Another Science is Possible: A Manifesto for Slow Science 1st Edition
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Hilary Rose, Emerita Professor of Social Policy, University of Bradford
"Stengers’s slow science manifesto is timely, trenchant and thoughtful."
About the Author
- Item Weight : 15.4 ounces
- Hardcover : 220 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1509521801
- ISBN-13 : 978-1509521807
- Product Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
- Publisher : Polity; 1st Edition (February 20, 2018)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #7,404,210 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Following Galileo’s lead, France and the US ushered in the democratic republic that ultimately, in the US at least, led to the commercialization of society and the primacy of ruthless, individualized competition in all things, including politics, business, science, and academia. All segments of society, including science, have thus morphed from the collegial to the cutthroat, contributing greatly to the individualist revolution by legitimizing narrow economic and political interests with the stamp of science’s presumed objective authority.
The result has been modern development. And in terms of its sustainability, it is a social and ecological disaster. It may, in fact, be too late to do anything about it, although the author does offer hope in the form of ‘slow science’ and a civilizing politics that she calls cosmopolitics. At the very least she makes a strong case that simply biding our time in the hope of a scientific solution is a fool’s game.
Science has revealed nothing quite so completely as it has revealed that nothing exists in isolation. Reality is more complex, and its parts more interdependent, than we could have ever imagined. Just as human health cannot be left to the cardiologist and the neurologist alone, our collective reality cannot be sustained through the efforts of one or two scientific specialists working in isolation. It will take all of us working collaboratively and that, of course, will require both interest and civility.
Isabelle Stengers is a professor of the philosophy of science. And while many might consider the philosophy of science to be an oxymoron, therein lies the fundamental problem. Science is not a body of knowledge, bipartitely divided into those facts which have been revealed and those which are about to be.
Reality exists in a dynamic context (my term). The process of discovery, therefore, both reveals and shapes the knowledge unveiled. Scientists in all fields, although some more than others, pre-define their results, often inadvertently, by the questions they ask, both singularly and in total, and how they interpret the answers they find.
Google does not calculate the answer to your search query. It hypothesizes the answer using probabilities, which are defined, in part, by what has come before. It does so through a complex series of computations that collectively approximate a discrete and objective answer, but do not guarantee its validity. The only way to evaluate the innate validity of the answer is to compare it to rational expectations.
The Google engineers do that every day. And so do scientists. If scientific inquiry yields an answer that is either unanticipated (which, of course, implies the existence of a paradigm) or considered beyond “legitimate” questions of science, it will be ignored or refuted.
The result is a closed information loop not unlike the self-reinforcing digital news loops that are fueling our tribal political wars. Both sides become increasingly isolated and increasingly hostile.
The resulting perversion is greatly exaggerated by the reality that we have commercialized all of society, including science. Scientists, and the universities that often govern them, have become captive to the entrepreneurs and politicians who turn to science, not out of genuine interest in the acquisition of knowledge, but as a tool to promote their agenda and discredit the opposition.
We, as consumers and citizens, (I am not a scientist) promote the charade to the extent we fail to grasp what science is and is not. In the area of climate change, the author notes, citizens and politicians cling to doubt citing science, when, in fact, their doubt flows from an ignorance of what science means (again, not her words exactly). Scientifically speaking, there is no doubt about climate change among scientists. The few voices you hear may be speaking with the authority of science, but that is not what ultimately defines scientific truth.
She uses the science of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as an example of the reverse bias. Scientists have done the bidding of entrepreneurs and politicians who see nothing but the ability to end world hunger and the spoils that will generate. The much larger questions of the science’s impact on society, the environment, and the future of our organic world are essentially dismissed as naïve vestiges of pre-scientific opinions, values, and superstition.
Stengers’ proposed solution, in part, is a ‘slowing’ of science, although the term is not meant to calibrate speed per se. What it means is that we take the time, collectively, to understand scientific discovery in the larger context of its value to human development. Conquest become adventure. Truth becomes a value.
An aside: As a subset of the issue, albeit an extremely important one, the author provides the most insightful portrayal of gender bias I have yet to read. She applies it to science but it could be readily applied to business, politics, or whatever. In essence, the ‘fraternity’ of science was designed by men and it is constructed to reward, and conversely punish in the negative, those qualities historically associated with male virility (e.g., blind obsession, the sacrifice of social responsibilities, urgency at any cost, etc.) To read that argument alone is well worth the effort and investment to read the book.
I only offer one caution, but it is not meant to deter you in any way. The book is translated from the French. And while I think it’s a very good translation, translation is a much more nuanced process than people who do not normally communicate in a second language always appreciate. This isn’t typically obvious in a general conversation on the street corner, but often becomes more obvious in an academic and more complex text such as this. The English is perfectly understandable, to be sure, but it does progress to a slightly different cadence than you might be accustomed to.
All told, I think this is a fabulous book and the timing couldn’t be more appropriate. One of the fallacies to have grown out of the belief in the authority of science and the power of democracy is the belief that rugged individualism conquers all. While that conviction served us well until now, it is implosive in the smaller, wired, and technologically integrated world we now live in. We must start to measure success in what Robert Reich has insightfully defined in his latest book as ‘the common good.’
We must further recognize that life and the planet on which we live it are not built on a foundation of discrete binary options. Reality is less a function of either/or and more a function of and/but.
Scientifically and academically we can’t turn back the clock and we don’t want to. We must, however, redefine our science, our academics, our economics, and our politics, in ways that recognize our common humanity and our common ecology. And Professor Stengers, thankfully, gives us a way forward.
What we can’t forget is that progress is meaningless if it fails to recognize the reality that we are truly all in this together.