Friday, April 4, 2014

Abby J. Kinchy and Daniel Lee Kleinman, “Democratizing Science, Debating Values: New Approaches to “Politicized” Science under the Bush Administration,” Dissent (2005), 54-62.

·      Kinchy and Kleinman’s piece is a call for Democrats, leftists, and progressives to take more care in their critique of the Bush (George W.) administration’s sometimes-deceptive use of science in promulgating its political agenda.  While the author’s contend that deception is well worthy of criticism, they argue that further argument on the left against “politicizing” science (somehow distinguishing science from politics and values) both 1) misrepresents the nature of scientific knowledge, and 2) hinders truly democratic debate that engages deeper questions about science and values. 

·      The article systematically questions assumptions underpinning the critique of a “politicized” science:

o   That science is ever (or should ever be) value free: The authors argue that positions on policy issues across the political spectrum are always about values (e.g., abstinence-only education, stem cell research, global warming, genetically modified crops); that marshaling scientific evidence via the “cautionary principle” is used on both sides of the aisle; and that the very kinds of scientific questions that are asked and pursued begin with a set of social and political choices.

o   That science is ever impartial: Kinchy and Kleinman argue that “impartiality implies a comprehensiveness that is unachievable,” and the structural, ideological, and epistemological orientations of scientific disciplines constrain “objectivity” simply by narrowing the pursuits of scientific questions and applying specific limiting metaphors.  The authors cite Donna Haraway’s critique of scientific objectivity in her argument that knowledge is never de-coupled from the position of the knower (“god trick”).

o   That the public should focus criticism on the use of “predetermined findings (i.e. evidence selectively marshaled to fit predetermined outcomes)”: The authors argued that progressives should instead look to the ways science policy naturalizes or reifies specific political and cultural interests in non-obvious or subtle ways.  They should embark on an awareness-building project about assumptions of difference embedded in and metaphors used to make scientific arguments about “nature.”

o   That the use of selective, “stacked” committees is the central problem in “politicized” science: The authors don’t disagree that this is problematic, but argue for an expanded effort to democratize participation in science and open up the rigid boundaries of “expert knowledge,” by collaborating with lay people for both specialized knowledged, but also knowledge that incorporates situatedness in social and political context (e.g., “popular epidemiology).  Scientific literacy and scientific education should include from the start the social and the political dimensions of science

No comments: