Synthesis Forum 1

After Monday's class, each member of Team 1 will comment and reflect on any ideas raised, or neglected, in the question, keyword, response and discussion process during the preceding week.

Some of Marie Stettler Kleine's Thoughts

The main theme that I hoped we would touch on this week is what the insertion of people into thinking about normative and disciplinary questioning of science would do to the conversation regarding the objectivity/subjectivity divide. As was pointed out numerous times in class, providing a middle ground between the logical positivist and one-off historical and sociological accounts, Longino allows for an objective science that makes room for (and in fact highlights) social interaction. A troubling thing about Longino’s prescriptive view is that with the social schemes that she suggests, a simple look into how the mechanics of her plan would work on the ground often break down in practice, which opens further questions of whether these criteria will truly lead to a “better” objectivity.

Longino is making strides towards the kinds of expectation that we now tend to popularize and demand of science (channels of critic, and equal access to qualified groups of scientists). It’s easy to tear apart her criteria and the impossibility of some of the logistics involved in idealizing this “better” objectivity. This becomes especially the case when current STS scholarship is rife with incredibly detailed contextualization that would undoubtedly demand more work to be done on how this would influence science’s current practice.

I am still interested to talk more about where scientific realism’s place is in academia. Professor Collier makes a good point that STS (in particular, but other humanities no less) have squeezed out any real possibility that scientific realists get the field’s time of day. They often are dismissed for giving too simplistic of accounts and too narrow of perspectives, but we need to be incredibly introspective about the kinds of arguments that we are limiting ourselves to if no real agreement about what (and if) there are foundational objective truths. In an interdisciplinary field, moving in this direction will be a tricky maneuver, but maybe taking a cue from earlier philosophy of science will give us a template for what kinds of things we should reevaluate in order to be more inclusive and allow for our field to claim a form of objectivity as its own.

Synthesis, class discussion 12 Sep 16
Roger B
The class grappled with the issues of science as a social activity, context, objectivity and subjectivity as covered in the reading. Consensus was largely achieved on several issues:
Science is, indeed, a social activity. The discussion of peer review revealed that most regard it as an activity that adds to the scientific finding under review and gives it credence. Pitfalls of peer review were recognized and discussed. As Longino describes, a narrow set of peers in some fields can lead to a “gatekeeper” function regarding what and who is admitted to the highest levels of a given discipline. The discussion of contextual values also supported the idea that science is a social activity. The need to socially confirm “truth” was seemingly affirmed by the class discussion with virtually no dissent. The keyword definition of positivism in which it was described as a “nonsensical notion” was not challenged which further confirmed the class rejection of positivism and accepting the view of science as a social activity.
The class seemed to agree that individual cognition can put a subjective twist on scientific findings, but as the social process of scientific discovery unfolds this subjectivity will yield to an objective view under group cognition. Such group cognition is not perfect but it moves the contextual acceptance of a discovery forward. While the methods of achieving this objectivity are not without fault, there seemed to be little dissent to the idea that objectivity is the way to truth. There was good discussion regarding how individuals are admitted to the “group” that declares “truth” and discussion of how past biases might have influenced what ideas were embraced as well as defining the context of those ideas. The mechanics of group assemblage as well as group cognition seems to be worthy of further examination, but, again, there was virtually no challenge to the idea that scientific advancement is indeed a social activity.
An intriguing aspect that the class barely had time to touch on follows: if science is a social activity, then the issues of sociology must pertain. Kuhn, Longino and Galison all introduce the term sociology in their writings. The dynamics of group behavior were discussed in class, mostly regarding past biases that might influence today’s view of knowledge, but the larger issues of sociology are clearly important.
Especially valuable to the group discussion were several specific examples that supported discussion points. Philosophy seems to rely upon pure thought, but taking the excursion to specific examples on occasion helps this student bridge the gap to pure thought. Seemingly, this issue is what Longino grapples with as she supports pure thought with sociological and historical contexts.

Syntheses of Joshua Earle

I thought the class discussion went quite well. That said, I kind of wish I had been clued into the idea that this text was one of the first instances of philosophers realizing that science was a communal activity as it probably would have shifted some of my focus on the historical situation of the piece beyond just its relevance to the science wars (perhpas the inclusion of Kuhn in the secondary readings should have tipped me off). I also wish I had stepped more to defend Kian's realist stance, which in many ways I share. Instead, my pushing of his intuitions turned into, I feel, a bit of a pile-on by the more relativist arm of STS. As one who advocates for an entangled agential realism (c.f. Barad), I should have been more accepting of that position. I hope to be more in his defense especially once we get into our Ihde and Hacking week(s).

Still, I feel that the discussion went well, and touched on both the strengths and limitations of Longino's argument. I did enjoy (in spite of my feelings expressed in the previous paragraph) the conflict between realism and constructivism, as it is a struggle I have had internally since I found the field. I, too, have the strong intuition that "nature" will be the final arbiter of what we consider "real." Yet I also acknowledge that no single perspective can be Haraway's "God's Eye" and so our knowledge must always be incomplete, and that historical and cultural contingencies have affected the progression of science. Still, F=ma in America as in Europe, and an electron volt doesn't change based on the gender of the person measuring it, so this regularity must come from somewhere.

I was also pleased to see that the discussion about the broader ramification of how we define and value objectivity led many people to realize how that split gets mapped on to other things in the world, and thus how we value those things. It took some time, but I think that the introduction of feminist epistemologies, and their relation to Longino's argument (even if we didn't explicitly link Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto and Situated Knowledges, and Butler's Performativity to Longino wrt theme and time of publication) was one that broadened a lot of people's ideas of the power of these definitions to affect the world. I hope that the inclusion of real-world examples helped to make that argument more real for the class, and from the direction of the discussion (even the off-topic parts) it seemed to do just that.

I also like that we stepped into what, to me, is the existential crisis within STS: Flattening theories vs. exploding theories. Basically: how do we deal with the fundamental theme of STS that "it's more complicated than we think" and realizing that if anything matters, everything matters, and still do functional work? ANT is a wonderfully workable theory… hence its popularity, but its critics rightly point out all the things it doesn't deal with: power, heirarchy, and the invisibility of those outside the network who might not affect the network, but who are affected by it. But Cyborg and Diffractive theory explodes dimensionality in ways that feel closer to "reality" but become unworkable unless one is extremely skilled in their boundary work… perhaps not even then. This is something I'm sure I will be pushing around the table again in later discussions.

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