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The question as to whether science involves values has been a subject of intense debate over the years. As perceived by most scientists, one of the fundamental characteristics of science is objectivity in procedure and findings such that there are no values, perceptions, beliefs, and emotions that could potentially bias the scientific outcome. They support their reasoning with the objectivity argument, which states that science is objective while values are subjective, and as such, science does not involve values (Koertge, 2000). Prominent scientists hold on to the idea that science deals with facts and not values. This suggestion is inherently flawed in light of varied claims that this essay outlines to indicate that science involves values. The study will show how science and values are intertwined.
The Counter-Objectivity Claim
Emerging theories endorsed by a section of scientists have faulted this basic conception by scientists that science is value-free by questioning the authority of projected scientific methods. Social scientists discredit the view that objectivity is best epitomized through science as misguided.
Echoing the same thoughts, Dr. Helen Salvador of Stanford University argues that science involves values in three ways (Cartwright, 1980). To begin with, scientific research is guided by epistemic values. Likewise, she underscores that science inevitably integrates cultural values into practice. This is to say that individual practitioners are the agents of integrating cultural values into science.
The position of this study is that the argument that science is a value-neutral realm is logically inconsistent especially when you factor in methodic and human errors, fraud, and environmental variance. Consider the following proposal: Science is an activity that seeks to pursue knowledge that relates to material existence i.e. the objective world (Cartwright, 1980). This is to say, therefore, that science endorses the value of developing knowledge about material existence. It is reasonable to infer that mediating/ proximate values emerge from the ultimate value of science, which is to develop accurate knowledge of material existence.
Mediating/ Proximate Values
Cartwright (1980) says, mediating values are epistemic values that emerge in the scientific process to augment the ultimate goal of science by way of evaluating the projected claims for accuracy. Specific mediating values include guided observation, controlled experimentation, intervention, and confirmation of projected claims (Longino, 1990). These values are contingent, in part, because they are derived from prior scientific claims. For instance, science tends to disvalue the results of drug trials that do not follow the designated scientific method dubbed the double-blind experimental design.
Another mediating value, honesty, is as crucial in science as elsewhere since the validity of scientific claims depends solely on the endorsement of authentic results. Scientists must not withhold any relevant information – or any information that could potentially alter the specific findings. Thus, to say that science does not involve values is simply a misguided claim.
Social Values and Ethics Codes
Because there is a list of rules and guidelines that the scientific process must follow, it becomes more evident that science is not value-free. For instance, science is not exempt from upholding certain ethical values that demand proper treatment of animals in the hands of scientific experimenters. Science is not exempt from other social values and ethical milestones involving the treatment of the human body during experimentation (Koertge, 2000). Infliction of excruciating pain in human beings and animals is unwarranted in science but this is not to say that they do not do it anyway. Essentially, there is a designated protocol for undertaking scientific research with human subjects and monitoring the treatment of laboratory animals. This protocol is designed to adhere to a wider network of social values in science.
Martin (1991) holds that values enter science through individual agents, whether consciously or subconsciously. The individual agent, in this case, the scientists themselves come from respective cultural and environmental contexts. As such, they often express their cultural values when conducting scientific research. Likewise, there is a fine line between the individual self and the individual agent, which makes it difficult to conclude that scientists can remain objective in their research (Longino, 1995). It is not realistic to say that scientists can take a hiatus on human feelings, emotions, and values when conducting their research.
There are several historic instances of biased scientific claims where the findings reflect the individual values and beliefs of scientific practitioners. For instance, the notion that the model skull of the Negroes was primitive and less developed than that of the European races is biased against certain values (Longino, 1979). While this position may seem inconsistent with the claim that science involves values, it is important to look at the assertions in terms of prior scientific findings that are subject to dispute. The assertion here is that European values entered science (whether consciously or subconsciously) through the individual agent who, in this case, was Charles Darwin.
In the dawn of the evolution theory, there emerged a sharp conflict between science and religion. Over the years, there have been efforts to reconcile science and religion. Though not entirely successful, both realms have managed to compromise by striking a middle ground of some sort (Longino, 1979). For instance, scientists who endorse the intelligent design of the universe believe that there is a power that compels this complex design. They agree that this force/ cause is not foreseeable within the contemplation of any human mind. This compromise goes to say that the argument that science involves values is in order.
The question of whether science involves values has been debated at length with a section of social scientists disputing the endorsement that science is an objective field that does not incorporate values. The preceding discussion sheds light on emerging studies that discredit the objectivity of science by highlighting how various values enter science to mediate experimentation and projected findings. Likewise, it demonstrates how individual agents incorporate various norms and cultural values into their scientific activity. Finally, yet importantly, scientific research is guided by epistemic values.
Cartwright, N. (1980). The Truth Doesn’t Explain Much. American Philosophical Quarterly, 17(2), 159-163. Print.
Koertge, N. (2000). Science, Values, and the Value of Science. Philosophy of Science Vol. 67(1), 45-57. Print.
Longino, H. (1979). Evidence and Hypothesis: An Analysis of Evidential Relations. Philosophy of Science, 46(1), 35-56. Print.
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Longino, H. (1990). Science as Social Knowledge: Values and Objectivity in Scientific Inquiry, Princeton: Princeton University Press. Print.
Longino, H. (1995). Gender, Politics, and the Theoretical Virtues. Syntheses, 104(3), 383-397. Print.
Martin, B. (1991). Scientific Knowledge in Controversy: The Social Dynamics of the Fluoridation Debate. Alban: State University of New York Press. Print.