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Kuhn’s Demon, or: The Iconoclastic Tradition in Science Criticism January 21, 2013

Posted by Will Thomas in Ideology of Science.
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The message that scientists are human and that science is messy is crossing the ether once again. Of late there has been a certain degree of excitement percolating among historians and science-studies scholars over the #OverlyHonestMethods hashtag on Twitter. It seems that scientists are sending out tweets about their work that happen to nicely coincide with the images of science that historians would like to present to the world. Twitter is, of course, the world hub for “trending” topics, and this particular trend is already simmering down. But, before the moment is completely gone, it might be worthwhile to reflect briefly on the history of the ideas 1) that there exists a dominant image of science as a pristine and rigidly ordered activity, and 2) that the negation of this image would be broadly beneficial to scientists and society.


Is it idol-smashing time again already?


Merton on the Reception of Watson’s The Double Helix September 15, 2011

Posted by Will Thomas in Uncategorized.
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For many decades now, various critics have supposed that the relations between science and society suffer because of the prevalence of an unrealistic view of science as something that is abstract and dehumanized. This supposition licenses the critics to deploy therapeutically realistic images of science to deliver their audience from their false idols into a state of mature understanding.

In his paper, “Should the History of Science Be Rated X?” Science 183 (1974): 1164-1172, Stephen Brush supposed the history of science could play just such a “subversive” role in science education. At that same time, according to some stories, the history of science itself had to be rescued from ne’er-do-well myth-spinners working as philosophers of science, Mertonian sociologists, and, of course, American scientists justifying their work to society and Congress.

All of this overlooks the fact that our entire society had already been freed from its illusions by James Watson’s best-selling 1968 memoir, The Double Helix.


History and Science Education (Isis Pt. 2) July 23, 2008

Posted by Will Thomas in Uncategorized.
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Continuing on with the new Isis focus section, let’s start at the beginning, with Graeme Gooday, John Lynch, physicist Kenneth Wilson, and Constance Barsky’s article, “Does Science Education Need the History of Science?” This article is divided into two more-or-less separate points: 1) What role could history of science play amid a science curriculum, and 2) couldn’t we be doing more to debunk popular misconceptions of the history of science, with intelligent design proponents’ arguments as a case-in-point?

The authors start out by addressing the possibility that history of science could actually be seen corruptive because of its relativistic leanings, citing an old Stephen Brush article “Should the History of Science Be Rated X?” A couple of superficial points here: first, the old X rating is now NC-17, so ostensibly college kids are old enough to endure our corrupting forces!; and second, I am amused that I indirectly inherited my History 174 course at Maryland from Brush (AIP postdocs have been teaching it for a while now). Anyway, the authors (and I) assume this is a non-issue these days, so we move on.

More to the point, the article portrays history as a potential force of enculturation while science courses portray a more “static” and stripped-down picture of what science is. We can show how scientific communities (more…)