Sunday, April 25, 2010

Ian S. Mitroff - The Subjective Side of Science (1974)

The author, a practitioner of applied social science, believes that disagreement (rather than consensus) is the essence of scientific inquiry.  He further claims that the causes of the disagreements between scientists are social in kind and that they are also psychological, and that truth is as much psychological as it is logical.  This view is in contrast to the Descartes-Locke view that all humans are endowed with the common capabilities of reasoning and observing, and that if we strip away (purify) the personal and social contamination, then scientific inquiry will necessarily yield results that are acceptable by all who have also achieved this “pure state.”

The aim of the book is to lay a foundation for modeling scientific practice on a critical analysis of the actual behavior of scientists, and to also ask what a science looks like that better understands itself.  The book (and the author) is critical of what he calls “The Storybook Image of Science.”  This myth depicts scientists as emotionally neutral, willing to change their opinions when confronted with reliable evidence, humble about their knowledge and understanding, loyal to the truth above all else, and possessed of an objective attitude and the ability to suspend judgement until the issue under consideration has been investigated.

What Mitroff fails to realize, though, is that myths and archetypes have an important psychological place in our existence.  Would science be better off if the storybook image of science was dispelled?  Or would science, and the world, lose their ideal of what a scientist is supposed to be?  And if that happened, would science suffer as a result?

As a sociologist of science, he is concerned with examining the norms of science, which he defines as: faith in rationality, emotional neutrality, universalism (rational knowledge is the realm of all), individualism (anti-authoritarian), community (knowledge is not private property), disinterestedness (no personal glory), impartiality (concern is with knowledge, not with its consequences), suspension of judgement, absence of bias, group loyalty and freedom of investigation.

And yet he’s willing to accept the norms as ideals.

Mitroff bases the study in this book on the Churchmanian program in the philosophy of science in which the logic of research and the social psychology of research are not viewed as being antagonistic to each other, but rather vital, although partial, components of scientific research as a whole.  He is a supporter of Kuhn, rather than Popper.

After interviewing scientists studying moon rocks he comes to the following conclusions:  1) there are two sets of opposing norms of science; 2) there are distinct styles of inquiry in science and distinct psychological types of scientists; and 3) the method that scientists use to test their ideas involve adversarial proceedings that combine formal and informal elements.

Styles of Inquiry:

Leibnizian:  formal-deductive;
Lockean: experiential, inductive, consensual;
Kantian: synthetic multimodal;
Hegelian or Dialectical: conflictual, synthetic;
Singerian-Churchmanian: synthetic, interdisciplinary, holistic.

Psychological types of scientists (based upon Jung):

Hard experimentalist (sensation);
Abstract theorizer (thinking);
Intuitive synthesizer (intuition);
Humanist scientist (feeling).

Science as a Game possesses the following features: 1) individual players; 2) coalitions, teams; 3) designation of teams as home side and opposing side; 4) special field of play; 5) entrance fees or skills; 6) schedule of games; 7) recruitment and development of talent; 8) rules; 9) umpires; 10) objectives; 11) awards; 12) historians or preservers of the tradition; 13) fans; 14) public sponsors; 15) societal sanction or support.  It is intensely human and personal, and also mostly masculine (conquering nature), and has at least four general aims or ideals: the knowledge ideal (perfect knowledge); the politico-economical ideal (efficient pursuit of knowledge); the ethical-moral ideal (conflict removal between scientists and science and society); the esthetic ideal (enlarge the range and scope of scientific inquiry).  And even though it does have subjective elements, it is not completely subjective, irrational or relativistic.  We have reached Apollonian science that knows how to reach “the starry heavens above,” but we still don’t know how to develop Dionysian science that knows how to reach “the moral law within.”  We may be intellectual giants, but we are still moral dwarfs, and tackling that problem is the task of the future.

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