Differentiating scientific inquiry and politics – Heather Douglas
- Lectures and events
- Publication Date
- Heather Douglas
- Professor Jeremy Smith FRSE
- Dr Justyna Bandola-Gill
- Dr Julian Baggini
Over the past two decades, our view of the ideals for science in society has changed. Discussions of the roles for values in science and changes in the views on the responsibilities in science have shifted the understanding of science from ideally value-free to properly value-laden. This shift, however, seems to remove a key difference between science and politics, as now both science and politics are value-laden, and disputes in both can arise from value disagreements. If science is not value-free (nor should it be), what differentiates science from politics? This talk lays out norms for scientific inquiry that make it distinct in practice from politics. Even as we understand scientific inquiry as pursued within society, we pursue it in a distinctive space, guided by distinctive norms and practices. Although there are parallels between democratic political norms and norms for scientific inquiry (as Merton argued), there are crucial differences as well. Understanding and defending these differences help to protect science from abuses of power.
This lecture is delivered by Heather Douglas a philosopher of science who works on the relationships among science, values, and democratic publics. Response by Dr Justyna Bandola-Gill, University of Edinburgh, chaired by Dr Julian Baggini, Academic Director of The Royal Institute of Philosophy with a welcome by Professor Jeremy Smith FRSE.
Professor Jeremy Smith FRSE 0:00
Hello, everybody. I’d like to welcome you to this event on behalf of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and the Royal Institute of Philosophy. My name is Jeremy Smith, and I’m representing the Royal Society of Edinburgh. On this occasion, the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s motto is ‘knowledge made useful’, which we’re very keen to emphasise whenever we put on an event like this. And in a world where science and politics are so deeply intertwined, I can’t really think of a better topic and a more useful topic than tonight. So, without more ado, I’m going to turn round to the director, Academic Director of The Royal Institute of Philosophy, Dr Julian Baggini. And Julian is going to lead us into what promises to be a very exciting evening’s presentation. Julian, I hand over to you.
Dr Julian Baggini 1:07
Thank you very much, Jeremy. And thank you to the Royal Society of Edinburgh. We’ve had this partnership now for a good few years and we always get a good speaker and a good discussion. And when we’re in Edinburgh, we have good hospitality. We have good virtual hospitality today. This is our annual joint lecture. And this year’s lecture is on a very timely subject all around the world, we’re seeing government’s saying that they are following the science, at least they’re doing that in the UK, they say is as regards to the Covid pandemic. And a lot of people have said, well, what what does that mean? And are you really doing it? And there are these sort of questions in the air really about what it means to follow the science and whether or not governments can or should just follow the science. So there’s the background to this topic is is very, very topical, indeed. And our speaker is Heather Douglas. I’ve just heard a little bit about Heather. She is a philosopher of science, who works on the relationships among science values, and democratic publics. She’s Associate Professor in Department of Philosophy at Michigan State University, as well as being the senior visiting fellow at the Centre for Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh. She’s also a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. And her writings include her book science policy in the value free ideal, from 2009. And just this year, the rightful place of science, science, values and democracy. And after you’ve heard her this talk, we’re going to get a response from Dr Justyna Bandola-Gill, who I’ll introduce later, and then the format will be we’re gonna have a discussion and that’s going to be some discussion between us but we want your questions too, so please feed them in some people have already started commenting on the channels if you’re watching on YouTube, or Facebook, if you’d like to ask your questions, simply put your question into the chat box on that channel. Make sure it’s as clear and as concise as possible, make sure it fits within one comment box, not more than one. And so try make it as clear as possible and we’re trying to include as many as possible. But first we’re going to hear Heather’s talk, which got the title differentiating scientific inquiry, and politics.
