A close analysis of the “science wars” examines the link between politics and epistemology.
Brown (Philosophy/Univ. of Toronto) does an admirable job of engaging the general reader in such issues as the role that science plays in creating or changing the social order and the role of social factors in the creating or changing of scientific theories. He opens with a look back at C.P. Snow’s Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution, which explored the gulf between the humanities and the sciences, and follows with a description of reactions to the Sokal hoax of 1996, in which a physicist lampooned the sociology journal Social Text by tricking it into publishing jargon-filled pseudoscientific nonsense. Next, Brown considers the philosophical positions and goals of the various factions: the political left, including activists friendly to orthodox views of science and social constructivists and postmodernists who are hostile, and those on the political right, such as religious fundamentalists and some sociobiologists who are similarly divided in their regard for orthodox views of science. The author takes readers through a whirlwind course in the philosophy of science in the 20th century, focusing on the concepts of realism, objectivity, and values. He acknowledges that social constructivists are right in seeing social factors at work in science, but he insists that reason and evidence play a dominant role. Brown sees the democratization of science as one of the central themes of the science wars, and he takes the position that when participants are drawn from every affected social group, more objective science will result. He argues that knowledge grows through comparative theory assessment, and that the way to ensure the optimal diversity of rival theories is by having a wide variety of theorists from diverse backgrounds; thus the political act of affirmative action leads to more objective science.
Brings the science wars home for the lay reader by identifying the combatants, examining their goals, and exposing the strengths and weaknesses of their arguments.