Reason #1 Why I Love Science Talk Radio

I’ve been listening to the CBC’s podcast series “How To Think About Science”, and I find Simon Schaffer’s below example (in response to host David Cayley’s setup) hilarious. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I think it’s a combination of this being a double-tedious election year and me remembering having textbooks that constantly fell prey to the problem described below. (History more than science, but still.)

Cayley: (Describing a study made of scientists in the seventies and eighties.) “Scientists began to look less like oracles and more like skilled carpenters. Their knowledge was not the very voice of nature, but a human product, something that had to be made and maintained. This turned the relationship between science and society upside down. Formerly, science had been seen as social only when it was wrong. Social constructs distorted and corrupted knowledge. True knowledge was immaculate, untouched by human hands. Now, Schaffer says, the sciences began to be understood as inherently social.”

Schaffer: “What people say about the world, in groups, and how they come to agree, and how they find out how things are, has the quality of an institution, and it should be analyzed the way other institutions are analyzed. That meant, for example, that it was extremely unpromising — to put it mildly — to suppose that social principles are only acting when folk get things wrong. So for example, it didn’t look remotely plausible to say that Isaac Newton thought that there was an inverse square law of gravity acting instantly at a distance through empty space between the centers of distant bodies because there is an inverse square law acting instantly from the center of one body to another through empty space, and that Leibniz disagreed because he was German.”


2 thoughts on “Reason #1 Why I Love Science Talk Radio

  1. Once upon a time, a fundamentalist friend said to me; “Science is just as much of a religion as a religion.”
    After swallowing my own knee-jerk “ITISNOT!” reaction, I had to think….

    At it’s heart, science is a process (hypothesis –> experimentation –> conclusion –> replication); not necessarily a body of esoteric knowledge.

    But, sometimes, it’s harder to be a good scientist than it is at others.

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