Heather Douglas 3:23
Thank you to the Royal Society of Edinburgh for inviting me to give this talk. What I want to do today is try to give an account that differentiates scientific inquiry from politics in order to help understand how we should protect scientific inquiry from political interference better. This question gains particular potency, once we realise that it is time to fully reject the value free ideal for science, there has been a lot of work in the last 20, maybe some was even 30 years on the problems of the value for idea for science. As I note in the slide, there are at least two crucial places for values and science in the directing of the efforts of scientists, and framing of problems and in deciding what counts as sufficient evidence. The arguments presented in this body of work suggests that we really do need to reject the value free ideal for science, and think about what norms should govern science in society without the value free ideal. But this creates problems for thinking about the relationship between politics and science. Because for most democratic societies politics is the really fully value saturated realm. It is where values, value debates and disputes and ideological commitments backed by values take place. Often those debates are rancorous about what laws and policy choices we should have to govern are pluralist societies. So without the value free idea without suggesting that science and how ideally a space without values, what keeps science distinct from politics We can know from the history of science and politics that a complete merging a lack of any distinction between science and politics would be bad, especially for science. We can look at democratic contexts where this has been problematic, including President Richard Nixon and his disbanding of the presidential Science Advisory Council, over their unwillingness to say what he would like them to say, political pressure on climate scientists over the past two decades, including harassment of scientists by elected officials, the current pressures around the pandemic and science advice, much less going back to non democratic contexts like Galileo, the Pope, and Lysenko, and Stalin, and the problems that were raised in those situations. So how should we protect science from politics after we relinquish the value free ideal? What I’m going to do in this talk is articulate what I think are distinctive norms for the space of scientific inquiry that are distinct from norms in politics. I’m going to use the work of Robert Merton to help set the stage then draw a bit from social epistemology to enrich this, the views that I’m presenting, and then articulate a set of five norms that I think should structure the space of inquiry, and then draw conclusions about what we should think about those norms. So to begin, let’s start with Robert Merton and setting the stage. In 1942, Robert Merton published a paper on the ethos of science. In the darkest days of World War Two, when it wasn’t exactly clear that the Allies would win the conflict. He argued that there were four crucial norms institutional norms for science, that structure the practice of science, and that these norms fit better with Democratic contexts than with fascist contexts. And so science was going to give the Allies an edge in the conflict. The first norm, universalism shouldn’t matter who does the science. This was particularly poignant in this context, when fascist, Nazi Germany were accusing people like Einstein of doing Jewish physics and not doing real physics. Martin argue that it didn’t matter who did the science, what mattered was the quality of work, and that we should keep science open to all who can do it. The second communism, or as he later called it communalism, there should be no private ownership in science, just recognition and esteem for the work. Because there was a moral compulsive for sharing the wealth of science.
disinterestedness was not about each individual scientists disinterestedness in their own work, which was sort of implausible, but that scientists were going to expect a public accountability to their peers. And that rigorous policing by other scientists through criticism was going to be expected practice in science and organise scepticism that there would be ongoing scrutiny and nothing held above scrutiny in science, which led to a strong non dogmatism in science. Now, when Merton looked at these four ethos, he said, universalism fits well democratic societies, because in fact, democratic societies are genuinely more open and try to evaluate ideas on their merits, and not just who says them. But this was a poor fit with fascist states who in fact, were exemplary for their poor handling of things like labelling Einstein’s physics as Jewish physics. communalism was going to be challenging for both capitalist democracies and capitalist fascist states because of capitalism being intention with the kind of communism or communalism. disinterestedness, again fit well democratic societies because those were far more robust of cultures of criticism. And were poor fits with fascist states, and organised scepticism, again, fit with democratic societies because of the openness and unwillingness to hold anything above the fray for political debate in democratic societies, whereas fascist States held on to ideological commitments that should never be questioned. And so the prediction was three of the ethos of science that will democratic societies one fit with neither the access nor the Allies power. So democracies were going to actually win over fascist states because of the aid of science, amazingly, Merton was actually right. Because the scientific advancements like the proximity fuse, antibiotics, DDT to fight typhus, much less atomic weapons ending World War Two, science really did provide strategic edge for the allies in World War Two. And a lot of that was because the allies were more welcoming to science. But Merton’s norms for science were more showing about the parallels between science and political spaces, and weren’t fine grained enough to really also show the differences even within those rough parallels. And so if we turn to social epistemology, which is a branch of philosophy of science, that shifted from a focus on individual reasoning practices, to what were the community practices that really enabled knowledge production, we could see more detail in those norms that are important for the space of inquiry. And key to this work has been the work of Helen Longino know who argued that there needs to be norms for epistemic communities for knowledge producing communities, and the norms that she entire articulated in her two books in 1990 and 2002, were these four norms, that there needs to be recognised venues for criticism, there needs to be uptake of and response to criticism that has raised, there needs to be public standards for evaluation and discourse of the criticisms and responses. And there needed to be temporary quality of intellectual authority, such that those who are participating within the community are viewed as rough equals in the give and take of the discussion of the community. Now, these norms focused on the internal functioning of knowledge producing communities, Helen’s work didn’t talk much about how the borders around such communities should be managed, or how to understand the functioning of those communities within a broader societal context. And that’s what we need to focus on here. Further, once we take a look at some of the norms for the space of inquiry, we’re going to maybe see that some of these norms are not quite as onpoint as they initially appeared. So let’s turn now to the space of inquiry. What I’m going to argue is that there are five norms that are crucial for the space of inquiry, and go through each of these. And one of the things I’m going to focus on is how the norms make the space of inquiry distinctive from broader political, particularly democratic political cultures and contexts. So let’s start with norms of criticism or response. Both Merton and Longino emphasise the importance of these kinds of norms, Merton his discussion since disinterestedness Longino in her first two norms, included in those norms should also be a value of criticism and response that criticism is seen as a sign of respect that one is willing to engage with and properly critique work is a sign of respect for that work.
