On Pragmatism and Scientific Freedom


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On Pragmatism and Scientific Freedom

  1. 1. On Pragmatism and Scientific Freedom Antonio L. Severien October 21, 20121 IntroductionScience has come a long way since its formalization and detachment fromphilosophy, sprouting into branches of natural sciences and social sciences.This natural process of specialization came from the necessity of a narrowfocus on each of the scientific realms, which try to give a fine-grained ex-planation and interpretation of nature. With this variety of approaches toscience came questions about the validity and truthfulness of the presentedtheories and practices. Throughout history many theories that believed toexplain everything have fallen and were substituted by more adequate ones.Theories being overthrown does not mean they were wrong. In the momentthey were accepted they worked fine due to cultural, social and epistemologi-cal beliefs. This view shows that they were thought to be right until a betterexplanation came along. Kuhn points out this shift in beliefs as paradigmshifts, where new ways of thinking about nature and its phenomena fits bet-ter. These new theories have broader appliances and the explanation coversa wider area of nature, thus closer to a universal theory. According to Michael Ruse ”Science is a phenomenon that has developedthrough the ages - dragging itself apart from religion, philosophy, supersti-tion, and other bodies of human opinion and belief. (...) It is an empiricalenterprise about the real world of sensation”. As science gradually becomesa more successful endeavor in demystifying nature than others practices, liketheology and mysticism, there comes a natural need for providing reliablearguments to prove its methods. No one should believe anything just be-cause someone said so. That is why science became so successful, due toits methods; where every aspect of a phenomenon would be discussed and 1
  2. 2. unveiled in the light of experiments and mathematical proofs which can pre-dict and explain a natural phenomenon behaviour. This approach has highpersuasive appeal and even got some scientists into trouble for challengingthe status quo. In modern times scientist wont be hanged for new ideas butthere still is a great resistance in accepting new scientific views. The greatestresistance in the old times was religion, but as science evolved this resistancebecame present inside the scientific community. Questioning the scientificapproach of scientists became an issue. The discussion about what is scienceand knowledge could not be answered by the scientific method and becamephilosophical, thus leading to a philosophy of science.2 Paradigms and Scientific SocietyIn order to explain science and group it in a reliable asset, some frameworkswere proposed by philosophers of science to keep science respectable andtrustworthy. Karl Popper, as one of the first philosophers of science came upwith a demarcation criterion, which tried to tackle the problem categorizingscience by drawing the line between science and pseudo-science using objec-tivity as the guideline. Later other philosophers of science criticized Popperby saying that there is no universal objective way of explaining nature and itsphenomena. Nature is intrinsically subjective because it is always interpretedand cannot be isolated into one objective view. Thomas Kuhn criticized pop-pers demarcation criterion and suggested another view of how science works.He grouped scientists with same beliefs and that agree to certain theoriesinto paradigms. Revolutionary theories would shift this paradigm changingthe belief system. In this way each paradigm has its own subjective view ofthe natural world. Throughout science history science has been thought and practiced inmany ways. Initially subject to each individual scientist intuition, senses andmethodology, thus not following a general accepted way of performing sci-ence. In later analysis philosophers of science have grouped scientific theoriesinto paradigms, argued about the objective or subjective approach in whichscience should be looked at have indicated inadequate use of self-confidentlogic in scientific explanation. As Sara Harding exposes in her Strong Objec-tivity paper; observations are theory-laden; our beliefs form a network suchthat none are in principle immune to revision; theories are underdeterminedby any possible set of evidence for them. This view exposes science as a 2
  3. 3. constantly changing body where there is no de facto standard of working,but different ways, captured in time and space, where each has contributedits deal with the growth of scientific knowledge. This heterogeneity of ap-proaches has culminated into a more flexible behaviour. Just like modernsociety has sprung out of orthodox social and intellectual constructs, sciencehas undergone an adaptiveness to diverse approaches and objectives. It isokay to say that more than one theory can fit a set of observation, and thatmore than one interpretation of any theory is reasonable (van Fraassen andSigman 1993), without suffering fierce attacks from different philosophicalschools. This flexibility and relative freedom has turned out to poison thescientific body itself by leaving an open ground for monopoly of researchby those who control the resources. Military and corporate research restrictthe free access to scientific information. Therefore most of the science hasbecome a private enterprise instead of a free organic knowledge builder.3 Scientific Method and PositivismLooking back at Poppers demarcation criterion and the debate about sci-ence and pseudo-science; its is now clear that there is no way to objectivelydetermine the boundaries for this distinction. Knowledge is built inside acommunity which agrees upon it, therefore science will slways be carried in-side an acceptance group. The distinction and accepted ways of claiminganything to be scientific is to frame the process into the scientific method.The scientific method is the manifestation of a positivistic conception of in-quiry. The setup for positivist science which has led to great progress andaccepted understanding of nature is based on a value-free science, a belief inempiricism, a search for Humean causal relations and that logic and mathe-matics is the foundation of science. Further explaining the parts that compose a positivist science we can saythat the unity of scientific method means that the accepted approach forknowledge acquisition is valid for all forms of inquiry. It does not matter towich realm the phenomena belongs. The search for Humean causal relation-ships is done by the process of reductionism where the whole is dissected andreduced into its constituent parts. The belief in empiricism states that theonly valid data is the ones aquired by our senses and that other kinds likeextrasensorial experience is not valid. The value-free concept is that science 3
  4. 4. has no relationship to political, ideological or moral beliefs. The idea thatmath and logic are the foundation of science is that it provides for a uiniver-sal language and a formal basis for quantitative analysis which is importantfor finding causal relations. (Goles and Hischheim, 2000) Positivism also has a onthological view based on realism where the uni-verse is composed of immutable objects and structures. This idea contrastswith the one of relativism and instrumentalism which says that reality is asubjective construction of the mind. Following a positive perspective it iseasier to analyse and study the universe because a scientist does not haveto worry about his subjective interpretation of the objects of study. Forpositivists a table will be a table in any possible condition of space and time.4 Kidnapping ScienceThe domination of science by institutions has tied up the production ofknowledge into a frame where every research is guided by money and ap-plied to anything that can generate more money. Besides the money gen-erating engine, science is totally biased, or one could even say corrupted.Researches and scientist do not have an epistemological goal, but a personalgoal to produce as much published papers with positive results. To achievethis goal it is quite easy; a scientist just needs to know some people, followsome pre-determined research areas and with some time success is ahead.Therefore research is not biased simply by the data collected, which mightbe not trusted, but biased by the scientific production engine. Some of thesebiases can be seen in the peer review process where the reviewers usuallyknow, or are connected to the researcher, thus making things a bit easier. Lest say that this kind of networking does not exist; there is still a resis-tance in approving or legitimizing researches that reveal negative results. It isquite uncommon to see negative conclusions about some medicine prescribedby doctors. On the other hand it is known that there are many researchesthat reveal potential dangers in some medicine, but what the public sees isalways how ”good” the medicine is on curing any sickness. Nothing is toldabout the side effects or even the failed experiments. This kind of bias is de-noted by Longino as the gatekeeper for the production of knowledge, whereasher understanding of peer review is not only to check the correctness of thedata and conclusions but to bring another point of view of the phenomenawhich might lead the authors to revise the way they think about the present 4
  5. 5. observations and conclusions. Reminding this original concept of peer reviewcan bring science back to its senses and actually move forward in progressby setting the bar for relevant knowledge production. Such mechanisms that modify and limit the original concept of peer re-view has its influence from established power structures. Politicized scienceis a rather biased science;, which produces knowledge to only a few who re-tain the resources to finance research, and uses the acquired knowledge for itsown benefit. Science should be free of any kind of privatization; even if it isproduced with private resources. The retention of knowledge brings societyto a period of darkness where those who have access to information have abetter understanding of the world and will use it for domination purposesin any form it may have. This kind of knowledge hijacking leads to knowl-edge polarization where guerrilla or knowledge freedom fighters groups willemerge socializing and creating alternate ways of acquiring knowledge. Inthis sense a marginalized scientific community might emerge where, judgingby the stand point theory, they will have an epistemological advantage.5 AnarchyFeyerabend a radical philosopher of science has a very revolutionary andanarchic view of science. He promotes that there should be no rules or meth-ods to be followed, where a scientist should use what is available to producescientific knowledge. He also suggested that science is no better than anyother belief system and should be susceptible to popular critique and judge-ment. Science should not be related to the state, or politicized at all. Thisapproach, as defended by the standpoint theory, which admits science beingpolitically related; advocates to a supra objectivism to release science fromthe claws of bureaucracy and the privatization of scientific knowledge. Another view of knowledge freedom is Quines account that each man isgiven a scientific heritage plus a continuing barrage of sensory stimulation;and the considerations which guide him in warping his scientific heritage tofit his continuing sensory promptings are, where rational, pragmatic. Thisidea is the fulfilment of ones thirst for knowledge and will be accomplishedby any methods to achieve the desired answers to the sensorial questioningof the universe around him. Given this freedom of methodological choice a scientist can use a multi-paradigm approach and paradigms interplay to achieve a more general model 5
