interferes with people's understanding of evolution (NPR)

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Reply Good Science Always Has Political Ramifications (Scientific American) (Original post)
RainDog Jan 2012 OP
MisterP Jan 2012 #1
RainDog Jan 2012 #2
MisterP Jan 2012 #4
Lionel Mandrake Jan 2012 #5
RainDog Jan 2012 #3

Response to RainDog (Original post)

Sat Jan 21, 2012, 03:53 PM

1. this fails to take into account post-1950 histories of science showing that, no,

science is quite strongly bound to power structures and is about as authority-challenging as politics; this article seems to rely on 19th-century stereotypes of the interaction between science and authority (e.g., since the 17th century could detect no stellar parallax, the Copernician system was no better than the Tychonian)

also I might add more revisionist histories that show the notion of "challenge everything" is often construed a bourgeois ideology that can blind as much as it reveals

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Response to MisterP (Reply #1)

Sat Jan 21, 2012, 05:57 PM

2. actually, it talks about global warming

as one issue and creationism is another that challenges the political power of certain entities.

the issue is competing power structures, it would seem.

the book also notes how the po-mo schism between science and the liberal arts has occurred and, frankly, as someone who has read a few of those critiques - I'll go with that "bourgeois" ideology of the scientific method any day.

Theory has about as much relevance as the old angels of the head of a pin discussions too often, imho.

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Response to RainDog (Reply #2)

Sat Jan 21, 2012, 07:56 PM

4. but ramming everything into Andrew Dickson White's framework of science vs. authoritarianism is

extremely inaccurate--Ronald Numbers, Stephen Jay Gould, Edwin Black, Joscelyn Godwin, Mary Midgley, historians of Nazi and Soviet science, Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Charles A. Beard, Juan Pedro Viqueira Alban, Pamela Voekel, Joseph Klaits, Patrick Curry, Stuart Clark, Frances Yates, Thomas Harnton Jobe, Pierre Lascoumes, Richard Rhodes, Steven Shaviro--they're not postmodern or un-Baconian and they find Otto's initial theses (that claims are transparent, the "Galileo Myth," that science challenges authority, that all scientific claims challenge vested interests, that science is free of any presumption or priors, that history is a Manichean battle between freedom and repression, that all of these claims flow naturally from the scientific method) are contradicted, over and over, by history and anthropology

that's of course not to say that science can't overlap with politics, or that drawing borders between them (or anything) is a nonsensical exercise, or to take a stand in the "scientific method"-vs.-"stamp collecting" debates, or that everything is equally valid in the same sense

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Response to MisterP (Reply #1)

Sat Jan 21, 2012, 09:22 PM

5. a trend in the history of science

As a retired physicist with an amateurish interest in the history of science, I am not entirely comfortable with the 20th century history of the history of science. I'm all for nuance, but it seems to me that historians of science have tended to know more and more about history, and less and less about science, during the 20th century. The field is now dominated by externalist studies, usually by professors in history departments, which emphasize the interaction of science with other aspects of culture. No doubt this is important, but it neglects the internal development of science, which I regard as essential.

About stellar parallax: how is the statement that "since the 17th century could detect no stellar parallax, the Copernician system was no better than the Tychonian" a stereotype of the interaction between science and authority? In fact, the lack of early evidence for stellar parallax was a common argument against the Copernican system.

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Response to RainDog (Original post)

Sat Jan 21, 2012, 07:15 PM

3. I'd say at this time

the science that has indicated the benign nature of cannabis, esp. compared to other legal substances, is one of THE scientific issues that is challenging the power structure of the U.S. at this time.

And until the Federal govt. gets past its "church v. galileo" moment on this subject, they will continue to look as archaic as those who would not accept that the earth was not the center of the universe.

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