The obligation to response doesn’t have to rest with each person who is particularly criticised. Think of a place way too much of a burden on the most prominent members of our intellectual communities, but they’re often distributed. So there might be a responses to criticism raised by other people who also hold similar views, or just think the criticism is off point in a particular way, even if they fundamentally disagree with you. Responses can range from a reasoned rejection of a critique. This is why the criticism is off base or doesn’t quite have the strength that critiquer actually thought it did. Two shifts in views, small shifts and views to wholesale changes in views. But one of the things that is crucial for the space of inquiry is that the raising of criticism and responding to criticism are both signs of legitimation, of being inquires within the space of inquiry fully, to fail to respond. Having no response whatsoever, and knowing that no one else was responding to a criticism that has been raised in a way that is visible and public, and known in those prominent venues of criticism is to cease being a legitimate participant in the space of inquiry. And this is really different than it is in politics, politics, that we don’t demand that politicians respond to criticism. In fact, we really kind of don’t expect it most of the time. And that’s partly because the criticisms raised in the sphere of politics are not really for the person being criticised. They’re more for the audience watching. This is very different than the space of inquiry, where the criticism is for first and foremost, foremost, those who hold the view being criticised. It is for those critiqued. And that creates a very different culture within the space of politics versus the space of inquiry, even inquiry that takes place within democratic politics. Further, we can see the relationship between the norms when we look at the norms of fostering diversity So, Merton said that, you know, we should have the doors open to science and evaluate scientific work on its merits, not on who did it. But now in our 21st century context, it’s become clear that we need to move to a more active fostering diversity. And that’s because of the underlying inequities and access to opportunity that we know exists in the world, which needs to be ameliorated in active recruitment of members of diverse communities into STEM fields. But some have argued that maybe we don’t want to just have all kinds of diversity, that there might be those with really strong ideological commitments. So neo Nazi sort of views or racist views or misogynist views, that, you know, really, we don’t really want to include that into the space of inquiry, because of the hostility that creates to recruiting other members. But one of the things is that the first norm actually bounds the kind of diversity we want. Because if you’re unable to respond to criticism, because of deeply held ideological commitments, then you’ve kicked yourself out of the space of inquiry. So the ideologically rigid, get weeded out of the space of inquiry. And legitimately so. This makes more suspect, I think, Longino’s requirement of shared standards, beyond the norms I’m articulating here. Because although shared standards might make debate within knowledge community more efficient,
not adhering to local particular standards on what counts as good methodology, or what counts as appropriate questions, should not in itself be a reason to exclude people from the space of inquiry, very often, those with more diverse views come in with quite helpful and pointed criticisms about how we’re doing inquiry. And a good response to their critiques of standard practices shouldn’t be, oh, well, we’ve always always been doing it that way. Instead, better reasons need to be given to defend standard practices. And we might need to shift those standard practices in the face of responses, and critiques. But those who critique standard practices, if they’re given reasoned responses need then to have uptake themselves to those responses within the space of inquiry. This, again, is very different than the space of politics where exclusionary spaces where we say this space is solely for a particular, say oppressed minority to feel safe, is perfectly acceptable. There is the Black Caucus in Congress. And you know, we don’t get to complain about that their doors are not open. So in politics, sometimes exclusionary spaces are quite legitimate, where they wouldn’t be in the space of inquiry, except for those who can’t respond to criticism. Now, there’s also the open endedness of debate. In the space of inquiry, there’s no fixed procedures for closing debate. Debates continue until participants are done with debate. And this can be exhausting for those of us in it. But it’s really important that we don’t have any kind of other sort of artificially imposed closure procedures, debates Council be reopened at any time for empirical, methodological or conceptual reasons. And this is a central component of the non dogmatism that Merton emphasised. This is still bound by norms of criticism and response. So just because you’re a maverick, you know, critiquing something that everyone thought was closed, doesn’t mean you don’t have to respond to criticisms or reasons why your critiques actually are not legitimate. If you want to stay in the space of inquiry, you have to engage with those criticism responses. And this is again, really different from politics, because we have clear procedures for ending debate, such as voting and all the procedures coming up to voting. And we need to have those procedures for ending debate in order to make collective governance decisions within pluralist societies. And there’s finally are actually not finally fourthly, the norm of openness of restraints. Because there are limits imposed in inquiry, the space of inquiry is not a total freedom, do whatever you want. There are forbidden topics like research on bio weapons, and forbidden methods like coercing human subjects into studies that we have set inside the space of inquiry. It’s crucial, though, that these limits be publicly and openly known. The openness is critical for both effectiveness and legitimacy. Ideally, the limits would be accepted both by scientists and the broader society, but they can be imposed as they were in the early 1970s. When the broader society said, you know, scientists, you’re actually abusing human subjects, and we’re now going to impose political restrictions on how you use human subjects. This, again is different with politics because very often there are hidden constraints, backroom agreements that are acceptable, even helpful for smoothing out disagreements. And tacit constraints can be often crucial to alliances. And finally, there are norms of Credit Allocation in sharing knowledge in order to get credit for it. This is, of course, crucial for scientific inquiry, no one owns an idea. But interesting enough, I think this is actually really similar to political ideas and efforts where someone doesn’t get to say they own a particular political view or even a policy solution. If they’re lucky, their name might end up in a bill, but they don’t get to own it. And I think Merton missed a crucial parallel here. There are problems though, with patents and science, a topic for another discussion. And I think there are still differences, though, with politics, because in space of inquiry, you still have much stricter concerns about say plagiarism. I use someone else’s words in a political space, I don’t actually have to cite them. But in an academic space, I certainly do. And citation norms are quite different in the space of inquiry.
