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RS32 - Value-free Science?

Release date: April 10, 2011

We all think that science is about objectivity and “just the facts, ma’am.” Not so fast, philosophers, historians and sociologists of science have been arguing now for a number of decades.

To begin with, there are values embedded in the practice of science itself: testability, accuracy, generality, simplicity, and the like. Then there are the many moral dimensions of science practice, both in terms of ethical issues internal to science (fraud) and of the much broader ones affecting society at large (societal consequences of research and technological advances). Then there is the issue of diversity, where until very recently, and in many fields still today, science has largely been an affair conducted by white males. Finally, the issue of which scientific questions we should pursue and, often, fund with public money. And to complicate things further, should scientists consider the societal consequences of their research before deciding to publish?

Comment on the episode teaser.

Julia's pick:  "What Is History?"

Massimo's pick: Slate Magazine's What John Tierney Gets Wrong About Women Scientists

Reader Comments (5)

We can argue endlessly about the main idea sience should care, my approach is that humanitarian studies have a shade of unpredictable blackjack sense, you can't be sure all the time

September 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

Did I hear correctly? Toward the end, Julia brought up the question of intelligence differences between races, and both Julia and Massimo seemed to be taking for granted that race exists and is not merely a social construct. And yet many people believe that race is nothing but a social construct, and many college students are taught this in non-science classes. Hm.

And then, it seemed that Julia and Massimo were agreeing that because most people are not sufficiently educated to be able to make good epistemic sense out of research on intelligence differences between racial groups, it's good for scientists not to make too much of such research (unless of course if it shows that there are no such differences, or at least I infer that Julia and Massimo would say this). So it seems that the whole idea is akin to the idea in Plato's Republic that elites who've escaped from the cave into the light, have an obligation to sometimes tell the mob noble lies (which may be lies of omission, like simply not reporting on research that "the mob" might not be able to responsibly handle).

July 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEurydice

How can anyone in a podcast that is supposed to be pro-science say that because clinical trials are sponsored by pharmaceutical companies, they are more likely to show that a drug works?!? It is totally irrelevant who is paying - the question is whether the research design is appropriate. Anyone with scientific training can see whether it is by reading the final report. If it is, the study will normally be double-blind, making such bias impossible. Furthermore, most trials are monitored by clinical research associates who don't even work for the pharmaceutical company. The role of the clinical research associate is to ensure patient safety AND quality, unbiased data (i.e. to detect and report any suspected fraud). Normally, the investigators are paid by the company the CRA works for - not directly by the pharma company sponsoring the trial. Neither the CRA nor the investigators will earn any extra money or any other benefits if the study drug turns out to work better than the comparator. (And the data analysis is usually done either by a separate department of the CRA company or by a third company).

I agree also that the so-called debate over "Race Intelligence" makes absolutely no sense because of the variable differences within each 'race'. It's just not capable of being true because of its generalizing form. You would have to take in consideration the individuals Background to know more about ones Intelligence. Simply looking at race is complete nonsense since it shows a wide range of intelligence levels within Every race. So comparing the races would come up with different results Most of the time. You really got to give it up to Social Biases/Prejudices permeating all over this one.
October 24, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterErnesto
Since most research benefits from public funding, researchers should publish their results in an open Journal such as PLOS.

All facts have subjectivity since all facts get reported by humans, or by devices designed by humans.
February 1, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJameson

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