Question Forum 1

I might be the only one unclear on this, but I think we should post our responses below the questions, on this same page. If this is not correct, I am hoping someone will point me in the right direction. (william)

That is right; everyone should be posting here and you only have to answer one question, not all of them (Crystal)

1. What constitutes good professional work?

2. How ought one know when good professional work has been achieved?

3. According to Ravetz in Chapter 12 of Scientific Knowledge and Its Social Problems, how do science and technology differ as professional practices?

4. According to Ravetz in Scientific Knowledge and Its Social Problems, what are some of science's social problems?

5. What is an ineffective or immature field of inquiry (iifq) today? (are psychology and others ‘which attempt to study human behaviour in the style of the mathematical-experimental sciences’ still iffq’s? (p. 366))

6. Ravetz argues that immature and ineffective fields of study should not attempt to solve practical problems (401). What, then, should they attempt to solve? Since these ‘pseudo-scientific’ fields appear so pernicious, even causing their practitioners to deceive the public (pp. 377-8), should they be ferreted out and their practitioners exposed for the charlatans that they must certainly be?

7. How does Ravetz connect iifq’s with folk-science, history, philosophy and art? Why might he do this and what ends does it serve in his argument?

8. Is there such a thing as a completely mature and safe field (p. 371)? Is physics, or biology, really as safe as Ravetz makes them out to be—and what about the myriad subfields of such safe/mature disciplines? Should they be?

9. How does an iffq become a mature and safe field of inquiry?

10. Ravetz is a closet positivist. Deny or defend that claim. (ok, this is not actually a question. whether responded to or not on this forum, i am hoping to discuss parts of it, including what positivism entails, in class.)


Winyard answers uploaded under files link, 2/22/13.

Henderson answer to Q4:

Ravetz draws liberally on the concepts of biology, particularly natural selection, when describing the processes of crafting scientific knowledge. Facts evolve, problems descend in “lattice-like” ways (193), and “pathological phenomena” roam the borders between science and technology (55). In fact, scientific knowledge itself survived a “long series of ruthless selections” in order arrive at its current state (235). If we extend this analogy and take Ravetz at his word that “the social position of science is really quite precarious” (412), we might conclude that what Ravetz fears is not so much the pollution of science by industry but the extinction of science as we know it. The slow craftwork of science, the need to recruit superior men to conduct its work, and the necessity of small-scale monitoring of the quality of scientific knowledge have created an enterprise that no longer thrives among the changing nature of twentieth century large-scale innovation and R & D research. That is, the greatest social problem of scientific knowledge is its failure to evolve.

Enter critical science, a response to “research with humanitarian functions” (424), a larger-scale endeavor that is political and wise. This newly evolved science, appropriately adapted to the environment created by runaway technology, sounds suspiciously like those immature and ineffective fields of inquiry Ravetz eviscerates as little more than pseudo- or cliché-science (385). Necessarily collaborative in nature, it is “part of practical projects involving the discovery, analysis and criticism of the different sorts of damage inflicted on man and nature by runaway technology, followed by their public exposure and campaigns for their abolition” (424). Here Ravetz unwittingly reveals his connection to those hippies of sociology speaking out against social injustices of science. He sidesteps the more egregious problems of immature fields—their inappropriate mimicry of scientific methods and techniques to mask the common sense nature of their aphorism and folk-science based solutions—and instead constrains the practical problems of society to those embedded in the physical environment, ignoring the more complex issues of poverty, inequality, and racism. Thus Ravetz extends the main social problem of academic science—its increasing irrelevance—into the “folk science” realm of the social sciences and calls this move not interdisciplinarity or collaboration but a burgeoning self-consciousness of the sciences (422).

Only one vein of his argument about immature fields of inquiry resonates with me. Ravetz suggests human sciences not follow the positivistic empirical means of science but instead find methods more appropriate to “the state of [their] knowledge” (e.g. description for history and argument for philosophy) (372). While I disagree with most assumptions behind his argument—the inferiority of these immature sciences to mathematical–experimental sciences, the privileging of solutions and facts, etc—I think he may be onto something. Why should these fields follow a positivist methodology? As Ravetz suggests, “By pretending to be what it is not, the immature or ineffective discipline condemns itself to remain in that state, rather than engaging in the sort of work that would open up paths to achieving maturity of a character appropriate to itself” (377). This would also, no doubt, clear the way for science to play a larger and more superior role in technical and practical problems.


Adam Response Question 3

Ravetz’ argues that these interrelated fields of practice, Science and Technology, are distinguished by their problem scope; ability to “re-cycle” experimental hypothesis and data; models of sharing and ownership; and definitive outcomes (pp. 322; 323; 237; 331; 332). This leaves the open the question of reader’s (or perhaps my) acceptance of these claims.

