This page is an archive from the previous version of The Row Boat, which is why it doesn't look and work the same as the current version. However, these archives are fully functional and integrated with the new system.
Why does this site permit advertising?
Powered by Little Logger
The Row Boat
"Had we but world enough, and time..." *
Kitcher, Science, and Democracy10/14/2005 01:43:03
Today here in Providence Philip Kitcher of Columbia spoke on the role of science in a democratic society. I had some thoughts about his talk, which may be a bit out of context, but of interest nevertheless:
It occurred to me afterward that what was most uncomfortable for me was not the shape of the IIS itself but the idea of a scientific community you seem to be working with. My sensation was that your implicit model is might inherently run into contradiction in a democratic framework because it in itself does not emphasize the democratic nature of the scientific community but instead an oligarchic one, one actually more conducive to the Republic of Plato. Here is how I might compare the oligarchic and democratic models of the scientific community itself.
- a rigid institutional community with strong notion of borders
- apparent monopoly on the power to solve problems and social ills
- disorder in the decision-making structure should be solved by more authority and conscious supervision (as your recommendations suggest)
- the scientific method is a barrier against intruding ideology (I know you don't believe this at some instances it felt implied)
- the problem is simply that the public doesn't understand science the way scientists do; if people did, they would vote in unison
- an amorphous body with porous borders across many disciplines and methodologies
- scientists are citizens and voters (as well as non-voters)
- disorder in the decision-making structure (which I would argue has its benefits)
- the ideologies of scientists are varied and do interfere in their work
- scientists and their work solve some social problems but also create them
- scientists are experts in their particular field and, by and large, generally close to the same page as the rest of the public in other areas
Now I would argue, given this list, that the present state of science is actually much closer to the "Democratic." It is only when people hold science to be something nearly religious a la Sagan (whom I dearly love) that it might become not. In this case, the question of ground-up democratic decision-making process becomes a given; scientists, as participants in society and its ideological debates rather than observers above it, serve as a sort of representative democracy. The role of big money in science performs much the way it does in politics; it is important, but the public's voice can be heard through other means, cultural, social, and economic as well.
During my stint in computer science, I was always amazed by the spontaneous systems of conversation and organization, which were so tremendously democratic they could be called biological, evolutionary. The open source movement is a wonderful model of command and control, or rather a number of models. Because it sees itself as an open, chaotic system, it remains more free from clutter than any software company could be and has the advantage of operating on the labor of volunteers. Certainly this is not natural science, but I think this is a wonderful example of an adaptable methodology, and not so terribly unlike the realities of exchange in other, more established fields.
Finally, science probably has to in a sense maintain both the oligarchic and democratic views at once. The scientific method may rely upon an axiomatic stability that only the oligarchic self-understanding can provide. On the other hand, when this sensibility becomes too dominant, the community ceases to function smoothly within an open society, in terms of both decision-making process and free exchange of ideas, however undermining and potentially wasteful the discussion of them may be. The religious systems I study in my work here function in much the same way.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
re: Kitcher, Science, and Democracy - 11/01/2005 00:12:11
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -