The Revolution will not be Synthesized

by Kieran Healy on March 28, 2006

I am abusing my ability to post here rather than add a comment to the ongoing thread discussing Steve Fuller’s response to Chris Mooney’s book. I think—sorry, P.Z.—that much of what Fuller says is more or less right. To be more precise, I think the first half of his response to Mooney is pretty good, and there are some good bits later on, too. However—sorry, Steve—I also think Fuller makes an error in the way he fuses his sociology of science with his policy recommendations about what to do about the Intelligent Design movement. Moreover, he himself does the groundwork that makes the basis of the error clear. I’ll try to explain below the fold.

Here’s the argument. Much of what Fuller says in the first part of his post is good sociology of science. In particular, his image of science as a contested, politicized field is basically right, and—speaking as someone who believes that the present Administration is out to gut science it doesn’t like—I think he’s right that Chris Mooney is in danger of romanticizing the practice of science. And I agree that, at bottom, the best you can do is fight your corner. As Fuller puts it,

It is disingenuous to think that science policies will not have elective affinities with the interests of the dominant political party. … In short, the lesson of Lysenkoism is not to beware the politicisation of science, but to beware the authoritarian politicisation of science. … To be sure, I don’t mean to counsel a panglossian complacency toward the general state-of-affairs Mooney describes. But as it stands, it seems to me that the best course of action for those interested in improving the quality of science in policymaking is simply to try harder within the existing channels – in particular, to cultivate constituencies explicitly and not to rely on some mythical self-certifying sense of the moral or epistemic high ground.

Now, in my view, Fuller’s contribution starts to go wrong from about here onwards. He makes some strong points about the messy history of Darwinian theory between the contribution of Darwin himself and the mid-twentieth century neo-Darwinian synthesis. He then argues that the twin “wedges” of the Scopes trial and the Discovery Institute’s efforts are “morally equivalent” and that the latter could develop in the way that the former did. The strengths and weaknesses of Fuller’s arguments are fused together: he’s at his strongest when retrospectively analyzing the different ways science might be politicized. But his argument is at its absolute weakest when making the case that the ID movement contains a positive research program, in addition to being parasitic on mainstream biology. There’s little reason to believe that this positive program is real, and—noted biologist George Gilder notwithstanding—the only reason to think it might be is analogical: the Darwinian approach did grow from a somewhat similar social position a hundred years ago.

But this is the nub of the matter. Why should we, as more-or-less interested actors in the field of science, let this single consideration outweigh any others—not least the sincere belief that ID is politically motivated rubbish, for instance—to the point that we would want to nuture ID in high schools? Early on in comments to his post, Fuller argues


Why start teaching ID at the high school level? I received a lot publicity – and flak – for saying in the Dover trial that ID required ‘affrimative action’, i.e. that it could not be expected to provide a credible alternative to Neo-Darwinism without government intervention. It’s clear that the few people pursuing ID openly in universities are treated as intellectual pariahs, and under those circumstances it’s hard to recruit the colleagues and students needed to convert an unconventional idea into a full-fledged research programme. One solution would be to teach biology as a much more contested field, attending to the role that ID- and even special creationist thinking has contributed to what even Neo-Darwinists regard as credible science, and that the Neo-Darwinian synthesis was forged under quite specific circumstances in the 20th century.

The problem here is that Fuller has rebutted his own prescription in advance. There is no reason to believe either that “Neo-Darwinism” really needs a “credible alternative,” or that ID is the entity to provide it, or that this entails that biology should be taught in high school in much the same way as the sociology of science might be taught in graduate school. As Fuller says himself, as Darwinism “slowly, fitfully but finally” established itself, it has “developed in new directions, integrated with new bodies of knowledge, virtually—but of course never quite—distancing itself from its capitalist and racist roots”. In other words, while no body of knowledge is ever fully emancipated from the social conditions of its production and reproduction, modern biology’s relative success in this respect means that it now sustains a wide range of alternatives to the main currents of thought in the field. So, why does it—or why do we—need ID? Not that the Discovery Institute shouldn’t keep plugging away, if that’s what they want. Fuller’s good advice to Democrats applies directly here, too: “the best course of action for those interested in improving the quality of science in policymaking is simply to try harder within the existing channels”. The ID people are entitled to do this, and they’ve certainly been trying hard.

They are also entitled, frankly, to be crushed like bugs in the process. Sure, they’ll get control of a few school districts here and there, but—again, as Fuller says—they can be booted out later. Politically, I see no reason to support them. Scientifically, there’s no compelling prospect of them being able to do anything of practical use that some better-established branch of biology can’t do already. And sociologically, I don’t see how Fuller’s own conception of the scientific field supports the kind of “affirmative action” strategy that he advocates. Let them hammer away along with the rest of us if they like. But why should anyone care to the point of helping them out, especially when the mainstream is not, by Fuller’s own arguments, all that monolithic anymore?

The question remains as to why Fuller thinks the policy he advocates is a good one (other than the hope that, if ID does win out, by the early 22nd century he might be hailed as the greatest sociologist of science in history). Maybe he’s hoping for an earthquake in biology, a second modern revolution in the field. But—as Fuller surely knows—scientific revolutions of this sort cannot be willed into existence. It’s not impossible that a revolution of this sort could happen—after all, Darwinism did it once already. Indeed, over the long run it’s inevitable. But you can’t intentionally induce this kind of revolution by means of policy or high-school curricula, for the same reason that you can’t force someone to be happy or consciously will yourself to sleep. If it happens at all, it will be essentially a byproduct of other struggles—politicized, messy struggles, certainly. But while the revolution may already be brewing, you can’t schedule it.

Jon Elster makes the point nicely. We’d all like to be more creative and productive, whether as artists or scientists or what have you. Maybe we’d all like a revolution in science, too. However, as Elster points out, to believe we can engineer or will this directly

is the fallacy of striving, seeking, and searching for things that recede before the hand that reaches out for them. In many cases it takes the form of trying to get something for nothing, to acquire a character or become ‘a personality’ otherwise than by ‘ruthless devotion to a task.’ In other cases it is accompanied by self-indulgence, when one is led to tolerate errors or imperfections in one’s own work because one knows they sometimes prove useful or fertile. In particular, many will have come across the brand of scientist who excuses the one-sidedness of his work by the need for fertile disagreement in science. … this attitude goes together with a form of self-monitoring whose corrosive effects I have been concerned to bring out.” (Sour Grapes, 107-108.)

Science really is structured in more or less the way that Fuller describes. But for that reason, his efforts to enhance the chances of the Intelligent Design movement are most likely doomed. I can’t say I’ll miss them much when they’re gone.

