Courses

Science Wars: What Scientists Know and How They Know It

YEAR: 2006 | LENGTH: 24 parts (31 minutes each)  |  SOURCE: TGC

description:

Choose one: (A) Science gives us objective knowledge of an independently existing reality. (B) Scientific knowledge is always provisional and tells us nothing that is universal, necessary, or certain about the world. Welcome to the science wars—a long-running battle over the status of scientific knowledge that began in ancient Greece, raged furiously among scientists, social scientists, and humanists during the 1990s, and has re-emerged in today’s conflict between science and religion over issues such as evolution. 

episodes:

What is it that scientists know, and how do they know what they know? The “science wars” in the late 20th century were a dispute within modern science that signals a deep, longstanding conflict over this question.
Negative numbers are often confusing, especially negative parenthetical expressions in algebra problems. Discover a simple visual model that makes it easy to keep track of what’s negative and what’s not, allowing you to tackle long strings of negatives and positives-with parentheses galore.
The Catholic Church has been cast as villain in its condemnation of Galileo, but a great deal hinges on whether Galileo possessed knowledge and was defending truth, or was promoting personal opinions based on his beliefs.
Isaac Newton’s mathematical theory of gravity and motion works, and for more than 200 years was lauded as finally giving knowledge of physical reality. But Newtonian physics is wrong, in spite of “working.”
From the beginning, modern science used novel instruments that disclosed realities that cannot be experienced directly. But the very novelty of these instruments raised questions about what it was they revealed.
John Locke formulated the classic empirical theory of knowledge, while George Berkeley mounted a vigorous attack on modern science, and David Hume embraced skepticism, criticizing unjustifiable knowledge claims.
Immanuel Kant invented a philosophical system that guaranteed universal, necessary, and certain knowledge, but at a price. We could have knowledge of experience, but not of the world as it “really” is, beyond experience.
The role that scientific knowledge plays in society today is the realization of the 18th-century Enlightenment vision linking social reform and the idea of progress to reason by way of science.
In spite of science’s growing applicability to the real world through technology, scientists began to question the relationship between theories and reality, influenced by such startling ideas as non-Euclidean geometry.
Joseph Fourier and others showed that a theory can provide prediction and control without describing realities behind experience. But then as now, the dominant view was that scientific theories reveal what is really out there.
William Whewell invented the term “scientist” and tried to demonstrate that creative activity by the mind is a fundamental factor in scientific reasoning, and that the history of science is crucial in understanding this process.
This lecture looks at thinkers as diverse as Ernst Mach, Pierre Duhem, and Heinrich Hertz, who argued from three different perspectives that theories were non-unique interpretations of experience, not descriptions of reality.
Ironically, just as science increasingly mattered to the general public, and for that reason scientific knowledge was accepted as true, the 19th-century scientific theories responsible for this perception were being discarded!
The most proscience philosophies in the first half of the 20th century were logical positivism, which embraced the primacy of scientific knowledge, and pragmatism, a homegrown American philosophy that rejected it.
Relativity and quantum theory raised new questions about the relationship of science to reality. This lecture addresses these questions, which continue unresolved to this day.
The most radical theory of scientific knowledge to be formulated in the 1930s came from immunologist Ludwik Fleck, who used the history of syphilis as a vehicle for exploring what scientists know and how they know it.
The 1962 publication of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutionssparked a reassessment by intellectuals of the privileged status of scientific knowledge and more broadly of the possibility of true objectivity.
Scientific thinking has a collective character shaped by education and professional community life, but scientific theories also evolve, and highly credentialed “outsiders” play a role.
Israel Scheffler and Paul Feyerabend assumed opposite stances in response to Kuhn’s thesis. Independently, Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida launched an attack on the very possibility of objective knowledge.
In the 1980s, a consensus formed that scientific and technological knowledge were not value-neutral, but the products of communal practices deeply affected by professional and societal values.
While many intellectuals after 1960 were busily denouncing Western ideals of rationality, knowledge, and truth as politically motivated myths, many philosophers of science proposed defensible theories of scientific realism.
In 1996, a postmodern journal addressed the science wars after a decade of hostility between scientists and supporters of the social construction view. The journal unwittingly published a parody of postmodernism known as Sokal’s hoax.
Is intelligent design a scientific hypothesis? This question highlights issues of who defines what science is, what constitutes good science, and what words like rationality, truth, knowledge, and reality mean.
At a time when science is involved in profound social, moral, and environmental challenges, misunderstanding the positions of competing interpretations of science is an obstacle to effective action.