Synopses & Reviews
The role of science in policymaking has gained unprecedented stature in the United States, raising questions about the place of science and scientific expertise in the democratic process. Some scientists have been given considerable epistemic authority in shaping policy on issues of great moral and cultural significance, and the politicizing of these issues has become highly contentious.
Since World War II, most philosophers of science have purported the concept that science should be “value-free.” In Science, Policy and the Value-Free Ideal, Heather E. Douglas argues that such an ideal is neither adequate nor desirable for science. She contends that the moral responsibilities of scientists require the consideration of values even at the heart of science. She lobbies for a new ideal in which values serve an essential function throughout scientific inquiry, but where the role values play is constrained at key points, thus protecting the integrity and objectivity of science. In this vein, Douglas outlines a system for the application of values to guide scientists through points of uncertainty fraught with moral valence.
Following a philosophical analysis of the historical background of science advising and the value-free ideal, Douglas defines how values should-and should not-function in science. She discusses the distinctive direct and indirect roles for values in reasoning, and outlines seven senses of objectivity, showing how each can be employed to determine the reliability of scientific claims. Douglas then uses these philosophical insights to clarify the distinction between junk science and sound science to be used in policymaking. In conclusion, she calls for greater openness on the values utilized in policymaking, and more public participation in the policymaking process, by suggesting various models for effective use of both the public and experts in key risk assessments.
"Science, Policy, and the Value-Free Ideal
is an important contribution to the debate over science and values, and its account of value-laden science will be of interest to philosophers concerned with policy, scientific objectivity, and the social relevance of philosophy of science. A welcome invitation for philosophers of science to engage more fully with policy issues, a too-often neglected aspect of scientific practice."
—Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
“Science, Policy, and the Value-Free Ideal
is a welcome addition to the growing literature on the role of values in science. She clearly articulates at least one way in which values do play a legitimate, though indirect, role in science (in risk assessment). She correctly diagnoses some important reasons why there is resistance to recognizing this, and makes it clear why acknowledging the role of values explicitly can be important for using science to make better policy decisions.”
—Sharon Crasnow, Riverside Community College
“A wonderfully evenhanded argument for the impossibility of the ‘value-free ideal’ in science. Highly recommended.”
“Clearly written, a pleasure to read.”
“Occupies a unique niche bridging philosophy and risk assessment. Everyone involved in providing and using scientific advice, and in doing risk analysis in general, would benefit from thinking about the issues and arguments presented in the book.”
“An admirable and exciting book. . . . a useful starting point for thinking through such issues.”
—S. John/Studies in History and Philosophy of Science
”Douglas has produced a valuable book that should be of interest not only to philosophers but also to historians, sociologists, policy makers, and practicing scientists. . . Douglas has also raised a number of important issues that scholars working in science studies will want to explore further.”
“A thought-provoking book for all readers interested in science studies, including philosophy, history, and sociology of science. It is also highly recommended for those who study or work in the decision oriented sciences, an activity that is becoming increasingly relevant in science and politics in contemporary societies.”
—Science and Education
"The way the term 'objective' has been wielded in science and in everyday life, to police the academy as well as public testimony, has itself not been terribly objective. Harding provides here an informative overview of the real world applications of objectivity, using some fascinating case studies. She looks closely at the debates about the value of diversity in relation to objectivity. A very timely book!"
"Sandra Harding’s important work on standpoint methodologies and strong objectivity has influenced a generation of scholars. In Objectivity and Diversity readers will find a detailed map of methods for achieving strong objectivity, including the study of knowledges rooted in social movements, poor women in the developing world, and indigenous societies. But they will also encounter analyses of how the concepts of objectivity, positivism, and secularism are deeply interwoven in their Western cultural and historical contexts. This book will appeal to experienced scholars already familiar with Harding’s work, and it will also serve as a concise and comprehensive introduction for young scholars."
"In a comprehensive analysis of the historical conditions and social movements that have challenged dominant conceptions of scientific objectivity, Harding persuasively argues that diversity is not solely about inclusion but is essential to a pro-democratic and objective social analysis. Her argument clearly explains why objectivity is fundamentally about whose knowledge, whose agenda, and whose lives matter."
"Sandra Harding is one of the founders of feminist epistemology. In this important and clearly argued book she addresses some of the big issues of philosophy of science. She revisits her well-known positions on standpoint theory and strong objectivity and shows how they are enriched by encounters with the social sciences in the shape of development policy and postcolonial science and technology studies. She advocates for a philosophy of science for all research disciplines which permits a form of objectivity allied with a deep concern for social justice."
Douglas proposes a new ideal in which values serve an essential function throughout scientific inquiry, but where the role values play is constrained at key points, protecting the integrity and objectivity of science. She outlines a system for the application of values to guide scientists through instances of moral uncertainty.
Worries about scientific objectivity seem never-ending. Social critics and philosophers of science have argued that invocations of objectivity are often little more than attempts to boost the status of a claim, while calls for value neutrality may be used to suppress otherwise valid dissenting positions. Objectivity is used sometimes to advance democratic agendas, at other times to block them; sometimes for increasing the growth of knowledge, at others to resist it.
Sandra Harding is not ready to throw out objectivity quite yet. For all of its problems, she contends that objectivity is too powerful a concept simply to abandon. In Objectivity and Diversity, Harding calls for a science that is both more epistemically adequate and socially just, a science that would ask: How are the lives of the most economically and politically vulnerable groups affected by a particular piece of research? Do they have a say in whether and how the research is done? Should empirically reliable systems of indigenous knowledge count as "real science"? Ultimately, Harding argues for a shift from the ideal of a neutral, disinterested science to one that prizes fairness and responsibility.
Worries about scientific objectivity just wont go away, but by now, its safe to say, no one who reflects on the appropriate role of values and interests in scientific research thinks it is or could be free of them. It now seems obvious that social, political, and economic values and interests influence research on weapons, for example, or health and the environment. Yet the dominant late twentieth-century philosophies of science have tended to conceptualize the reliability and predictive power of the results of research as damaged by such values and interests, and they continue to do so in spite of powerful analyses of how sciences operate in practice and in spite of the rise around the globe in the last four decades of various forms of participatory action research and citizen science, both of which take their research agendas from the concerns of disadvantaged groups. Why are the epistemic/scientific norm of objectivity and the social/political norm of diversity still perceived as inevitably in conflict with each other? Why arent they perceived as in conflict only sometimes, but many times as providing valuable resources for each other? How can we promote science that is both more epistemically adequate and socially just? Sandra Harding probes these questions with clarity and concrete cases, and in doing so puts severe pressure on conventional philosophies of science and points to intellectually sounder and politically more progressive ways to think about them. She proposes a new way to relink sciences and their philosophies to democratic social relations, even while these are themselves undergoing transformations. A must read for anyone interested in how to think about the politics of science globally.
About the Author
Sandra Harding is Distinguished Professor of Education and Gender Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Distinguished Affiliate Professor of Philosophy at Michigan State University. She is the editor of The Postcolonial Science and Technology Studies Reader and the author of Sciences from Below: Feminisms, Postcolonialities, and Modernities.