RES 500D 101: Navigating the divide between scientific practice and science studies

Instructor: Dr. Gunilla Oberg

Day/Time: Thursdays 9:00am – 12:00pm

Location: AERL 107

Enrollment: Graduate students that either conduct natural science studies or study scientific practices (or advanced undergraduates with instructor approval and completed G+PS form)



For science students, the aim of this course is to grapple with the role of value-judgements in science and how it is plays out in their own field of research

For humanities students studying the scientific enterprise, the aim is to grapple with the communication barrier between science studies and the scientific practice.

Through the use of historic and contemporary cases, students will work in mixed groups to jointly seek ways to navigate the divide between the two communities.

Background: It is well documented that scientists on opposite sides of a policy-relevant scientific controversy commonly perceive the other side as biased but see themselves as objective. More data and rigorous analysis rarely resolve such conflicts, yet the expectation is that it is possible to reach consensus. This expectation hinges on the idea that the scientific enterprise is free of values and that science is a deliverer of irrefutable facts. Numerous studies show, however, that value-judgements are not only unavoidable but also a necessary component of rigorous science, particularly in areas defined by uncertainty (known unknowns) and ignorance (unknown unknowns), which are common in complex fields such as health, environment, communication, safety and planning. Value-judgements are a necessary part of rigorous science in such fields because 100% certainty will never reign. Different scientists will need to decide how much evidence — and what type – that is needed to draw a conclusion, and an inductive leap must be made from evidence to conclusion. Consensus is therefore not always possible and probably not even desirable. Yet, little is known about how to sensibly navigate this terrain.

While science studies scholars have demonstrated beyond doubt that value-judgements are an integral part of science, most scientists define ‘good’ science as objective and value-free in part because few scientists are familiar with these findings and in part because of a wide-spread distrust among scientists about claims made by philosophers. Even so, philosophy of science education rarely includes questions related to communication obstacles between practitioners of the natural sciences and science studies scholars. In this course, students will grapple with this double challenge.