Question Forum 1

1) Longino has a strong argument for her criteria of what objective science as a process looks like. She also seems to believe that with an objective process, an objective product is more likely to follow (148). In what ways does achieving an objective process (as she defines it) assure an objective product, and in which ways is this logic flawed?

2) Describe peer review in its current state in the United States. How does this peer review process impose a bureaucratic frame on scientific discovery? Does the peer review process support Longino’s contention that scientific inquiry is a social and not an individual enterprise (149)?

3) In what ways, and to what effect, is the binary of objective/subjective used to credit or discredit ideas or practices as "scientific?" How, and in what ways does this create a hierarchy, and how is this hierarchy used within science? How is this binary/hierarchy similarly mapped on to other things?

4) One of Longino's normative criteria for objectivity in science is for intellectual authority to be shared equally among participants (156) . Another criteria is that there needs to be recognized avenues for criticism (155). Can you think of examples where either authority has very clearly been unevenly distributed and the process seems more objective than other contexts (think top secret military efforts), and/or examples where there are many avenues for criticism that seem less objective than it would with less avenues (think social media)? How do these examples influence how you read Longino's argument?

Please refer to the readings assigned for 12 September.

Kian Lua

Question 2:

In science, the process of peer review supports the production of knowledge. This process ensures that scientific knowledge is “good” and objective, and is a basis for the funding of research projects as well as the selection of what gets published in journals. Longino (1990) says peer review is to ensure that scientific authors have interpreted empirical data in a way that is “free of their subjective preferences.” One pitfall of the peer review process is that reviewers could potentially lose objectivity and fairness. For instance, the reviewers’ opinions on a scientific result could be affected by the institutional affiliation and reputation of the scientist whose work they are examining. However, one need not be overly concerned about the breakdown in the review process because it rarely happens, and even if there is a breakdown, Longino (1990) says that the “critical treatment” of a scientific paper by other scientists after it has been published would still lead to the refining of “new ideas and techniques.” Because scientific knowledge and inquiry is gained and refined through criticisms, disagreements, and the “integration or a variety of points of view,” scientific inquiry is a social enterprise.

Question 3:

Scientists often deal with criticisms of their experimental methods and results, and in particular criticisms about the relevance of their experimental data to scientific hypotheses. This sort of criticism is what Longino (1990) calls “conceptual criticism.” Conceptual criticism mainly concerns itself with “background beliefs and assumptions” when data is used as evidence for a given hypothesis. The scientific community’s conceptual criticism of the individual’s scientific observations and hypotheses allows for objectivity in scientific processes, because it is a way to check for, and to prevent, the influence of subjective preferences associated with background beliefs of the individual. To put this differently, when the individual’s subjective preferences are critically examined and challenged by the scientific community, they may be defended, reformulated or abandoned, and this would ensure that the individual’s hypotheses are free of subjective preferences and are objective. Hence Longino (1990) states that objectivity is “a characteristic of a community’s practice of science rather than of an individual’s.” Scientific knowledge is social knowledge because it is “produced by processes that are intrinsically social.” The scientific peer review process, conferences and journals are all common avenues for this type of constructive criticism.

Longino, H. (1990). Values and Objectivity. In Philosophy of science: the central issues (2nd ed., pp. 144–164). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

Amanda Phillips

4) Longino’s argument in “Values and Objectivity” understands objectivity as a concept defined by social processes within scientifically oriented communities (170). In creating a framework for the (social, communal) production of objectivity rather than examining robust examples, she leaves an open space for discussing empirical cases of what this process looks like on the ground.

Yet, before delving into the application of criteria, it is essential to explore how Longino conceptualizes the boundaries or constraints of any scientific community engaging in intersubjective criticism. Does this article speak to an understanding of a monolithic scientific community or a disparate one? Longino states on page 176 that “what is called scientific knowledge, then, is produced by a community (ultimately the community of all scientific practitioners) and transcends the contributions of any individual or even any subcommunity within the larger community”. This statement seems to fall into the former category of a united and uniform conception of a scientific community. Yet, later in the article she emphasizes the criteria of “intellectual authority… shared equally among all participants” (181). This criteria seems functionally untenable if a scientific community is bounded solely by those who practice science, quite a broad category indeed. While a satisfactory resolution to the problem of scale is absent in this account, the criteria provided by Longino seem to point in the direction of engaged but exclusive publics. If we follow her theoretical trajectory to a Habermassian conception the public sphere where inclusion is understood as predicated upon education and elite social standing (Habermas 137), we can narrow her framework. There are barriers of accessibility to the communities of science that protect the legitimacy of both intellectual thought and in the case of Longino, constitute the concept of objectivity.

Perhaps a more functional way to look at the criteria presented in “Values and Objectivity” is to understand the larger scientific community as made of up many discrete, but not completely impassable expertise-specific publics engaged in criticism both within and outside of their primary sphere. This conceptualization can perhaps lead to a more precise analysis of the above question regarding the avenues of criticism within the scientific community writ large. The case of classified knowledge appears at first glance to provide a roadblock to Longino’s framing. Classified knowledge is by definition closed to the recognized avenues for criticism. It can only circulate to a select few, limiting its reach and more substantially its objectivity. Yet, lacking a wide or public circulation does not mean that classified knowledge cannot be shared or critiqued within the parameters to which it is confined. The same processes that produce objectivity on a wider scale may be just as poignant within smaller, closed venues. In an effort to provide a universalizing framework, Longino seems to overlook how confined many specialized knowledge sets are within their relevant publics. This argument seems well suited to conceptualize small and interconnected fields and their critical discussions, but ill fitting to universal experiences of knowledge circulation and production.