Okay, in conclusion. I think with these norms, and having them clearly articulated, it is easier to understand and defend the norms of the space of inquiry, and thus to help protect science from improper political interference. If we, for example, foster diversity, while at the same time recognising that those recruited into the space still have to meet the expectations of generating and responding to criticism, if we understand that debates in inquiry or are going to be open ended and properly. So if we know that constraints within inquiry have to be open and public, and known by all and if we focus on credit and not ownership in the space of inquiry, the space of inquiry is going to be distinctive from democratic political spaces. This does not mean this space of inquiry is a safe space for ideas. In fact, with the space of inquiry it’s precisely not a safe space for ideas. There is no place in the space of inquiry, to loyalty to particular ideas or upholding of dogmas. Everything is on the table for critique and debate, even if most of it is not actually actively critiquing and debated most of the time. If you have someone who comes into the space of inquiry, and appears to be a proper inquire, but they end up on a repeating loop, saying the same criticisms over and over and showing no uptake, or response to criticism, but we have there is an inquirer facade, a fake inquirer. And that can be someone who gets can be ignored within the space of inquiry. It is a public service for those who are engaged in the space of inquiry, to point out that that’s what’s happening. But it doesn’t actually move the space of inquiry forward. And we should recognise that. Further, the articulation of the space of inquiry presented here makes it also clear what the space of inquiry is not. The distinctive norms that I have articulated don’t entail that scientific inquiry is value free, or free from societal responsibility, or a purely epistemic or only focused on truth sort of issue. There are still societal responsibilities and social ethical values, they’re important for the practice of science, nor that is independent from society. Yet the norms within the space of inquiry are not the same as the norms of debate and the broader democratic society. And understanding this will help us protect the value of science. Thanks to Michigan State University socially engaged philosophy science group and the centre of philosophy of science where I am a senior visiting fellow this year for supporting this work.
Dr Julian Baggini 24:08
Thank you very much, indeed have plenty to talk about that. I think the discussion will perhaps try and see if and how these ideas relate to some of the issues happening around us at the moment. I hope this is a good example of the space of inquiry. And certainly, part of that is to have criticism and response as a means of showing respect to our speaker to provide the legitimation of the talk. Some of that can come from you. I’ve already got some questions coming in. So please do keep those coming in just a reminder, just put your question into the chat box, make it fit one chat box and not overflow, and try and before you press send, just ask yourself, Is this something that is going to be readily understood by the reader at the other end? But before that, again, in the spirit of criticism and response, we’re going to have a brief response from Dr Justyna Bandola-Gill, who’s a research fellow at the University of Edinburgh, interdisciplinary researcher working at intersection of science and technology studies and public policy, working in areas such as poverty and inequality, global social policy and evidence based policymaking, and she’s currently a postdoc doctoral researcher at the metro project where her research explores the production and governance of poverty indicators by international organisations so let’s have that response from Justyna.