Given the time of original publication, 1971, I find this representation of technology as a practical and bounded exercise falling into the categories of either ‘making tools’ or iterative improvement of existing technology, to be an encompassing and soft characterization of the field of Technology. In particular, it is one hamstrung by the time in which it was constructed and first proposed. The claims from Ravetz come prior to the networking and personal computer revolutions of the 70’s (networking), 80’s (personal computers), and 90’s (public Internet adoption), as just one example. Faced with these developments and their offspring, characterizing Technology as a field continually operating within the borders of a particular (narrow) problem, misses the processes of exaptation and bastardization. Technology, much like Science, develops and shifts its momentum in a three dimensional plane; it is not restricted to a linear progress-trajectory, which Ravetz does acknowledge, but does not fully explore.

Furthermore, Scientific advancement is now heavily reliant on the construction of theoretical ‘tools.’ By this I mean technologies that have broad and unproven possibilities, such as the trite example of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). A massive technological tool developed to discover the theoretical existence of new phenomena in physics such as the Higgs Boson i.e., the ‘God particle.’ Of course, here we have a whole other rabbit-hold to head down, discussing the construction of ‘tools’ that are based on theoretical models of the universe that may find ‘evidence’…

I will give credit to Ravetz on two of his characteristics, those addressing ownership and definitive outcomes. The issue of ownership has only increased as a burden on the development of Technology and Science, since his initial publication. The development of legal-technological-tools, such as gene patenting used by companies like Monsanto, have created great and onerous hurdles to the progression and understanding of how one can develop technology. Definitive outcomes remains a static element, one imperturbable in a world with limited and controlled access to resources.


Nelson Response

4. According to Ravetz in Scientific Knowledge and Its Social Problems, what are some of science's social problems?

10. Ravetz is a closet positivist. Deny or defend that claim.

One of science’s social problems identified by Ravetz concerns the penetration of industry into science or what I would call the industrialization of scientific practice The industrialization of science presents us with numerous epistemological questions with regards to who has the ability to access knowledge, create and distribute it. I focus on the idea of property and its affect upon the conduct of knowledge as a result of industrialization. For example, part of the process of industrializing science occurs through the rendering of the “products” of science as property. Ravetz describes at great length the how the research report or product of science becomes property. He states, “as a piece of property, the research report is a rather unusual object. The property comes into existence only by being made available for use by others; and a research report hoarded in secret is almost certain to depreciate in value” (245). Clearly, Ravetz is correct in pointing to the fact that property is social and value exists when others take interest. The report is produced not necessarily by those who generate it, but also by those who entertain it. However, perhaps I do not understand Ravetz’s definition of secrecy, but there are many examples of how secrecy, especially in industrial science, aids in the value of those knowledge possessors who have strategic advantage over those who do not possess said secret knowledge. Thus, I take aim at Ravetz claim that a report held in secret depreciates in value as the industrialization of science proceeds. On the contrary, industrial and cold-war sciences are full of many examples of how secrecy aided those who possessed knowledge (Manhattan project secrecy) For example, companies are quite content hoarding their industrial science hostage behind closed doors (see prolific examples of scientific patenting at Genentech) where secrecy aids in profit to those who guard knowledge. Historical work can provide many counter examples to Ravetz’s claim regarding secrecy and diminished value.

Ravetz even references an industry whose industrial scientific approach gleams great benefit through the practice of secrecy in the form of patents. Ravetz states:

The results of pharmaceutical research must pass through the cash nexus of that industry before being applied, and that process may be an unsavory one. Only in the fields related to ‘social medicine’ could genuine scientific research make a direct contribution to the solution of practical problems, of protecting the health and welfare of an otherwise defenseless public. Now, however, the threats to human welfare and survival made by the runaway technology of the present provide opportunities for such beneficial research in a wide range of fields; and the problems there are as difficult and challenging as any in academic science (424)

Ravetz’s text is full of definitional strategies which are articulated in positive and negative characteristics. In this example he uses the term ‘social medicine’ as distinguished from what is implicit in this sentence as industrial medicine whereby the application of results is an “unsavory” process. Social medicine is established normatively more desirable arrangement in which “genuine” scientific research can contribute to the solution of practical problems. I believe Ravetz is indeed a closet “normative” positivist because of the way he articulates the reality of industrial science in contrast to that which he normatively desires. His approach mirrors seemingly mirrors Karl Popper’s Logic of Scientific Discovery in which the ‘ought’ is often passed as off as the ‘is.’ How science should function is described as how it actually does. Furthermore, Ravetz’s call for a critical science belies the ‘is’ condition of science (424). For example is not science already supposed to be critical by the basis of its methods? A critical science is a double negative of some sort. While these ideas are not articulated adequately digested here, it is my hope that this thought game can make some good class discussion.

Clearly, the contradictions that Ravetz brings to the table, whether he was aware of them or not, point to the major problems that science faces in its industrial orientation. No one answer will suffice to mitigate the challenges we face as, but clearly “the penetration of industry by science in the present period is possible because the set of soluble technical problems is large, increasing, and continuously growing in importance” (322). These problems demand a ‘critical science’ according to Ravetz, but perhaps a critical alternative epistemology to western scientific epistemology might be more desirable. What is critical science? How should it be organized? How does it differ from industrial science?

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