Habermas, Jurgen. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. First. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1991. Print.

Longino, Helen E. “Values and Objectivity.” Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues. First Edition. N.p. 170–189. Print.

Annie Y. Patrick
1) Longino has a strong argument for her criteria of what objective science as a process looks like. She also seems to believe that with an objective process, an objective product is more likely to follow (148).

a. In what ways does achieving an objective process (as she defines it) assure an objective product:
Longino ascribes that objectivity in the realm of science is divided into two components of science. First that objectivity is a characteristic of the scientific method. Second, that objectivity is a characteristic of the practitioners of science. Hence, objectivity is intertwined into the foundation of science through the process of science and the individuals that adhere to this process. However, it is not the adherence of an “individual” in this process, but of “individuals” in this process. It is here, that Longino discusses Marjorie Grene’s view of the three social aspects of science (page 148). In summary, Grene believes that science is social in that one learns from another, its members are interdependent on one another, and science is dependent of society’s prescribed value of its activities. Longino goes on to describe that the results of science are not the products of individuals but of emendation and modifications of the entire scientific community. One activity of the community is art of criticisms. On page 152, criticism is noted to be central to the development of scientific knowledge. However, how does this contribute to achieving an objective process and an objective product? The process of criticism within the scientific community provides a “checks and balance” of subjective preferences and background beliefs. This process, ideally, would produce science that is independent of an individual’s subjectivity
b. Which ways is this logic flawed
On page 211, of the commentary, this logic is flawed in that the positivist’s view provides confirmation in degrees to the hypothesis. Thus accepting or rejecting a hypothesis is simply an activity of applying the relevant rules to the evidence that is available. This could be done by a single scientist and would eliminate the need for a social structure and criticisms that Longino argues would remove subjectivity. The use of criticisms is strongly supported in this reading and Longino details the importance of criticisms in the objectivity of science. She goes as far as to describe that for criticism to truly flourish and be transformative, there are four necessary criteria (page 214). However, Okruhlik argues that simply having a set of criteria for the criticisms is not enough to guarantee objectivity (page 215). In an interesting article, Cerezo (2015) objects to Longino’s stance on several points. One in particular is the characterization of the chosen social community’s norms of criticisms. A consensus cannot be the criterion, therefore cannot act as an assurance of objectivity.

Cerezo, J. (2015). Social objectivity under scrutiny in the Pasteur-Poucet debate. Journal for General Philosophy of Science, 46, 301. doi: 10.1007/s10838-015-9294-8
Longino, H. (1990). Values and objectivity. In M. Curd, J. Cover, & C. Pincock (Eds), Philosophy of Science (pp. 144-164). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Ezra Awumey

Question 1.

For Longino, an objective process distances itself from the empirical evidence in question, as to impart equitable scrutiny on the hypotheses and theories with which it is concerned. It also allows for the diffusion of power and authority, which in turn fosters novel experimentation, leading to the objective testing and subsequent acceptance or rejection, of said hypotheses and theories. An objective product is empirically accurate or reflective of the world it attempts to model, ideally it is ontologically heterogeneous and applicable/relevant to human needs.

Narrowly construed, an objective process assures an objective product. An objective process distances itself from the particulars with which hypotheses and theories are concerned, relying on non-arbitrary and non-subjective criteria for testing and subsequently accepting or rejecting hypotheses and theories. This should ensure that all experiments and hypotheses are subject to equitable scrutiny, which should result in an objective product. Although, this suggests that ideally, all “credible” hypotheses and theories should be structurally identical. Or at the very least, highly isomorphic to all other “credible” hypotheses and theories. Otherwise we would be unable to scrutinize them equitably. It is conceivable, that this attitude about the uniform nature of credible hypotheses and theories, may be counteracting the formation of novel ideas, which Longino has also identified as being an integral part of an objective process.

This logic may also be flawed, given that determining what is applicable to human needs and what isn’t, might be characterized as an intrinsically subjective process. There are examples in the history of science in which seemingly fruitless experiments and discoveries have aided in the development of technologies and theories with the utmost applicability to human life. Galileo’s demonstration of the phenomenon of objects of different weights, falling at the same speed, might have appeared to have little significance or application, in regards to humanity at large in the 1500’s. Today however, such knowledge is indispensible—and is cornerstone of our understanding of objects, gravity and all the technologies dependent on this understanding. While this criterion might be suitable for eliminating blatantly absurd experimentation and theories, when conceptualized teleologically, it does not appear as useful or appropriate a criterion as Longino might have hoped, since human needs do indeed change.

Question 3

The objective/subjective binary is used to categorize ideas and practices as being scientific, “less scientific” or unscientific. This is done by subjecting the practices in question, to the rigor of objective processes such as the scientific method. The result is that ideas and practices that cannot hold up against testing are subordinate to those that can. This way of appraising ideas and practices, naturally lends itself to ideas and practices that perhaps aren’t as ambitious, as those that aim to describe phenomena where many more variables might be at play. This may be why ideas and practices done in areas such as physics are often more highly regarded than research done in say—cognitive psychology. Objectivity is often associated with rationality. As such, this binary is also used in determining the strength of arguments and even how seriously representations of the world are to be taken. (As is the case in journalism and perhaps even art.)

Longino, H. (1990). Values and Objectivity. In Philosophy of science: the central issues (2nd ed., pp. 144–164). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

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