The Impact of Science
- Science has had an enormous impact on society in recent centuries.
- Led to a widespread ‘faith in science’.
- Medicine had eradicated many once fatal diseases.
- Technological development has improved features of daily life (e.g. transport/communication/work)
- Economic productivity has been revolutionised.
- Standard of living has been raised.
- Science can cause problems as well as solving them.
- Pollution, global warming and weapons of mass destruction.
- Protects us from natural dangers but creates manufactured risks.
- The good and bad effects of science distinguish it from other belief systems in its cognitive power.
- Enables us to explain, predict and control the world to an extent.
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Open Belief Systems
- Sees science as an open belief system where all claims are open to criticism.
- Governed by the principle of falsification.
- Scientists seek evidence to disprove existing theories.
- Theories can be discarded and a search for a better explanation can ensue.
- Discarding falsified knowledge claims allows scientific understanding to grow.
- Scientific knowledge is cumulative and builds on knowledge of previous scientist.
- No theory is ever taken as definitely true.
- Scientific knowledge is not sacred or absolute truth.
- e.g. Copernicus disproved the theory that the Sun revolved around the Earth
- Can be questioned, criticised and tested.
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The CUDOS Norms
- Science can only survive as a major institution with support from other institutions.
- Science as an institution needs an ethos.
- Identifies a set of 4 norms:
- scientific knowledge is not private property.
- must be shared within the scientific community.
- the truth of knowledge is tested by a universal, objective criteria.
- discovering knowledge for its own sake.
- prevents fraud and allows claims to be checked.
- Organised Scepticism
- no knowledge claim is regarded as sacred.
- every idea is open to objective investigation.
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Closed Belief Systems
- Distinguishes between open and closed belief systems.
- Science - open belief system.
- Knowledge-claims are open to criticism and can be falsified.
- Religion/Magic - closed belief system.
- Make knowledge-claims that cannot be overturned.
- When beliefs are threatened there are devices that prevent them from being disproved.
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The Azande: Witchcraft
- Study of the Azande people in Sudan illustrates a self-reinforcing, closed belief system.
- The Azande belief that natural events have natural causes but do not believe in coincidence/chance.
- Witchcraft is used to explain misfortune.
- Accusations are resolved by consulting the prince's magical poison oracle.
- This system prevents grudges from festering and encourages neighbours to be considerate.
- Poison is administered to a chicken.
- If the chicken dies the accused is deemed guilty.
- Victim can publicly demand the witchcraft to stop.
- Acts as an important social control mechanism.
- System is highly resistant to challenges.
- Believers are trapped in their own idiom of belief.
- They accept the systems basic assumptions.
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- Belief systems have three devices to sustain themselves:
- each idea in the system is explained in terms of another idea within the system.
- Subsidiary Explanations
- if the oracle fails it can be explained as human error.
- Denial of Legitimacy
- reject other worldviews and refuse to grant them legitimacy.
- e.g. creationist reject the claims of evolutionist that the world is billions of years old.
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Science as a Closed Belief System
- Argues that all belief systems, including science, reject fundamental challenges to knowledge claims.
- Dr Velikovsky:
- 1950 - put forward a new theory on origins of the earth.
- challenged fundamental assumptions of geology, astronomy and biology.
- scientific community rejected the theory and organised a boycott.
- supportive scientists were victimised and lost jobs.
- Dr Velikovsky:
- Argues that mature science is based on a set of shared assumptions called a paradigm.
- This tells scientists what reality is like, methods/equipment to use and what evidence will count.
- Those who successfully follow the paradigm are rewarded.
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The Sociology of Scientific Knowledge
- Argue that all knowledge is socially constructed.
- Rather than being the objective truth it is create by social groups using resources available.
- Scientific facts are the product of paradigms that tell them what to expect to see.
- Knorr-Cetina: the invention of new instruments allows scientists to make new observations and construct new facts,
- Woolgar: scientists engage in the same process of interpreting the world as everyone.
MARXIST, FEMINISTS, POSTMODERNISTS:
- See scientific knowledge as serving dominant groups.
- Technological advancements benefit capitalism.
- Biological theory has been used to justify male dominance.
- Lyotard: argues science is a meta-narrative that claims to offer truth.
- Science is another way of thinking used to dominate people.
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