Dr Justyna Bandola-Gill 25:34
Okay, thank you to the Royal Society of Edinburgh for inviting me to respond to Heather’s talk and even more importantly, thank you to Heather for such an inspiring presentation in such a thoughtful account of the relationship between science and politics. From the outset, I have an admission to make I’m not a philosopher, but I’m a sociologist and even though my main field of research very much like Heather’s is one of the science politics interactions, I necessarily approach it from a slightly different perspective of practices, cultures and institutions. Nevertheless, over the years, I have always found Heather’s work to be incredibly useful. I’m always impressed at how easily her ideas travel across different disciplinary boundaries, and inspired the work of different scholars in sociology, but also STS (Science and Technology Studies), politics and management. So many ways to say that the central question of Heather’s talk what differentiates scientific inquiry from politics is one that I find important but also timely and worthwhile. I take on board Heather’s key point that the value free ideal science is not only a myth, but also a myth that threatened scientific inquiry and perhaps, remarkably, makes it susceptible to the influence of politics. We have seen this very problem in the UK over the last two years. The government’s declarations of following the science were in reality an invitation to imbue decisions with political calculation at once relying on the legitimating power of the value free ideal. So in this short response, I will focus on two issues. Firstly, I would like to offer a brief reflection on how sociologists and STS scholars would respond to this exact question that Heather put so eloquently in her talk. And secondly, I would like to offer some questions of the five norms of Heather discussed in her talk and reflection on what can we learn from this across the two different different disciplines that we represent. So let’s start with the first point one pertaining this sociological accounts of the spheres of science and politics. And indeed, the central question of Heather’s talk is also one of key importance to the sociological literature on the science policy interfaces. The STS literature has been exploring this question of what differentiates science politics for at least the last three decades. And and indeed, this notion of separation of these two spheres is not an easy one. After all, arguably, one of the most successful ideas produced by this body of scholarship is one of co-production. This trend of work see science and politics as mutually constitutive phenomena, ones that are not separated, but rather are constantly interacting with each other. With Sheila Jackson, of course, that idiom of co-production assumes that science is inseparable from politics, as they both draw on the same cultural, ethical and institutional canons. So that does mean that science and politics are the same, no, not at all. And I believe this is the key and I would say often misunderstood assumption about co-production. Co-production is always accompanied with boundary work, work towards separating science and politics and shaping the relationship between the two. So boundary work entails the demarcation of science, which is seen as representations of claims of objective truth from policy which is characterised by interest in politics. So the boundary between science and politics, often, even if it’s merely constructing the rhetorical, rather than actual division between these two spheres, may play different roles. On the most pragmatic level, such a division could help to divide labour between science and policy, and to assign responsibilities for different elements of the science into policy processes. On the more conceptual level, such divisions play a role in differentiating between the technical and the political, and therefore acting as lines of demarcation between knowledge and politics, facts and values, objectivity and interests. Therefore, seemingly, this scholarship on science policy interactions from sociological standpoint seems to point out that the science and politics have to be demarcated not only because they’re different, but perhaps More importantly, because they are in fact intertwined. And the notions of co-production and boundary work come hand in hand. So such demarcation is an important political resource to scientists as they can shape their claims to legitimacy as being either external advisors who are speaking truth to power, or informed insiders, understanding the machinations of politics and advising from the inside.
Therefore, sociologists and I count myself in this group are interested in the in between worlds, between science and policy, and the hybridity of practices and values. And this is where I believe Heather’s ideas can actually help us understand the value of separation of science and politics. The insight that I find especially valuable is that science and politics could be seen as different spaces, even if we reject the value of the ideal. So this position challenges to degree the assumption that such separation of science and politics is used predominantly as a resource to build the authority of science, and is a mere political activity on the part of scientists. So exploring the norms that govern science once we reject the value free idea is not only novel in this context, but also important for our understanding of the contemporary socio political reality, and the ways in which separations of these two spheres might be theorised. So I think focusing on norms, rather than more ingrained practices of science advice, offers an important insight into the epistemic spaces of science and policy, as well as the ideas of the hybridity of scientific advice as a practice located in between these spheres. And I think current political situation actually illustrates this tension quite nicely. So we have seen from the beginning of the pandemic, in the UK but I think also in other countries, that the common assumption about science advice became challenged right in front of our eyes. The practice of brokering, so mixing scientific and policy knowledge is commonly perceived to be the key to success of advisors. And it quickly became, during the pandemic, a venue for actual politicisation of science and lead to self censoring of options that did not seem to be possible for policymakers. Perhaps, somewhat surprisingly, this was followed up by almost a retrenchment to more traditional values of science, and even dangerously a return to the myth of the value free ideal on the part of the scientists. So this is where unpacking of norms guiding the scientific and political spheres might be especially helpful, as it offers scientists a way out of the politicisation without necessarily turning to scientism, and by value free ideal. So Heather identified five such norms, Norm, norms of criticism and response norms of fostering diversity, norms of open endedness of the debate in terms of openness of restraint and finally, norms of credit allocation. And I will conclude this short response video by asking two questions about these norms, the question of relationality and the question of indivisibility of these norms. So, let’s first focus on the idea of relationality between the norms are these norms hierarchical or flat? In Heather’s talk, she pointed to criticism and response twice as the norm that explains limits or bounds other norms. It seems that the focus on critique is a unique epistemic virtue almost of science is significant. It appears that critique is almost a baseline norm and namely other norms to be productive. Can there be science without critique? In other words, are these norms related to one another? And how do they structure these epistemic practices in the science space? So, are they operating as a system or are they operating as a set of separate guidelines, which leads to the second question of the indivisibility of the norms. Here in particular, I would like to focus on the norm of open endedness. And I agree that there is no clear pathway to end academic debates. However, we can identify, at least in some areas of scientific inquiry, a formulation of consensus that might end it is some scientific controversies.