  6. 6. or theory. By using what is relevant in different paradigms and ignoring theconflicting parts a bridging mechanism can be created to further open thewindow for possible insights in the matter that is being studied.6 A Note On CommunicationScience has been practiced under many different paradigms and epistemolog-ical views. Some tend to turn science rigid, others try to be more flexible andallow diverse interpretation. Nonetheless science has made progress. This de-bate has also extended to the language of science, where different paradigmscannot understand each other unless there is a common language. Languagebarriers are discussed in analyticity and synthetic language discourse wherefacts and sensorial experience cannot be translated to words. Mathematicsand logic has become the closest to a universal scientific language, but stillhas its flaws in trying to explain every phenomenon, like in social sciencesor the sensorial experience. The lack of common universal medium of trans-mitting knowledge is a barrier to the epistemological program.7 Pragmatism and Scientific FreedomIn scientific world with heterogeneous views of reality and a variety of ap-proaches on how to interpret the natural world the best is to gather themost relevant assumptions and boil them together were possible to achievea greater understading and use of the acquired knowledge. A pragmatic ap-proach to science stands between the positivists view and the anti-positivistwhere there is no clear distinction between an objective and subjective real-ity. Thus pragmatism advocates that researchers should use what is best fora particular research. Pragmatism reinforces the idea that what works is the ideal goal, ab-staining from metaphysical concepts such as reality and truth; it is in sum-mary a more practical approach. In this practical style of conducting sciencethe questions of philosophical, methodological or informational aspects aretreated by its usefulness. This concept of useful is in the sense that thesubjects of interest are instrumental in producing eligible foreseen results.Pragmatists hold the idea of an objective reality existing externally to an 6
  7. 7. individual. Unlike the positivists view, the pragmatic view assume that thereality is affected by the environment and experience of each individual andcannot be understood in totality. Objects in this reality would be definedfor what use they have to him. This use is not defined by how it is used butrather how it can be used to help the pragmatist achieve its purpose (Golesand Hirschheim, 2000). The neutral positioning of pragmatists give them a flexibility of using, ornot, personal values that are appropriate to the study. This flexibility canalso be applied in theory choice where a theory might be tested and used ifit proves to serve well for the desired research in question. On an extended analysis of the adoption of pragmatism as an epistemo-logical doctrine free of the influence from power structures and pitfalls oforthodox practices; it is a resourceful asset to fight against mainstream rigidscientific structures, which can pave the way for an independent and freescience.References[1] Thomas S. Kuhn: The Nature and Necessity of Scientific Revolutions, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp.92-110, 2nd Edition, 1970.[2] Karl Popper: Conjectures and Refutations. Routeledge and Kegan Paul, London, pp.33-39, 1963.[3] Thomas S. Kuhn: Logic of Discovery or Psychology of Research?, Crit- icism and the Growth of Knowledge. Imre Lakatos and Alan Musgrave, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp.4-10, 1970.[4] Thomas S. Kuhn: Objectivity, Value Judgment, and Theory Choice, The Essential Tension: Selected Studies in Scientific Tradition and Change. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp.320-339, 1977.[5] Harding, Sandra (1995). Strong objectivity: A response to the new ob- jectivity question. Synthese 104 (3):331 - 349.[6] Tim Goles, Rudy Hirschheim, The paradigm is dead, the paradigm is deadlong live the paradigm: the legacy of Burrell and Morgan, Omega, 7
  8. 8. Volume 28, Issue 3, 1 June 2000, Pages 249-268, ISSN 0305-0483, 10.1016/S0305-0483(99)00042-0.[7] Longino, Helen E. 1990. Science as Social Knowledge: Values and Objec- tivity in Scientific Inquiry. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-02051-5[8] Ruse, Michael (1982). ”Creation Science Is Not Science”. From Science, Technology, and Human Values 7 no. 40 (Summer 1982): 72- 78.[9] Willard V. O. Quine (1953). Two Dogmas of Empiricism. In Darragh Byrne & Max Klbel (eds.), From a Logical Point of View. New York: Harper Torchbooks.[10] Feyerabend, Paul. How to be a Good Empiricist: a Plea for Tolerance in Matters Epistemological. Philosophy of Science: the Delaware Seminar. Vol. 2. Ed. B. Baumrin. New York: Interscience, 1963. 3-39. 8