Looking twice at the history of science

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

How (not) to bring STS to the masses

This post is a response to reflections that Lee Vinsel posted on Saturday on the AmericanScience blog. His post was about science and politics rather than about the symmetry principle, and it is the latter that I am scrutinising in my current series of posts. But I take issue with Lee's post for the same reasons I take issue with Vanessa Heggie's earlier one on the symmetry principle. It seems to me that the effect of both posts (though perhaps not the intention) is to endorse one side of a confusing and controversial issue, present the opposing view as a vulgar error, and use the wisdom of STS to confound the distinctions that could have prevented the confusion from arising in the first place. Expand post.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Saving the symmetry principle, IIIb: truth in the history of science

This post continues my effort to understand the symmetry principle by distinguishing different senses of the claim “people do not believe things because they are true.” As you can see, this is not an easy job: this post adds 5 readings to the 6 discussed in my previous post. But nor is it an exercise in hair-splitting or nit-picking. I'm not suggesting that we need to make these distinctions explicit whenever we discuss the symmetry principle, the nature of scientific truth, or the role of evidence in settling scientific debates. But our discussions of all those topics would be improved if we kept these distinctions in mind when we formulate our claims and when we assess the claims of non-historians. (Readers who are pressed for time may want to skip to the end of this post, where I summarise my 11 readings and draw some morals from them.) Expand post.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Saving the symmetry principle, IIIa: truth in the history of science

This post continues my series on the symmetry principle, with apologies to anyone who has been holding their breath since my last post five weeks ago. That was a piece of conceptual ground-clearing in which I argued that esoteric-seeming distinctions can make a big difference to the answers we give to important questions. In this post and the next I want to illustrate the point by distinguishing between different senses of the claim—which historians sometimes equate with the symmetry principle—that “people don't believe things just because they are true.” Expand post.