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Who Rules in Science?: An Opinionated Guide to the Wars

4.3 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674013643
ISBN-10: 0674013646
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

ostmodernists and social constructionists claim that there can be no such thing as "objective science." Indeed, many argue that the underlying "facts" of science are merely social conventions and that any view of the natural world is as likely to be as accurate as any other: "[i]t is one story among many stories," says Stanley Aronowitz. The process of scientific investigation and the knowledge that it yields, therefore, is worthy of neither particular respect nor governmental funding. University of Toronto professor of philosophy Brown (Smoke and Mirrors) ably takes on many of the claims proffered by the antiscience camp and argues that the logic in those claims is faulty. Brown's engaging style makes accessible complex issues central to the philosophy of science. The positions of two of the 20th century's great philosophers of science, Thomas Kuhn and Karl Popper, for example, are summarized deftly and fairly harshly, and contrasted with those of their most famous detractors: Bruno Latour, Jacques Derrida and David Bloor. Brown somewhat gleefully recounts the renowned hoax wherein physicist Alan Sokal sent in "a concoction of cleverly contrived gibberish written in the worst postmodern jargon" to the pomo journal Social Text. But he's no apologist for science, and he contends that scientists are subject to social bias and that science and social justice should be closely linked. "Science," according to Brown, "is the single most important institution in our lives," and thus understanding how it's used and misused is critical to a well-functioning democracy.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Scientific American

Meaty and challenging are the words to describe Brown's treatment of the arguments that go on over the nature and social impact of science. "The battleground in the current round of the science wars," he writes, "is epistemology (What is evidence? Objectivity? Rationality? Could any belief be justified?).... The stakes are political, however; social issues are constantly lurking in the background. How we structure and organize our society is the consequence. Whoever wins the science wars will have an unprecedented influence on how we are governed." Brown, professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, gives a rich and closely reasoned discussion of the issues in the science wars.

Editors of Scientific American --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (March 30, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674013646
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674013643
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,927,549 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This new book by Canadian philosopher of science James Robert Brown follows in a direct lineage from Gross & Levitt's 1994 HIGHER SUPERSTITION, which inspired Alan Sokal's famous hoax in the journal Social Text. Sokal was Brown's inspiration! Brown has written 4 previous books in the philosophy of science, but this one is different in that it is pitched to a popular audience rather than philosophers. The first 4 chapters are a very readable introduction to the issues. Included are a summary of the nature of science, a brief history of the philosophy of science, and a ruthless skewering of the "nihilist/postmodern" wing of social constructivism. My only objection here is Brown's peculiar treatment of Popper, who is a hero of mine. Brown takes "science is puzzle-solving" to be an anti-Popperian position, but Popper said again and again that science is problem-solving!

The next 3 chapters, 5-7, are the heart of the book. The going gets rougher, but it is well worth the effort to follow the arguments. Brown analyzes three concepts (realism, objectivity and values) which are necessary to understand the various positions. Sorting out the difference between realism and objectivity makes it possible to disentangle much confusion. Brown presents a 2 X 2 table, with both objective and subjective forms of both ontology and epistemology. So, for instance, Kuhn rejects ontological objectivity -- the properties of the world are not real, they are just the result of our paradigms for understanding it. But Kuhn does not reject epistemological objectivity, despite widespread misinterpretation -- he says there are good reasons for choosing one paradigm over another. (Brown and I are not social constructivists in that we maintain that the properties of the world are indeed real!
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Format: Hardcover
I agree with the previous review that this is probably the single best book on the "science wars" to date.
While I learned more about the different ways science is viewed in Western culture from reading both sides in Labinger and Collins' "The One Culture," this book is nearly as educational and quite a bit easier to read. Brown is extremely good at making complex things (like philosophy of science) much more understandable and at explaining things we too quickly assume we are thinking about the same way (like politics) in a way that helps understanding as well.
Brown is remarkably fair to all sides in the often contentious debates over science, sometimes reminding me of that other excellent Canadian philosopher, Ian Hacking. He satisfyingly plays both sociologists of science and "internalist" supporters of science against postmodern philosophers whom he (I think correctly) disqualifies as being largely irrelevant to serious debates because as often as not they are simply unfamiliar with the real content of the scientific theories they claim to be arbitrary cultural constructions.
The point stressed in this book is that the usual interpretation of the debate follows the sides defined in Gross and Levitt's "Higher Superstition:" the "academic left" opponents of science vs. the supporters of science, and that this is an understandable error in defining the real sides.

As a supporter of science who is on the left and is an academic, Brown points out the fallacy of defining the sides that way, and also points out the too often ignored intentions of the sociologists of science to be _doing_ legitimate science, not attacking it.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a useful and interesting introit to the 'science wars', entering the pickup phase as in '52 pickup'. The author begins by noting the reversal of left and right between the original 'two cultures' debate of C.P. Snow, and proceeds to outline almost in manual style the 'rules of the game', from the various epistemologies of science, from logical positivism to Popper and Feyerbend, to the Sokal fracas. The author would seem to give postmodernism not much of a hearing, which means that he is committed in his perspective, but more than fairly so. The division of left and right across the science wars duality is a false dilemma, as the author suggests producing a quadrant redivision of the 'what side you are on' merry-go-round. I think the failure to find solid grounds for the social construction of science, while indicated on the surface, after the Sokal incident, is treading on the dangerous grounds of overconfidence, speaking as one more interested in science. The failure of both sides to see any social construction in theories of evolution makes on feel the divide is less than it seems.
Very cogent and readable book, one way or the other.
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