SCIENCE, VALUES AND FEMINISM After reading Kuhn, we may

After reading Kuhn, we may have become
convinced that science is more than just
logic + observation:
 How do we understand talk of
 The actual practice of science seems
more complex than this.
So positivism and Popper’s views on
science seem incomplete.
Kuhn gives us a more subtle and realistic
picture of scientific method, but it has some
 If values play a part in paradigm
acceptance, how can science tell us
anything about the objective world?
Many took Kuhn’s ideas as a death-blow to
the notion of scientific rationality.
If social, personal, institutional, etc. forces
play an ineliminable role in determining
which theories are accepted, can scientific
claims be objectively grounded?
Won’t it be possible for biases to play a key
role here?
 Recall Duhem-Quine: any thesis can be
rejected or accepted with enough
revision elsewhere.
Social context
Longino argues that both the positivists and
Kuhn fail to appreciate the extent to which
science is a social activity:
 For positivists science is a matter of
applying logical rules to observation—
individuals can do this.
 For Kuhn, communities working in
different paradigms can’t meaningfully
communicate to each other.
Yet, a fuller appreciation of the social nature
of science can lead to a realistic and robust
conception of scientific objectivity.
The social nature of science
Three aspects in which science is,
according to Longino, essentially social in
1. Scientific disciplines are social
2. Scientists are initiated into a discipline
by training and education
3. Scientists and disciplines exist in and
interact with society as a whole (e.g. to
secure funding).
Science as a social exercise
Longino argues that what comes to be
called scientific knowledge is the result of a
complex interaction between many people:
 The gathering of data is typically
conducted by groups/labs.
Even if an individual could do this, the
process by which the results come to be
called “knowledge” is irreducibly social:
 Hypothesis/results are subjected to
 Once published, they are subjected to
scrutiny—others try to duplicate results,
expand them, employ them in other
tasks, etc.
We can think of it this way: scientific ideas
become accepted as facts only after
surviving in the “marketplace” of ideas and
Public knowledge
As a result, scientific hypotheses are public
 As social interaction stabilizes a claim, it
is therefore available for others to
 The facts against which claims are
tested are (taken to be) mindindependent.
In other words, social forces:
 Rely on a common language of
 Restrict the range of legitimate claims to
those that concern what is accessible to
This will, for Longino, point the way toward
objectivity even when social factors
influence science.
The nature of criticism
Scientific conclusions can be criticized in
various ways:
Were the data collected properly?
Do they support the conclusion?
Is the hypothesis conceptually sound?
Is it consistent with accepted theory?
But here is a deep, foundational question:
How do we know that any piece of evidence
is (ever) relevant to a conclusion?
Here is why Longino think this question is
Interpretation and background beliefs
Empirical data or observation needs
 Which conclusions they bear on does
not come to us via the microscope.
But such interpretation necessarily imports
background beliefs:
 We have to start our interpretation
So, the very presence of empirical
observation does not secure objectivity
(contra positivism).
This is (in part) why Kuhn seems
threatening to objectivity.
Social Objectivity
However, Longino has an answer to this
Since science is thoroughly social, even
such background beliefs are put into the
marketplace of criticism and so can be
corrected and modified.
 This process will, over time, weed out
any subjective bias or eccentricity from
scientific reasoning.
So, science is objective to the extent to
which the background beliefs of
researchers, labs, communities, etc. are
able to be modified, improved, dropped, and
so on.
 Objectivity is a matter of degree.
Requirements for social objectivity
The danger is that criticism will scare off
dissent and merely encourage conformity.
In order for scientific-social interaction to be
objective rather that silencing, argues
Longino, various conditions must be in
First, we must ensure that there are
recognized forums for criticizing research,
not just presenting research.
Secondly, critics (and their targets) must be
able to appeal to shared standards
(otherwise criticism might be simply
idiosyncratic and go unheeded).
 E.g. empirical adequacy, consistency,
generality, etc.
 It is not necessary that there is
agreement on every point, just some
possibility of genuine interaction
More criteria
Thirdly, the community as a whole must be
willing to respond to criticism by updating its
 Individuals can continue to defend their
views, but the community must be
willing to evolve over time.
Finally, the widest possible diversity of
viewpoints must be admitted into the arena
of criticism.
 No perspective may be eliminated or
included on the basis of political power,
money, gender, ethnicity, etc.
Why? Only if as many scientific ideas as
possible are considered can we be
confident that the view which survives is the
best one to adopt.
 If any groups are excluded, it is likely
important perspectives will be too.
The nature of objectivity
For Longino, objectivity is not a feature of
any particular hypothesis or logical theory
taken on by a scientist.
Rather, objectivity is a property of the
method used to arrive at a scientific belief.
If the method has the characteristics she
outlines, it does not follow that the resultant
beliefs are true.
 They will, however, be the best justified
beliefs we can have.
Some restrictions
Some things which limit criticism:
 If a debate becomes stuck in repetitive
arguments, or has no clear connection
to an empirical program, it will
eventually be ignored—it cannot appear
 Financial inducement: if there are large
rewards for finding result R, then
criticism of R will tend to be downplayed
(e.g. pharmaceuticals).