{ 72 comments }

1

Aaron Swartz 03.29.06 at 12:10 am

“Noted biologist George Gilder” is a joke, right?

2

Susan Spath 03.29.06 at 12:19 am

Thank you, thank you, Kieran, for separating metal from dross in Fuller’s post. I, too, find much of interest Fuller’s analysis of the sociology of science, here, and in his published writings. I found much of interest in his testimony at the Dover trial, which I heard in my capacity as a staff member for the National Center for Science Education (NCSE, a non-profit which specializes in defending the teaching of evolution in public schools.) I even sympathize with Fuller’s wish to contest the definitions of science offered by expert witnesses for the plaintiffs at that trial.
It needs to be said, however, Fuller’s knowledge the history life sciences appears to be far too flimsy and partial to support the kinds of judgements he made at the Dover trial and in his post here. Similarly, he seems to have little or no understanding of the fact that in many communities in the US, creationism is the orthodoxy and evolution is still struggling to get a fair hearing. Fuller has romanticized the intelligent design movement.
(Please note: my comment here represents my personal views, and not necessarily those of NCSE or its supporters)

3

Seth Finkelstein 03.29.06 at 12:26 am

With respect to: his image of science as a contested, politicized field is basically right

Dissent. The problem with that sort of language is the difficulty of distinguishing between having an open mind, and having one’s brains fall out. There’s a two-step which has been noted and explored in his thread, which underlies (in my view) much of the (not identical) pomo argument elsewhere, which I can safely predict we will see in this thread: The moment anyone admits any social aspect to how science is practiced, the door is opened for tendentious wordsmiths to spin webs of relativism. Sense and nonsense will be morally equivalenced, and when called on it, the clever pundit will do a verbal sleight-of-hand, of denying a strawman romantic image and generating a rhetorical ink-cloud of obsfucation (What is sense? What is nonsense? What is the social constructivized process by which sense is privileged and valorized, and the academic politics of it … and round we will go).

It is very difficult and tedious to try to pin down meanings, to unpack the word-chains into precise, examinable (I don’t even mean testable) claims.

My impression is that Fuller simply does not understand the difference (or does not believe) between science even as messily practiced in the real world, and policy-making in the political arena. He seems to think scientific theories are just like political ideologies or policy factions, and while we might personally favor one or the other, the ones which attract a large amount of believers are worthy of respect simply on the basis of providing people a socially supported system to organize the world.

The problem for science advocates is the extremely difficult task of explaining why there is a difference, see two-step above.

4

Z 03.29.06 at 1:27 am

Let me count, hum, six words: High entry barriers produce autonomous fields. This is where Fuller’s analogy breaks up and then it all goes downhill.

5

albert 03.29.06 at 1:41 am

Where I, as someone with some background in sociology of science, become frustrated with Fuller is in his statement that, “the best course of action for those interested in improving the quality of science in policymaking is simply to try harder within the existing channels.” This only makes sense in terms of science studies’ pronounced agnosticism on the validity of the claims under study. In the case of ID, I find such a statement relatively unproblematic because the scientific contest at issue is taking place in a highly developed and standardized subfield of science. That and I know ID probably can’t succeed on science alone.

But if the field of science at issue were environmental toxicology or conservation ecology I would argue that Fuller’s advice is non-sensical. There are too many barriers that policymaking and the political process can erect to stifle the development of emergent fields whose empirical claims and theoretical development is wholely unlike that of ID. That and I think the most professionally paradoxical advice a sociologist could ever give is “try harder.”

I think Fuller’s approach to science as a social practice relates to the deeper antipathy directed at Fuller by scientistic and positivistic commenters. For them, the suspension of belief that Fuller takes toward the results of science, and his attention solely to the production or construction of science and scientific claims is tantamount to (and Fuller doesn’t help himself here) opening the doors of science to ID.

I’m disappointed too in how much opposition is assumed to exist between Mooney’s & Fuller’s arguments. Why can’t I condemn the political (Republican) interference in science and acknowledge that science is always at least somewhat political?

6

albert 03.29.06 at 1:46 am

Okay, in re-reading the beginning of his entry I should note that what really frustrates me about Fuller is he sounds like pompus ass and insults the intelligence of both Mooney and his readers. More reflexivity please…

7

abb1 03.29.06 at 3:30 am

I think that y’all esteemed professors might be too close to that cooking pot in the sausage factory to see the big picture here. You see all that messy insider politics, people getting grants, good reviews they don’t always deserve, mediocrity moving to high positions – and you think this is what Lysenkoism and industry-financed science is all about as well.

Well, no, it’s not; wrong extrapolation. Industry-financed science is a different phenomenon, at some level quantity gets transformed into quality. Insider politics is a natural thing, good normal struggle; industry-financed pseudoscience is not.

8

derek 03.29.06 at 3:35 am

You don’t seem to have a “fold” here, nor in the RSS feed, which shows this article as a looong entry in a list of brief précis.

9

Seth Finkelstein 03.29.06 at 4:36 am

albert/#5: Why can’t I condemn the political (Republican) interference in science and acknowledge that science is always at least somewhat political?”

Because that word may not mean (to a reader) what you think it means.

It feeds into the tendency to cast Creationism vs Evolution as if it were the same type of argument as Republicans vs Democrats, rather than Fiction vs Reality.

One of the aspects of the war is to regard everything as a “policy difference”, and then claim the democratic process has produced a Republican victory, so what’s non-Republican is at best, being an obstructionist sore-loser, and at worst, treason.

10

soru 03.29.06 at 5:10 am

Why can’t I condemn the political (Republican) interference in science and acknowledge that science is always at least somewhat political?

If, hypothetically speaking, science were significantly political, then, and even more so, so is the study of science.

Consequently, statements about it would rarely be worth evaluating as factual claims, they are simply attempts to serve one political cause or another. In this particular case, your statement would seem to serve a Republican agenda, as the scientific establishment is one of their domestic opponents, on issues from stem cells to global warming.

So if we accept your premise, then you should not say what you say, at least unless you have an unstated wish to advance a Republican agenda.

And if we reject your premise, then you should not say it, because it would be wrong.

11

Chris Mooney 03.29.06 at 6:46 am

I know it’s nice to position yourself as partly agreeing with someone that you’re fixing to criticize, but you still have to be careful as to which points you accept. Specifically, you write: “I think [Fuller is] right that Chris Mooney is in danger of romanticizing the practice of science.” I don’t know if you’ve read my book or not, so maybe you, too, missed the passage that I prominently highlight in my reply to Fuller:

“Scientists are human. They have plenty of foibles, and in some cases outright myths they tell about themselves. They also have values and agendas that factor heavily into their research decisions. Moreover, the inquiries and investigations of scientists take place in a social and cultural context that shapes both their underlying assumptions and even (at least to some extent) how they measure and interpret nature itself. (p. 14)”
http://crookedtimber.org/2006/03/27/man-you-guys-worked-me-hard/

How is this romanticizing science?

