Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

An appeal for authentic science studies


Professor Steve Fuller is known as a prolific author whose analysis of the scientific enterprise is iconoclastic. He was famously involved as a defense witness in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District (2005) trial, for which he has received a great deal of flak. The essay cited below provides an explanation of his involvement and a challenge for other qualified people to ensure that their voices are heard.

“I believe that tenured historians, philosophers, and sociologists of science – when presented with the opportunity – have a professional obligation to get involved in public controversies over what should count as science. I stress ‘tenured’ because the involved academics need to be materially protected from the consequences of their involvement, given the amount of misrepresentation and abuse that is likely to follow, whatever position they take.”

Those who want to read specific comments on the trial should read the essay. My interest here is in the broader issue of what science studies brings to the discussion of origins. Fuller is dissatisfied with the limited scope of the discourse to date because the dominant voices have functioned as “underlaborer[s] to science”. He points out “two types of public exemplars” that have been associated with science studies:

“On the one hand, there is the Michael Ruse figure who supplies a historical and philosophical hinterland to the dominant scientific paradigm so as to complement its purely empirical success with a broader cultural and conceptual grounding that will appeal to those unfamiliar with the technical science. On the other hand, there is the Robert Pennock figure, more typical of the younger generation, who outright collaborates with established scientists in their research, providing a running legitimizing narrative in co-authored articles published in technical and popular forums. In both cases, the science studies scholar functions as an underlaborer to science, as opposed to a true metascientist.”

[. . .]
[Fuller identifies some “opportunity costs to everyone if creationism is not allowed to be taught”.]
[. . .]
These three opportunity costs deserve the serious attention of all who are engaged in the controversy. However, the dominant response has been to ignore these points and persist in old patterns of thinking and tired polemics. Some have expressed their frustration with Fuller for his bad judgment. One of these is Michael Lynch, Professor of Science & Technology Studies at Cornell University, who has published several articles condemning Fuller’s role as an expert witness in the Dover trial. One of these was in the same journal Spontaneous Generations that carried the essay under consideration here, to which Fuller has recently responded. He pointed out that his “game” is not for short-term gain but for long-term success.

“In that context, I undertake a risky performance in the spirit of a living experiment, the results of which should prove instructive not only to myself but also to others who in the future are similarly well-positioned to bring science studies to bear on public policy. The only mistake would be for others not to repeat the experiment.”

Fuller is prepared to criticize Ruse and Pennock for being “traitors to their training” and guilty of “intellectual treason”. He is prepared to say that Barbara Forrest’s tactic has been to shift the argument from evaluation of ideas to the “intentions of those promoting them”, thereby following in the footsteps of John Dewey who used this approach to earn a reputation as “one of the foremost Red-baiters in the US philosophical establishment in the 1940s and ’50s”. These charges are not ad hominems but are based on analysis of their arguments. The issues are far too important to allow room for complacency – academic freedoms are being eroded, young scientists are fearful of expressing any positive views on design, parental responsibilities for the education of their children are being eroded (with charges of “child abuse” being thrown around), and much more. But Fuller is also prepared to press upon tenured academics the obligation he thinks they have to use their positions of relative security to contribute to public controversies about the nature of science. There is an urgency about the situation. The least that can be said is that Fuller is a trail blazer. No one can criticize him for not acting out what he is encouraging others to do.

The main paper referenced is:
Fuller, S. 2008, Science Studies Goes Public: A Report on an Ongoing Performance, Spontaneous Generations, 2(1), 11-21

For more, go here.


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