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Science as politics

by Les Levidow;

  Print book

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Science As Politics    (2011-04-14)


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by wppalmer

Review of `Science as Politics' edited by Les Levidow, Free Association Books, London, UK.

Reviewer: W. P. Palmer

Some scientists and many teachers believe that science and politics are 'poles apart'. This book attempts to show the effects of ideology on science in a number of areas. A major problem is that the book is a collection of essays with little in common except for a left of centre slant. A further problem is that the collection actually consists of just two essays, three essay reviews and three book reviews. This is a rather meagre diet for a book that claims to relate science and politics, but one suspects after reading the pieces that ideology rather than quality was the condition of entry to this particular collection. The three page introduction summarises the main points of the various essays and reviews pretty well, so well in fact that the reader, heavily pressed for time might read the summary rather than the content of the book.

I am somewhat critical of the offerings in this collection but wondered if there were any redeeming features. Are there ideas that come through in any parts of the collection that are worth further discussion?

In the first essay Norman Diamond writes about `The Copernican Revolution: Social Foundations of in Science'. Perhaps the main thrust of the article can be taken from the authors own words (p.11):

`There are those of scientists themselves who think their work inductive: that an uncluttered look at raw data shows the relations inherent in the data, that the collection of facts gives rise to underlying laws. I have already indicated a response: that there is no such thing as 'raw data', and that 'facts' derive their facticity only from being embedded in some pre-existing theoretical framework.'

This gives the philosophical view that we should all think about and sometimes explore in class about the nature of our subject, science. The paper has within it some good examples about the dangers (impossibility?) of a purely inductivist view of science and is of value for that.

The second major essay on `Socializing Darwinism' by Jim More starts off with a nice quote from the Precinct Commander in the TV Series `Hill Street Blues'.

`I believe in the survival of the fittest and I'm an unfeeling bastard. Darwin does and he's an evolutionary genius.'

The author first needs to define 'Social Darwinism' and does so in such a way that he clears out of the way a large number of ideologically 'incorrect' positions, which are those of the author's opponents, leaving only his 'correct' way of seeing things. The whole set of arguments seemed very much like splitting hairs.

The problem with the major essays and with the other contributions was the limited number of sources outside `Free Association Books', `Radical Science Journal' and other left wing / Marxist sources. This makes the selection cosy for those writing and distinctly dull for readers.


Book review originally published in The Journal of the Science Teacher Association of the Northern Territory, Volume 14, pp.135-136.

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