12

Barry 03.29.06 at 7:55 am

A simpler explanation is that Steve Fuller is incapable or unwilling to understand the difference between scientific and political disputes. He looks at the way that science is performed, notes that there are politics, and focuses 100% on the politics. He doesn’t really believe that there’s a ‘there’ there; he sees sciences as equivalent to politics, because science is not 100% apolitical.

Now, this would be the attitude of a fool, particularly somebody who’s supposed to have actually studied how science is done. However, nothing that he’s wrote here or on Berube’s blog has convinced me that he has a ‘there’, there.
As I said before, he’s right-wing parody of a PC sociologist who wouldn’t admit to gravity as a non-social construct.

13

raj 03.29.06 at 8:06 am

From Fuller:

Why start teaching ID at the high school level? I received a lot publicity – and flak – for saying in the Dover trial that ID required ‘affrimative action’, i.e. that it could not be expected to provide a credible alternative to Neo-Darwinism without government intervention.

No, Mr. Fuller. ID doesn’t need “affirmative action,” nor does it need “government invention.” What it needs is a working hypothesis–which doesn’t exist–and evidence for its non-existent working hyphothesis.

14

dale 03.29.06 at 8:29 am

chris, not having read your book, i can’t comment, but i can point out that it is perfectly possible for you to write that paragraph and still go on to romanticise science for all its worth. all the more so, because, having written a simple disclaimer one might be inclined to think that all one’s bias had been addressed.

reprinting a paragraph is hardly a rebuttal.

15

PZ Myers 03.29.06 at 8:34 am

Don’t apologize to me — I alluded to the same thing in my comment, although I was too weary of Fuller to develop the idea as well as you did. I said,

I saw some glimmers of some interesting ideas at the start of Fuller’s ultimately long-winded essay, but they expired even before he started defending the “positive programme behind intelligent design theory” and collapsed into tired pro-creationism mode.

I think there is value to analyzing the conduct of science, and working to separate our perceptions of it from reality. Fuller is clearly not the person to do so, though–he has drunk deep of the Intelligent Design kool-aid and is now confusing the myth of their making with the reality of how science works.

16

Steve LaBonne 03.29.06 at 8:34 am

Kieran, this is the most disappointing post I have ever seen from you on CT. Steve “George Gilder is a noted biologist” Fuller is an ignoramus, a moron and a windbag. Really, you take the “us sociologists gotta stick together” thing way too far.

17

Steve LaBonne 03.29.06 at 8:42 am

P.S. Defending the field of sociology of science (which I would do to the death- it’s both fascinating and important) is not at all the same thing as defending Steve Fuller, these are closer to being antithetical, if that field is to maintain high enough intellectual standards to be respected and useful. And the “points” made by Fuller that you praise, such as science being a contested, political enterprise, are truisms that were not exactly discovered by Fuller.

18

Kieran Healy 03.29.06 at 8:53 am

And the “points” made by Fuller that you praise, such as science being a contested, political enterprise, are truisms that were not exactly discovered by Fuller.

Hey, I never said he invented them — but it’s unfair to say they are truisms.

19

Steve LaBonne 03.29.06 at 8:58 am

It’s perfectly true and fair. I was reading Dan Greenberg way back when I was a grad student. Scientists themselves are not naive about such things- they can’t be, when they need funding to survive.

20

Bill Gardner 03.29.06 at 9:37 am

“The question remains as to why Fuller thinks the policy he advocates is a good one (other than the hope that, if ID does win out, by the early 22nd century he might be hailed as the greatest sociologist of science in history).”

I served with Steve on a committee when we were both at Pittsburgh. He thrives on living in opposition. To anything. He’s honest to a fault, however, and suggestions toward the end of the previous thread that he is lying are absurd.

21

Bill Gardner 03.29.06 at 9:38 am

Fuller is right that we will not have, and should not have a depoliticized science. The public pays for science, and we should be studying what they think serves their interests. Fuller says that he supports a democratic politicization of science and opposes an authoritarian politicization of science. Great. Unfortunately, I did not find anything in his many words that clarified this. Contrary to what Fuller says, Kitcher’s Science, Truth, and Democracy contributes a lot to that discussion.

22

albert 03.29.06 at 10:00 am

Soru @ #10

“In this particular case, your statement would seem to serve a Republican agenda, as the scientific establishment is one of their domestic opponents, on issues from stem cells to global warming.”

Not that I should have to, but don’t I specifically say which side I’m on here? The only sense in which any attempt to sociologize science is part of the Republican agenda is if you interpret any criticism (even constructive criticism) to be a mark of political opposition. That may be a tendency in American politics, but it’s a stupid tendency, and I don’t intend to give deference to it.

23

albert 03.29.06 at 10:10 am

“Defending the field of sociology of science (which I would do to the death- it’s both fascinating and important) is not at all the same thing as defending Steve Fuller, these are closer to being antithetical, if that field is to maintain high enough intellectual standards to be respected and useful. “

But much of the kicking Fuller’s received is not directed just at him, but at the idea that science is a social activity open to inquiry by non-scientists. Steve then does the same thing in calling foundational conclusions “truisms.”

I think critics of Fuller could stand to admit Kieran’s point that sociology of science has come to some interesting conclusions, even if they dislike where Fuller takes them. They seem to think that nothing about the practice of science was ever discovered except by scientists themselves. They’re free to think that, but doing so would reveal either a complete ignorance of the background literature that Fuller works from (and then how can you comment) or a familiarity with such literature, and its summary dismissal (a tightly closed mind).

24

Steve LaBonne 03.29.06 at 10:20 am

But much of the kicking Fuller’s received is not directed just at him, but at the idea that science is a social activity open to inquiry by non-scientists.

“Much” is a vast exaggeration at best; I saw very little of that around here, but much detailed and specific criticism of Fuller’s own words. And again, if you value that enterprise, as I do, you should be dispraising a dope like Fuller who brings it into disrepute, rather than making excuses for him. He has shown over and over again, by the ridiculously elementary errors into which he constantly falls, that he knows less than nothing about the content of any area of science or- more damning, since this is what he pretends to study- of any of its key social institutions such as peer review. His sole stock in trade, decorated with gazillions of words of empty verbiage, is the reflexive oppositionism of which Bill Gardner spole above. A pose of that kind does not a scholar make. And his argument in Dover that high schools should be drafted into providing “affirmative action” for the pathetic dodge known as ID was as utterly idiotic as it was criminally irresponsible. His presence on this CT seminar disfigured what was otherwise a very worthwhile enterprise.

25

Ginger Yellow 03.29.06 at 10:39 am

The thing Fuller has never explained is why ID deserves this affirmative action, as opposed to other creationist ideas that actually make testable predictions like flood geology or geocentrism. Again and again he claims that ID is a good thing because it might generate a non-mainstream research programme, despite mountains of evidence presented to him that ID can never generate a research programme because it is an incoherent, negative enterprise that goes out of its way to avoid making testable predictions. One minute Dembski’s blog minion Dave Scot bans commenters who deny common descent because denial destroys the credibility of the ID movement, the next minute DI spokesman Casey Luskin is saying that students should be taught supposed evidence against common descent. The compatibility of ID with common descent is a rather fundamental question, isn’t it? Wouldn’t a real scientific movement have at least a working hypothesis on that front?

26

Dan K 03.29.06 at 10:56 am

If I would hazard a guess, I think Fuller’s idea of affirmative action emerges from a wish to free science from paradigmatic entrapment. Since Fuller has strong Popperian leanings, he already has a demarcation criteria. Apparently he thinks that ID can be formulated in testable hypothesises so it passes for science for him. Personally, I think that there is a general category mistake going on here, where the science question is confused with policy questions. I have an even looser definition of science than Fuller, and have no problem at all to designate ID as science. Its importance and relevance, on the other hand, ranks in my mind below yet another experiment on rats to find out something about human behavior. Policy-wise, the American tendency to substitute polls with judges or juries never stops to amaze. But Fuller points to something important: in a post-Kuhnian world, Popperians perceives a need for affirmative-actionlike devices to deflect the crushing weight of normal science.

27

Steve LaBonne 03.29.06 at 11:14 am

People who pontificate about studying how science is done really ought to try to understand some of the most elementary things about it. There is no “crushing weight” of “normal science” that requires “affirmative action” administered by sociologists for its relief. Every scientist knows that if she can deliver the goods to overturn the accepted “paradigm” in her field, there’s a Nobel prize waiting. So far from being something feared and resisted by a mythical “establishment”, that’s every grad student’s wet dream. Trouble is, it’s not quite as easy as just dreaming of doing so. Not to mention that there actually has to be something detectably wrong with the current “paradigm” for it even to be possible. Kuhn, unlike those who take his name in vain without bothering to understand what he wrote, knew all this perfectly well. He also understood,and wrote, that the genuinely important mechanism for insuring the continued flexibility of science is to make sure scientists are trained to have the mentality I described above; there is no way that calls from poorly informed outsiders for “affirmative action” will ever have one-thousandth the effect of training scientists themselves to seek to knock down accepted theories whenever the opportunity is present, rather than training them to be quasi-engineers who take those theories for granted. My experience and knowledge of graduate science education in the US tells me we’re doing fairly well at that.

28

Rich Puchalsky 03.29.06 at 11:30 am

I more or less permanently lost the ability to take Fuller seriously when it was pointed out that he supports Intelligent Design because it’s Christian but attacks Hindu Science because it’s Hindu.

29

abb1 03.29.06 at 11:38 am

Fuller is right that we will not have, and should not have a depoliticized science. The public pays for science, and we should be studying what they think serves their interests.

That’s just silly. The public pays for science and they hope that you, the scientist will be studying what you think serves their interests.

They don’t mind you being human and having your little prejudices, but they do want you to be honest and do the best you can. That’s all there is to it.

Of course we should have depoliticized science – as much as possible; that’s the ideal goal.

30

Steve LaBonne 03.29.06 at 11:53 am

I think this discussion (not only around here) just shows that we really can’t do without all those old-fashioned, supposedly exploded distinctions- fact / value, context of discovery / context of justification, or what have you. The real error comes in the twisted, thwarted foundationalism that wants to discard such distinctions totally as soon as it can be shown that they’re not absolute and logically watertight. Without some such concepts, even if the fuzziness can never be entirely removed from them, we cannot coherently say the most simple and obvious things, such as that the political paymasters of science clearly have a right and even responsibility to influence the direction of inquiry by where they choose to place the taxpayers’ cash, but they will vitiate the whole enterprise and forfeit the value of their investment if they attempt to warp the results of that inquiry.

31

albert 03.29.06 at 11:58 am

Steve-

You write that, “People who pontificate about studying how science is done really ought to try to understand some of the most elementary things about it. There is no “crushing weight” of “normal science” that requires “affirmative action” administered by sociologists for its relief. Every scientist knows that if she can deliver the goods…”

As a sociologist married to an academic scientist I completely and utterly disagree with you about the weight of normal science and the need for more flexibility in asking new questions. Much of the socialization of scientists (graduate training) consists of getting them to think ‘normal’, not just in scientific terms, but in their approach to funding, politics, etc.

I also disagree with your ‘affirmative action’ claim (except that it would be silly to have sociologists ‘administer’ it). If we’re talking about new scientific fields that lack market potential then providing resources to challenge or escape from dominant paradigms (and their influence on funding, etc) seems like a worthy goal. Try to imagine AA for something besides ID.

For all of your dislike of Fuller’s argument (much of which I share) you almost come to the same conclusion as he: scientists should “try harder” to break paradigms. I think such advice shows a different kind of naivete about just how constrained the actions of scientists and the policy-direction of scientific fields can be.

BTW: some of the Fuller kicking I was thinking of was taking place on the linked-to science blogs, my bad, but there was also some at the end of the comments on Fuller’s page.

32

Steve LaBonne 03.29.06 at 12:09 pm

Again with the false dichotomies. It takes a lot of work to master the current “paradigm”. And you have no chance of overturning it until you have done so. That aspect of a scientific education is unaviodable. But it doesn’t preclude also being taught always to try to knock down your own and otehrs’ results. I can testify that I was indeed taught that.

Also, like so many people in the post-Kuhn world who like to throw around that awful word “paradigm”, you have trouble distinguishing theories at different levels (despite a massive segment of the history / philosophy of science literature dveoted to clarifying precisely that issue). For example, common descent with modification is simply a fact. It will not be overturned; the evidential support for it is way beyond massive. But many of our current ideas about the mechanisms at work in that process will inevitably have to undergo major reconceptualizations. And the big rewards go precisely to the innovators, not the drones. Do I really have to say that to someone who claims to study how science works?

Too many people still have relativity and quantum mechanics on the brain; revolutions of the order of the overturning of classsical physics are exceedingly rare, and can only happen if the old “paradigm” truly didn’t get a lot of things right.

I don’t think the naivete here is mine.

33

albert 03.29.06 at 12:32 pm

Steve-

A few nitpicks…

The “paradigm” approach only tells half the story. The direction of fields like forestry or plant breeding (not pure sciences, but still sciences) is as much about funding orientations and disciplinary politics as it is about theory testing and building. I meant “paradigms” in a looser sense than the Kuhnian, and one more attuned to what counts as good practice by peers & competitors within your field. It’s not uncommon for one half of a divided discipline to attempt to strangulate the other half through hiring and graduate training decisions. I’d also dispute your characterization of how paradigms get overturned. In the Kuhnian sense you’re correct, but there’s also the observed tendency for disciplinary revolutionaries to come from the margins of their fields.

The biggest rewards go to the successful innovators, but you treat success and recognition of success as the same when they are not. My entire point is that innovation often gets stymied by closed ideas about what the best practice (not the same as the best facts) are. Taking the risk of orienting your career to paradigm breaking is less common when the success/recognition relationship is uncertain. The affirmative action idea is formulated to escape this.

Why must you be so condescending though? I know I called the “try harder” injunction naive in my last post, but you really seems to have an authoritarian tone that you direct at persons, not posts. Lighten up dude.

34

Lawrence Sober 03.29.06 at 12:38 pm

He’s honest to a fault, however, and suggestions toward the end of the previous thread that he is lying are absurd.

That’s funny.

When someone KNOWS that he is ignorant with respect to a particular subject because his ignorance and mistakes have been carefully pointed out to him but this person continues to engage in the same behavior, this person is willfully engaging in dishonest behavior.

Yes, this remains true even in 2006.

35

Ginger Yellow 03.29.06 at 12:47 pm

“I also disagree with your ‘affirmative action’ claim (except that it would be silly to have sociologists ‘administer’ it). If we’re talking about new scientific fields that lack market potential then providing resources to challenge or escape from dominant paradigms (and their influence on funding, etc) seems like a worthy goal. Try to imagine AA for something besides ID.”

But Fuller isn’t arguing for AA for something besides ID – he’s arguing for AA for ID. That’s the problem.

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Steve LaBonne 03.29.06 at 12:49 pm

Why must you be so condescending though?

Funny, I was asking myself the same question about you- do you really imagine, for instance, that I think recognition of success is always instant? Try not to constantly insult your interlocutors’ intelligence, even if some of them are mere scientists.

And by the way, just where are these hidebound areas of science that require an affirmative aaction program to sheke them out of their conceptual lethargy? My own field of molecular genetics has mutated at a truly head-spinning rate since I started grad school 30 years ago. Today, as a forensic scientist, I apply in the most utterly routine way phenomena and techniques that were literally unimaginable then. Or let’s take evolution- the acceptance of the importance of nearly-neutral mutations and genetic drift was a HUGE conceptual revolution in evolutionary genetics. In turn, it made posible the concept of the molecular clock, which has enabled discoveries that trasformed a broad swath of evolutionary biology.

37

Lawrence Sober 03.29.06 at 12:50 pm

For all of your dislike of Fuller’s argument (much of which I share) you almost come to the same conclusion as he: scientists should “try harder” to break paradigms.

Or, to put it another way, we all should try to use our brains every day so we don’t end up with a pocketful of wooden nickels. Humans have understood this for eons, even those humans who excel at pawning off wooden nickels on other folks.

All the smartest people know that you run into trouble if you take everything for granted.

But they also know that most facts which humans take for granted as “established” between challenge are, in fact, established beyond challenge.

Lead bars do weigh more than candy bars.

Anyone care to disagree? But wait — you haven’t heard my “theory” yet about Borphax, the mysterious alien being who makes candy bars simply appear lighter than they really are.

Join me in Stevefullerland where scientists who dismiss this sort of poppycock are smeared as closed-minded dogmatists. And don’t forget to bring your virgins (Borphax is hungry).

38

Bill Gardner 03.29.06 at 12:52 pm

abb1 @#29:

“The public pays for science and they hope that you, the scientist will be studying what you think serves their interests.”

Yes and no. My work is mostly paid for by the NIH, and is clinical and highly applied. Congress responds to patient ( & health industry! ) lobbying. The NIH attends to Congress in setting its funding priorities, and we are responsive to those priorities. In short, the public does, indirectly, influence the work I do.

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james 03.29.06 at 12:54 pm

Much of this issue is a direct result of the effort to equate social science, psychology, and related fields with the more fundamental physical sciences. The physical sciences have long held a certain cache as being the “truth as we know it now.” They also have a fairly strict process (scientific method) for the development and proof of theories and laws. This process also requires that any theory can be validated or disproved using the same process. Social Science, from an outsider’s perspective, lacks this proving method. It seems to be pure conjecture based only on the reputation of the theory originator.

Universities continue to add various fields of study under the label of social science that end up as pure politic. Many of these fields advocate strange claims that lack any proof. Feminist studies classes that claim that heterosexual sex is actually institutionalized rape to name one example. As the social sciences move farther and farther into politics and away from science, all science is increasingly viewed as opinion and politics. As Universities continue to equate these studies with reasoned learning and scientific enquiry, the question becomes why not other philosophical or political positions?

Universities and such institutions are already including politics as science and scientific enquiry. With this inclusion they are demanding the same respect for these positions as is granted to the tested results of the hard science. Rather than fight the position that these studies are science, the public is questioning the validity and position of all science.

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abb1 03.29.06 at 1:04 pm

Yeah, I suppose it’s true for applied science, which is not, strictly speaking, exactly what I would call ‘science’ (no offence). More like engineering, problem solving.

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Steve LaBonne 03.29.06 at 1:20 pm

abb1, it’s true to a considerable extent for even the most “basic” areas- they’ll generally be funded only if somebody thinks there’s an economic or health payoff somewhere on the horizon. (Unfortunately this has often had a corrupting influence on scientists who have not resisted the temptation to overpromise- the “War on Cancer” was a notorious example). There’s a fine line here, and no really hard-and-fast rules of conduct. It’s both inevitable and appropriate that much of the money be directed toward things that show some promise of societal payoffs. But paradoxically, some of the most useful advances, and their subsequent social payoffs, would have been impossible to predict in advance (eg. the recombinant DNA revolution depended crucially on the previous discovery of bacerial restriction / modification systems, at the time about the most basic and “irrelevant” work imaginable.) So starving purely curiosity-driven research unduly is counterproductive even in crassly utilitarian terms. I don’t envy science-policy makers, it’s a tough job.