And this is where the interesting part lies, as the notion of consensus is very interesting in the context of the science politics relationship, focusing on clear messaging, and communicating the consensus is uniformly seen as a good ineffective strategy of science advice. Whereas communicating too much uncertainty or too much ambiguity is seen as challenging at best, and a bad bad practice at worst. So this is interesting in the context of Heather’s talk, as it indicates that in these spaces, which lie in between of spheres of science and policy, actually following the politics norm, might be seen as more desirable than following the science norm. So how invisible are these norms? Can they be mixed? And what happens if they become mixed in a space? Are we then still talking about the space is science or something completely different? And with these questions, I would like to conclude this short response. I’m looking forward to this discussion as the debate over the post value free ideal of science and politics is one of the important questions of the contemporary global challenges. And thank you to Heather for putting these ideas forward and initiating this discussion. Thank you.
Dr Julian Baggini 36:09
Thanks very much, Justyna, we got lots to talk about. We’ve got plenty of time to do it. But maybe, given how much was talking about maybe not enough, we’ll see what we can do. There’ll be a certain open endedness, I’m sure. To our discussion today. Heather if I just go back to you. Perhaps we just start then just with those two very clear questions. I think there’s several things we might pick up from Justyna as comments. But let’s go to those two concluding questions, first of all, so what is the relation between these normals, whether they’re hierarchical or flat, where the critique is baseline, normal? Or, or, or so forth? Could you say a little bit about that?
Heather Douglas 36:49
That is a great question. And that’s partly because it’s something that I changed my mind about when I was writing the talk. Initially, I was like, Oh, those first two norms, they’re clearly related diversity is, you know, clearly partly about fostering critique and proper critique and response. And, and so those are really the key ones. But then I was like, but we can’t have debate get closed down early, because then that forestalls critique and debate, and also might exclude important epistemic diversity in the science. So it’s like, Well, okay, it looks like you know, we have to have the first three, and then the constraint issue come in. And so those are legitimate boundaries around what sort of people pursue within and how they pursue within the space of inquiry. And I didn’t want to say like that was somehow secondary. Okay, so you can see that what’s going on here is, is probably I’m saying, I’m not so sure. I don’t think they’re hierarchical. I think more that they they work together as a system, I think that might be the way to think about, and the fact that I had to present them in an order just because I had presented when in order to because the talk is linear. Right? I think drawing of it would be more like a network. So I think he was absolutely right to pick up on that on that point. And then how indivisible they are, is something I want to explore with everyone here today. It seems to me like there’s something important about each of them, you can’t sort of like throw out one of the five without sort of losing something really important, especially if they’re all sort of fitting together. But I wasn’t quite sure if just Neil was thinking about the way in which there might be boundary areas like science advice, where in fact, you need to have a very careful mixing of norms you think about like the IPCC, and the way in which it is simultaneously a scientific and political body. Because each nation, you know, has veto power over the final text of the summary documents. This is clearly a political process. Do we then thinking about like how the norms might work? Given us the norms of inquiry are going to be different than norms of debate in politics, how we might think about the way in which they might work together, we might actually soften some of the norms, or change some of the practices for border areas. Is that what you were thinking about Justyna?
Dr Justyna Bandola-Gill 39:30
Yeah, no, that’s exactly what I was thinking about that. That it seemed like there may be spaces in which actually, you know, following four norms of science than the one of the political one might be the situation there. And yeah, how does it impact on the kind of norms governing this space? Like, does it mean something different than this just science is a space or or, and or does the space get compromised, for example, if we follow some norms, not the others, because I think the pandemic is released. Interesting situation here. Because I think in the beginning, this kind of norm of criticism was I think was a little bit compromised, maybe not compromised, but soften in the space. And I don’t think that made it for a good science advice. Whereas I think maybe open this would be a norm that could be challenged a little bit in this kind of hybrid spaces.
Heather Douglas 40:20
Yeah, very much for me when, when? Sorry, Julian
Dr Julian Baggini 40:25
So I just want to say, I don’t know, it’s possible, actually, just to get this slide with those norms back up on the screen, just to remind people of them. But that’s just if that’s possible, someone will magically do it soon. But in the meantime, Heather please do continue.
Heather Douglas 40:37
Yeah. So I mean, there’s a certain when you have a crisis moment, and you have an advisory system is yeah, there have to be mechanisms of closure. So if I think about it, think about take the case of the volcano that erupted, I think of an icelandic volcano, four or five years ago, people are trying to figure out like, is it safe to fly across the Atlantic? Given the volcanic particles, you can’t be like, well, let’s have an open ended long term debate. You need to know whether it’s safe to put the planes in the sky. So there are some times pressures that are going to be imposed. I’m sure the scientists who had to answer that question, hated it. Hated having to have a time deadline. But the exigencies, but the context of having to have to make a decision is sometimes it gets imposed on by the outside society. And then you might need to have mechanisms like voting, which sometimes science advisory bodies do, or an expression of a minority opinion because consensus couldn’t be reached. And that’s a really valuable and important thing to flag in an advising document. Probably not. So when you have to say whether or not there are planes that you should fly, you really would prefer closure there. And I think that is a perfect example of an imposition of needing to have a political norm sort of imposed on what would otherwise be a space of inquiry process. So this might be sort of like more detail about like how boundary work actually functions, as opposed to just like rhetorical stuff, like there’s real normative bite to these kinds of tensions. And we shouldn’t gloss over that. But it might very well be the case that normals from the political sphere sort of have to be brought into spaces of inquiry in particular contexts. And then that turns that into kind of a boundary space. What do you think?
Dr Julian Baggini 42:45
Justyna, what do you think?
Dr Justyna Bandola-Gill 42:47
No, I think I think that’s that’s exactly right. Because, yeah, I was always quite critical of the boundary work as rhetorical practice on its own. So I do think that it is more than that. And there’s definitely this kind of normative element to it. Yes, but does it mean that these boundary structures are just guided by differences of norms from different spheres? Or do they just develop norms on their own? So I think that’s, that’s where I’m not sure whether empirically, there might be kind of like it’s temporary set of norms that would govern these spaces. I don’t know what what do you think Heather?
Heather Douglas 43:31
There aren’t the problem is there are so many different boundary organisations and so many, it would be sort of I mean, I’m would be very unhappy as a philosopher to say like, each one has its own norm and they are all fine. No, no, no, we have to do something a little bit more careful in thinking about what should the norms be. It might be the case that in some cases, certain binary organisations might actually be governed by inapt norms. The way in which they’re trying to find a hybrid space between politics and science ends up doing something like it doesn’t quite work for inquiry or doesn’t quite work for the political sphere. And then we have to be able to say that’s inapt. How these things get put together? I don’t know. So for example, it seems like it would be an inapt norm to say, okay, for science advice, committees, who are crafting science, advising documents, they have ownership over the ideas. What, like that would be a terrible idea. Just you know, or, and we see sort of worries about this when you have commercialization of science that attempts to assert ownership over ideas. Wait a second. and like, there’s often pushback against that, and rightly so, because of the way in which that harms inquiry. So I don’t want to just sort of like, let 1000 flowers bloom for norms of the boundary. But maybe there’s a really useful mode of inquiry that we could partake as sort of jointly of sociology and philosophy, you’re like, okay, well, what are the norms that we’re discovering? And are they actually good norms? Or should these structures actually be more carefully crafted to serve the functions that they need to?
Dr Julian Baggini 45:36
Push on this a little bit, but we’ve got quite a good queue of questions to come from the audience. I do want to come to those in time. But a bit of clarification here. And I guess, because I guess, just to sum up rather crudely some of the some of the things that we’ve mentioned in the discussion. So we have these norms, but it’s kind of accepted that in practice, these norms often are kind of have to be blended or compromised in some way. And we think about pandemic response, we think about climate change. And actually, before we know it, we’ve got quite a lot of examples. So, you know, maybe it’s actually the case that, that you hardly ever have a pure space of scientific inquiry. That’s, it’s always at least, you know, a little bit politicised in our society. So I’m wondering, you know, what’s the sort of function of making the clear distinction? Is it to? I mean, are we actually Okay, so, to what extent are you actually describing two realms? Which a lot of the time can just follow these normal separately? or to what extent are you describing sort of two sets of ideals, which are useful to refer to precisely because we need to know what it is we’re making the compromises on, when we’re constantly making compromises. Third option, maybe I’ve given you a wrong either, or?
Heather Douglas 46:54
Yeah, so the I should tell you a little bit about where the talk came out of, I don’t think there are two realms, like here’s politics, and here’s science and, you know, science is like outside of politics, or sciences is somehow outside of society. Those I think, are all, like, just metaphysically false. So science takes place is pursued within society. It’s a part of society, so and the broader political discussion happens around it. So that’s at least the sort of the picture I have in my head. And so the question I sort of was starting with was, okay, well, what makes the practice of scientific inquiry distinct from the broader society in which it operates? My own work has been sort of spending 20 years saying it’s not because it’s value free. That is not the right answer. So then, what is the right answer? How is it distinctive? How and what is it that we want to protect when we say something is so I also want to distinguish between being political because there might be genuine political issues, you know, like the allocation of science funding is a political issue when it’s the public purse. That’s, that’s a properly political issue, or laws about restrictions on methodologies using humans, properly political. But we don’t want politicised science. We don’t want science and how abused by politics to be sort of wielded as a weapon, you know, that we say like I have truth, I’m going to beat you up with it. You can’t defend yourself because I have this field of science. This is a catastrophe for public debate, and not so great for science. So what is distinctive that needs to be protected? That’s sort of where this talk started from. So I don’t just think it’s an ideal. But something a little stronger than that. What kind of structure or core boundaries around which inquiry takes place that makes it distinctive, and means it or assisted with producing the valuable insights we get from inquiry. So that’s the question that I’m trying to get at without sort of drawing back on oh, inquiries objective, or purely epistemic, it only cares about the truth. Can’t be those. What is it?