 If any view receives universal
acceptance, then it will hardly be
criticized. What will be needed is
someone who doesn’t share the outlook.
Upshot of all of this for Longino: the more
perspectives that exist in the scientific
community, the greater the likelihood of
objective results, results free of individual
preferences or bias.
Feminist views on (biological) science
Background bias in science has been well
highlighted by many feminist philosophers.
Hence, the feminist perspective provides us
with an opportunity to examine the concept
of scientific objectivity.
Some examples of bias
“Sleeping beauty” model of fertilization:
 Unquestioned for years, despite pictures
of microvilli extending from sear urchin
“Man as hunter” theory of tool development:
 Ignores imperative to develop tools to
rear young or prepare food.
Nineteenth century attempts to prove that
female’s are biologically determined to be
less intelligent:
 This continued despite repeated failures
of experiment—data was reinterpreted
to fit assumptions
Attempts to depict female skeletons as
inherently different from male skeletons:
 Many differences more likely due to
social factors such as corset-wearing or
lowered nutritional intake.
What the examples show
Okruhlik: what such examples demonstrate
is that background beliefs, biases or
 Can impact which hypothesis are even
considered, which questions asked,
which data ignored or taken as relevant.
In other words certain beliefs about the
place of women compared to men seem to
have had a substantial impact on the
content of scientific theories.
This only comes to light in comparison with
rival hypothesis that import different
(conflicting) background commitments.
Bias and scientific content
As we have seen, it is plausible to suppose
that science is a subtle activity.
 Observations require interpretation
 Failed predictions can be dealt with in
many ways—by adding auxiliary
hypotheses, or revising other parts of
the theory (Duhem-Quine), etc.
The feminist perspective has shown us how
a particular bias has played a role in
preventing certain views from being
So, even if there were a perfectly objective
way of deciding between theories by
applying scientific rules, it could still be the
case that we are only presented with a
biased selection of theories to choose from!
Traditional feminist responses
Feminist empiricism: androcentric bias
results from the failure to apply scientific
methods properly. We just need apply
scientific techniques more rigorously to
eliminate biases.
Standpoint epistemology: some viewpoints
are epistemically superior to others. E.g.,
those who benefit from current set-ups will
be less willing to acknowledge revolutionary
evidence. Hence, ‘outsiders’ (e.g. women)
will produce better, i.e. less biased, science.
Feminist postmodernism: there is no single
standpoint of all women. There are only
irreducibly many perspectives on reality,
none of which can be said to be superior to
others. There is no single, objective
viewpoint that science can attempt to attain.
Hypothesis testing
Okruhlik: testing a theory is a comparative
affair—we can only test a theory against
existent rivals in the same area.
 We can’t compare a theory to bare
reality to get a yes/no answer.
 We can, however, pick T1 over T2 on
the basis of what we’ve observed.
 Note: Popper would disagree, but not
Rational choice
But here is Okruhlik’s point: even if there
were a perfectly objective, rational method
of choosing between hypotheses, the
theories that exist to choose from might be
the generated in a biased manner.
Since most accounts of science focus on
how theories are justified, they have little, if
anything, to say about how they are brought
 In fact, they tend to consider the context
of discovery to be irrelevant to rationality
and objectivity.
 What matters is how theories are
justified (context of justification).
Since contextual values can influence
theory generation, they can impact the
content of science.
 So, any scientific method that ignores
the context of discovery will be unable to
eliminate all potential bias from science.
It seems that we want to find a way to
address the bias that precedes scientific
 The alternative is to accept that bias will
not be eliminated from science and so
isn’t as objective as we might have
Okruhlik thinks we can address bias in
theory generation.
A proposed solution
Okruhlik: what we need is to ensure that a
variety of viewpoints are involved in theory
 Historically excluded groups need to
bring their social and political viewpoints
to the scientific enterprise.
We need to make sure that the scientific
community includes as wide a range of
perspectives as possible so that as many
theories as possible are proposed for
 This may, e.g., involve affirmative action
policies for women and minorities.
Not a traditional view
This position differs from feminist
 Current methodology can’t eliminate
bias (it ignores theory generation).
 The stance is non-individualistic: the
solution is to include many perspectives
in the community.
It differs from standpoint theory:
 There are no privileged perspectives
(we simply want as many as possible).
 Men could achieve this plurality of
viewpoints; it is just less likely to occur
than if we include women.
It differs from postmodernism:
 Okruhlik seeks to improve on scientific
objectivity, not reject the possibility.
Summing up
The scientific picture painted by positivists
(Ayer, Hempel) and Popperians (Popper,
Lakatos) suggest that the justification,
confirmation, corroboration, falsification, etc.
of theories is:
 Individualistic: any single person can be
scientifically rational
 Universal: there is one method for all.
Kuhnian and feminist critiques cast doubt on
this picture. They suggest we either reduce
or broaden our conception of scientific
rationality and objectivity.
Both Okruhlik’s and Longino’s views are
consistent with realism, the view that
scientific theories tell us how the world is in
itself. Kuhn’s views cast doubt on this.
 We shall address the realism/antirealism dispute next week.