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blah 03.29.06 at 1:31 pm

Um, correct me if I am wrong, but wasn’t creationism (i.e., “Intelligent Design”) the loser in the Darwinian scientific revolution?

Why is it even reasonable to think that this loser, which was the dominant paradigm for centuries, offers anything further for science?

Another question: won’t the application of sociology to the ID movement tell you what it plainly is – a rearguard action by religious fundamentalists? Why is the sociologist so reluctant to apply the tools of sociology to the ID movement?

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Bill Gardner 03.29.06 at 1:34 pm

“More like engineering, problem solving.”

Don’t I wish…

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abb1 03.29.06 at 2:13 pm

Of course every time public funds are allocated it’s political. To a point. Politicians don’t tell them to forget about anti-neutrino and concentrate on positrons.

45

albert 03.29.06 at 2:14 pm

“Why is the sociologist so reluctant to apply the tools of sociology to the ID movement?”

I don’t think sociologists would be reluctant. In Fuller’s case, he’s specifically a sociologist of science, so he’s looking at science & how ID relates to it. I’m sure sociologists of religion or social movements scholars can and have looked at this. I’m not sure what direction a study might take that would provide insight beyond the prima facie categorization of ID that already exists, in order to approach the topic as you suggest, there would need to be the promise of new insight.

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albert 03.29.06 at 2:16 pm

“But Fuller isn’t arguing for AA for something besides ID – he’s arguing for AA for ID. That’s the problem.”

Completely agree, and I disagree with Fuller too. I’m trying to save the bathwater instead.

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Steve LaBonne 03.29.06 at 2:20 pm

How about providing some substance to the claim that there is bathwater to be saved? I asked you a few posts ago to identify fields of science that you think are stagnant and in need of AA, and provided two examples of fields within my own ken that manifestly are nothing of the kind. Where’s the beef?

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blah 03.29.06 at 2:57 pm

Maybe I did not make myself clear. Fuller is a sociologist. He is a sociologist who is now writing about the ID movement. And yet he has not offered an sociological views on the ID movement. Don’t you find that odd? As a sociologist, isn’t that where he is supposed to bring added value to the discussion?

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albert 03.29.06 at 3:09 pm

Steve-

Your last post was sufficiently jerky that I hadn’t planned to reply. I’m not here for an argument and I don’t find engaging in polarizing/ized debates particularly interesting.

You seem to be arguing (in the challenge that I justify saving the bathwater) that there’s isn’t anything useful in the sociology of science, but you said above you would defend sociology of science, so what’s the issue?

Secondly, we’re talking about fields that don’t rise in spite of their scientific potential, so no number of positive cases really disproves that possibility. A long list would reveal something about probability, but would likely be confounded by numerous other forces. Molecular genetics did ascend, but what I’m claiming is that it did not do so in isolation from other social, economic, and political forces. Is that under dispute?

My rather modest claim is still that the development and status of scientific fields is not just a product of the quality of science done by those fields. I take it from an earlier post that you don’t disagree with this either, so I don’t know what the point of contention is.

In my first post I gave two fields (environmental toxicology and conservation biology) that I thought exemplified my point. These disciplines are comparatively low prestige against similar fields and have historically lacked the institutional support of their cognates.

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Steve LaBonne 03.29.06 at 3:15 pm

It’s not “jerky” to expect people who make sweeping claims about a field to back them up. And those who are serious will do precisely that in response, instead of whining.

Lack of instituional support for certain fields has far more to do with political funding priorities than it does with any need for “AA” to provide new ideas to the “low-prestige” fields- which really is not a very difficult fact to discover if you know even a little about how science works. So even your examples are irrelevant to your most interesting claims.

As I scientist I actively welcome the study of science by historians, philosophers and sociologists, and reading leading examples of the contributions of all three has been one of my avocations for decades. But as in any other field, intellectual precision and integrity are vital to the value of any such contribution.

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Barry 03.29.06 at 3:34 pm

Albert, one of the comments pointed out that ID isn’t new. It’s a newly-painted version of pre-evolutionary biology. Which lost, over a period of a century or so, to evolution. It was resurrected by people for religious reasons, not scientific reasons. It’s continuing to fail because (a) evolution explains the mass of data better, (b) there are no serious problems with the use of evolutionary theory (problems, as opposed to things not yet known).

But you wouldn’t know this to read Steve Fuller’s postings.

Now, why would that be, considering that the resurrection of an extremely well-defeated theory should be of extreme interest to a sociologist of science?

52

Barry 03.29.06 at 3:35 pm

“I served with Steve on a committee when we were both at Pittsburgh. He thrives on living in opposition. To anything. He’s honest to a fault, however, and suggestions toward the end of the previous thread that he is lying are absurd.”

Posted by Bill Gardner

Bill, somebody’s who’s honest to a fault wouldn’t thrive on living in opposition. He’d accept that as the price of being honest. And as to whether or not he’s lying, the only alternative that plausible at this stage is that he’s really, really stupid.

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Steve LaBonne 03.29.06 at 4:44 pm

My rather modest claim is still that the development and status of scientific fields is not just a product of the quality of science done by those fields.

Just so as not to leave this without being crystal-clear, it is simply not the case that your claims did not go beyond this platitude. For example:

It’s not uncommon for one half of a divided discipline to attempt to strangulate the other half through hiring and graduate training decisions.

I again repeat my request for specific examples of this “common” phenomenon in the natural sciences. Not sociology, economics, or political science, in all of which I am aware of such internecine wars (though even there I wouldn’t call such behavior “not uncommon”.)

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Bill Gardner 03.29.06 at 5:00 pm

Barry @#52:

“Bill, somebody’s who’s honest to a fault wouldn’t thrive on living in opposition. He’d accept that as the price of being honest.”

Good point. But I would ammend it slightly. “…somebody who is honest, insightful, and self-aware wouldn’t thrive on living in opposition.” Steve reminds me of Edward Abbey.

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Bill Gardner 03.29.06 at 5:10 pm

I shouldn’t leave the impression that I knew the guy well. What I would say is that in a brief and routine academic interaction, he left a vivid impression.

I think we got off track discussing Fuller’s character, for which I am largely to blame. My thought was that the arguments against his views on ID were quite effective, and the attributions of dishonesty were unnecessary.

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albert 03.29.06 at 5:37 pm

Steve-

I started commenting because I wanted to have a dialogue, and I still don’t know why you’re so zealous with your opproprium. Why so harsh? What have you said that couldn’t have been said with less bile? Seriously, if writing “if you know even a little about how science works” isn’t jerky, I don’t know what is.

I think the effects of political funding priorities on nascent scientific fields to be exactly the thing that justifies “AA for science” so don’t get your point.

Anyway, when I wrote, “It’s not uncommon for one half of a divided discipline to attempt to strangulate the other half through hiring and graduate training decisions.” I was thinking specifically of plant breeding/plant genetics recently and forestry in the 1980s & early 1990s.

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albert 03.29.06 at 5:46 pm

Barry-

I don’t know why Fuller has decided to champion ID and I haven’t defended him doing so. I’m sure there are sociologists of science who would defend him, but I haven’t found any of their arguments (made elsewhere) convincing. I’m more disposed to try to articulate a sociology of science different from Steve Fuller’s sociology of science. Honestly, I thought his participation in the Dover trial was unfortunate, but that’s his decision. I’m more concerned about posts like #37 that think any sociology of science is without worth.

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Steve Fuller 03.29.06 at 6:01 pm

Thanks to Kieran Healy for this very interesting post. (As usual, I’m late to the party!)

For me ID is a means to an end, namely, to open up the field of biology to alternatives. Why biology and not other sciences? Well, it’s always been the natural science closest to the human condition, and we now live in a time when it has become the most important field of science – whether you measure this in terms of the concentration of human, material and financial resources. Even on the ideological front, biology has eclipsed physics as the centre of gravity among historians and philosophers of science. If I have an axe to grind in all this, it doesn’t involve making room for God but retaining a privileged space for humans in a science whose default world-view is currently ‘species egalitarian’.

Now, you say that biology already debates alternatives, all located somewhere in the Neo-Darwinian paradigm, which is of course true. However, the positions in these debates resemble those surrounding Marxism in its heyday. Yes, there are lots of competing views afloat, but a full airing of differences is hamstrung by the need to harmonize a contemporary focus that tends to be very proactive and revolutionary with a more strictly historical focus which tends to be much more precautionary and even quietistic. Corresponding to the eager revolutionaries are the transhumanist enthusiasts who would genetically modify us up to the next step on the evolutionary ladder, and corresponding to the ‘no revolution before its time’ historicists are the biodiversity mongers who treat the earth like an organism in search of equilibrium with the cosmos.

ID has two advantages in this context: (1) It’s a live political concern with a real constituency that is more heterogeneous than its opponents acknowledge. So while it can potentially attract a lot of resources, I don’t believe it can be fully controlled by any of those attractors. (2) Unlike earlier forms of creationism, ID quite explicitly adopts a ‘pick and mix’ attitude toward Neo-Darwinism rather than treating it as something that is accepted or rejected in toto. Of course, this involves magnifying differences among Darwinists, but I don’t see a problem here because, unlike Kieran, I actually think it is possible to plan a successful scientific revolution. Lavoisier did so in chemistry, and was recognized as such in his own lifetime by the Marquis de Condorcet, who explicitly drew the parallel between political and scientific revolutions. (Condorcet had the American, not the ongoing French, Revolution in mind as his reference point: see I.B. Cohen, Revolution in Science, Harvard 1985.)

Of course, the fact that some planned scientific, like some planned political, revolutions succeed sometime does not mean they always will. But it’s worth a shot, especially if you believe – if I do – that it’s harder than ever for radically opposing scientific views to attract sufficient resources to become credible. Here I think the quote from Elster, who I normally think is very astute, should be taken with a grain of salt. because it’s not clear that the individual self-deception described in the quote scale up to an account of the sources of dissent in an entire scientific discipline. What Elster says about the perils of tolerating error and sloppiness makes sense only against the background of shared assumptions. But if the assumptions themselves are under dispute, then what he says is not so obviously correct.

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Lawrence Sober 03.29.06 at 6:29 pm

I’m more concerned about posts like #37 that think any sociology of science is without worth.

Where does post #37 say that?

Hint: it doesn’t.

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Lawrence Sober 03.29.06 at 6:56 pm

Fuller, back to his ol’ self:

ID has two advantages in this context: (1) It’s a live political concern with a real constituency that is more heterogeneous than its opponents acknowledge.

It’s nearly impossible to know where to begin with desconstructing this sort of bullcrap.

How about we ask Steve to tell us: what is the degree of heterogeneity of ID “constituents” that has been acknowledged by the opponents of ID?

The “live” proponents of the notion that “intelligent design” is science are overwhelmingly conservative Christians who consider themselves “born again”. Sure, there’s some folks there who belong to other Christian sects and probably a couple Jews and maybe some alleged “agnostics.”

There is far more heterogeneity among scientists, however. So what is Fuller’s point? He says

So while it can potentially attract a lot of resources, I don’t believe it can be fully controlled by any of those attractors.

Huh. It seems to me that a scientifically useless concept requires discipline from the top to bottom if it’s to be sold to rubes as something that it is not. But that’s the rub isn’t it? Even the Discovery Institute — a decidedly Christian organization — has trouble keeping the targets of its propaganda campaign on message. Funny that the Discovery Institute can’t find some credible honest and well-spoken atheists to help push its garbage. Why do you suppose that is, Steve? Please share your thoughts. After all, you are an “expert” on these matters, aren’t you?

(2) Unlike earlier forms of creationism, ID quite explicitly adopts a ‘pick and mix’ attitude toward Neo-Darwinism rather than treating it as something that is accepted or rejected in toto.

Ah yes, the Big Tent. You’ll also find ID supporters waffling about the age of the earth, depending on the audience that is present. ID peddlers pick and mix from anything and everything that is useful to them at the moment. What difference does it make, after all, when the idea your selling boils down to, “Or mysterious aliens did it using their mysterious powers.”

Haven’t you noticed how ID peddlers behave, Steve? After all, you’re the “expert.”

Everyone should re-read Nick Matske’s recent post here on the subject of ID as Creationism Redux if they have any doubts about the insignificance of alleged distinctions between traditional creationist baloney and neo-creationist baloney.

it’s harder than ever for radically opposing scientific views to attract sufficient resources to become credible.

How many millions of dollars of US taxpayer money have been spent in the last four years studying the effects of third party prayer on medical conditions? The idea that the benevolent responses of God can be quantified statistically and reproducibly is truly radical from a scientific viewpoint, Steve, in case you didn’t know. Nevertheless, my tax dollars are being used to support “research” into this “radical” venue (which is to say, my tax dollars are being flushed down the toilet — nothing new).

Also, Steve, how about letting everyone know the best estimates of how much money the Discovery Institute has had at its disposal over the past five years? And please provide the breakdown of how much of that money was spent on scientific research to support the claims of ID peddlers versus propaganda.

You should be interested in these facts, Steve. After all, you’re the “expert.”

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Lawrence Sober 03.29.06 at 7:06 pm

Fuller

If I have an axe to grind in all this, it doesn’t involve making room for God but retaining a privileged space for humans in a science whose default world-view is currently ‘species egalitarian’.

Clear as mud.

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Lawrence Sober 03.29.06 at 7:24 pm

Corresponding to the eager revolutionaries are the transhumanist enthusiasts who would genetically modify us up to the next step on the evolutionary ladder,

Huh. Do the revolutionaries understand that this “evolutionary ladder” is a scientifically bogus concept?

From a longevity and adaptability perspective, the most successful organisms on earth are microbes and — I confidently predict — that will remain the case for the next billion years (as was the case for the previous four billion years).

Humans are interesting — my personal preferences include the “rock star” and “innocent teen” — but rather fragile.

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Steve LaBonne 03.29.06 at 7:32 pm

plant breeding/plant genetics recently

I would be interested in hearing some details of what you’re referring to. I am not aware of any sort of vicious paradigm clash involving “attempted strangulation” of any area of plant genetics. (Political / public relations controversies over use of GM plants in agriculture are not relevant, since you were making claims about the actual intellectual content of scientific disciplines- just as Fuller, laughably, is doing with respect to evolutionary biology.)

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Lawrence Sober 03.29.06 at 7:36 pm

If I have an axe to grind in all this, it doesn’t involve making room for God but retaining a privileged space for humans in a science whose default world-view is currently ‘species egalitarian’.

Two questions:

(1) is it this alleged “world-view” (whatever that means) really the “default” or is it a “world-view” that contemporary scientists adopted because it has proven more useful to them than the alternative(s)?

(2) what do you think about the earth-centered solar system “world-view”, Steve? Is there any more milk in that teat? I guess there’s no way to tell unless we go back in time and suck as hard as we can.

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PZ Myers 03.29.06 at 7:54 pm

Dear god.

[ID]’s a live political concern with a real constituency that is more heterogeneous than its opponents acknowledge.

Yes, it’s a live political concern, no, we fully acknowledge the heterogeneity of its proponents (in fact, I’ve noted often that it’s most ardent supporters don’t actually believe in the vague hypotheticals of ID), but…

…and this is a goddamned huge but….

…IT ISN’T SCIENCE.

If you are going to push some revolutionary new ‘paradigm’ in science with the idea that even if it proves wrong, it will at least shake up the status quo, it would be like, really keen if the idea you were peddling were at least in some general sense actually scientific.

66

gwangung 03.29.06 at 8:36 pm

For me ID is a means to an end, namely, to open up the field of biology to alternatives

Well, it would be nice to have some RESULTS first, Dr. Fuller.

Otherwise, you’re simply arguing for pink unicorns as a causative agent. And that’s simply idiotic and divorced from reality.

Frankly, you’re being naive beyond all conception; money is out there for at least a pilot program….and positive results from THAT are what’s needed, not this armwaving political stuff.

67

Ginger Yellow 03.30.06 at 5:56 am

“For me ID is a means to an end, namely, to open up the field of biology to alternatives. “

You keep on saying things like this but you never explain how something as anti-scientific as ID is supposed to open up anything. It has no research programme. It has no testable hypotheses. It makes no predictions. But most importantly, it is founded on the principle of “If I don’t understand how evolution could have made this, the Designer must have.” Do you not see how profoundly unlikely adopting such an attitude is to generate research? I commend your willingness to respond to your many critics but your repeated failure to address this central point really calls into question your sincerity.

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guthrie 03.30.06 at 7:01 am

Can I join in!

If I have an axe to grind in all this, it doesn’t involve making room for God but retaining a privileged space for humans in a science whose default world-view is currently ‘species egalitarian’.

But surely that is merely taking a values viewpoint whereby homo sapiens is more valuable than anything else. Which indeed accords closely with my own values, but has bugger all to do with biology as a science, given that it is the study of all the living creatures on earth. (And even those off earth, if we ever find any)

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francis 03.30.06 at 11:23 am

I, Prof. Steve Steve Fuller, have a hypothesis which belongs to me because it’s mine (ahem):

a. gods (ie beings who capture our consciousness when we die) exist; or

b. LGM* and/or TMA** (beings who do not capture our consciousness when we die) exist.

c. all science is enriched by the idea that gods, lgm and/or tma have played and/or are continuing to play a role in everything.

All biologists should thank me for this shattering insight and devote their time and energy to developing research protocols to prove my hypothesis. Astronomers, you’re next.

[hat tips to Panda's Thumb, Monty Python and Arthur C. Clarke.]

* little green men
** tycho magnetic anomaly

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francis 03.30.06 at 11:26 am

p.s. just because a major newspaper reported yesterday about DoD interfering with EPA risk-analysis doesn’t mean that Chris Mooney isn’t naive and shouldn’t spend time learning from me, Prof. Steve Steve Fuller.

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Drm 03.30.06 at 7:08 pm

“plant breeding/plant genetics” and strangulation

I’m guessing that albert is referring to the shift in emphasis of graduate programs and new faculty positions at public universities away from conventional breeding disciplines toward molecular breeding and biotechnology that occured 15 years or so ago. The fears of strangulation and lost art have since disipated. The primary reason is that conventional breeding methods have benefited enormously from the molecular revolution, especially the widespread application of molecular markers and mapping techniques. Second, if anything biotechnology including GM techniques have increased the demand for convention methods augmented by molecular markers, etc. The reason is simple, GM methods modify or add a single gene – you still have to manage the other 30-40000 genes that make up the organism.

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Steve LaBonne 03.31.06 at 8:42 am

Same thing in zoology- from what I hear the molecular and organismal types some time ago learned to appreciate the value of one another’s knowledge bases and lots of cooperation and synthesis goes on (though some of the heavily computational genomics types with little biology background may not have gotten the memo and may still be trying to reinvent a bunch of biology about whose existence nobody taught them.) And of course, ditto for paleontologists and molecular evolution types, whose cooperation has come to be so incredibly frutiful (somebody send Steve Fuller a copy of the memo!).

Of course none of this, even at its worst before truces were achieved, ever remotely resembled the kind of social-science tong wars between different “schools” that Albert (no doubt indulging in a bit of projection) was imagining occur in contemporary science. Just goes to show that while sociology of science is good, some sociologists of science- those who understand far less than they think they do about how science is done- are bad. (Fuller, of course, is in a class by himself for badness.)

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