Dr Julian Baggini 49:32
Yeah. Yeah. Let’s bring in an audience question now from Dylan. We’ve got one here. Who asked Does the open endedness of inquiry necessarily that because this is really about when these two realms intersect closely, does an open endedness inquiry necessarily limit the ability of people to act upon scientific knowledge? Without enforced consensus? It seems like scientists can’t act together. So I mean, you did sort of allude to this, I think, you know, the these issues around that the the tension between open endedness and the need to act politically? How do scientists actually then negotiate this when they’re when they’re kind of put into a position where their knowledge is has some urgency perhaps?
Heather Douglas 50:21
Do you want Justyna. I’ve been talking for a while? Do you want to take this? I mean, I have things to say. I always have things to say.
Dr Justyna Bandola-Gill 50:29
Go ahead, you can start and I can add.
Heather Douglas 50:33
So I, I actually think, you know, except in cases where you have literally a crisis, and you have to decide, like, right now what to do, you know, do we close the board or not? Do we get around the plans or not? Do we, you know, what do we do right now? I think enforced consensus is generally a mistake. Because the thing you want to rely upon is not consensus to court, you want to rely upon a properly formed consensus, properly formed following debate and critique and uptake among a properly diverse set of inquires. Okay, so if that’s what you want, what do you do if you don’t have consensus as a member of the public, and I have argued, in a talk I gave last spring, that actually, if you have consensus, great, and its properties probably informed, because that means that regardless of the sort of value commitments that you have, there’s probably an expert classified commitments who subscribed to the consensus, fantastic. If you don’t have a consensus, you want to find the experts who share values, relevant values with you, who are genuine participants in space. So both conditions have to hold. You don’t want to do the fake experts who are not genuinely participants in an inquiry. But you also would be best to trust and rely upon experts who share your values and making judgments about how much evidence will be sufficient what’s at stake, which could be inside or potentially relevant to the inquiry and what might be peripheral. Those are the experts who are going to be most trustworthy for you, and that you should trust the most. So as members of the public, we don’t have to have just a consensus from experts in order to act. What we need is experts who are participating genuinely in the practice of inquiry, who share our values, those the experts we can trust and act upon in the face of dissensus among scientists.
Dr Julian Baggini 52:34
Before I go to Justyna on this one. Could you perhaps give a practical example of what it means to sort of share the same values or the relevant values? I mean, you know, maybe a pandemic or global warming example, because they’re the most topical ones. Do you have an example in mind? Or is that putting you on the spot too much? Oh, for me, or Justina? Yeah. No, for you for you before we go to Justyna as response. Yeah. Okay.
Heather Douglas 53:00
Yeah. So for climate change at this point in time, I don’t think there any climate scientists within the space of of inquiry who disagree. So trust the scientists is, you know, the consensus it’s great. There’s a consensus there. For it, let’s go back to the pandemic, let’s say, you know, March, when we weren’t sure about masks, right. And this March, like not this past March, but March 2020, way, way, way, when we, it was just, it wasn’t even clear what was going to happen. So there might be experts saying, okay, um, I don’t know whether masks work, they’ve only been sort of marginally effective in the context I know about. And it might be better, you know, if I’m worried about protecting public health, to sort of ask that you stay home or wear masks to be on the safe side. And someone else might say, Oh, look, you know, I’m really worried about sort of shutting down the economy prematurely. And the evidence isn’t really clear yet. And so I think, actually, you know, go ahead and go out in public and go to the bar and go to the pub, and drink. And so, you know, depending upon your risk level, your personal, you know, when you don’t know, you might go with one expert or another, depending on you know, which one sort of fits your concerns once the evidence gets clear. And once the, the the inquires within the space of inquiry, go, Okay, wait a second. We have like fantastic evidence that the masks are really effective. And by the way, we also have really fantastic evidence of the vaccines work. Like you can just look at the US and just see the vaccine versus unvaccinated counties and the differential death rates, like three times higher in the US. Then like, it’s just really clear. But before things have settled, go with the expert who at least shares your concerns, just like you would go with to with a doctor, you want to doctors, giving you advice, who shares and understands what you want out of your health, you know, for health, what matters to you, whether it’s continuing to exercise or living a super long life without any replacement.
Dr Julian Baggini 55:25
That’s, that’s really interesting. I guess, there must be quite a lot of examples like that. And just the game, for example, around issues around sustainable agriculture and so forth, where there’s where it’s perhaps not clear what the answer is, people will have their there’ll be qualifications to their view, for example, like, you know, if you’re, if you’re if you want to precautionary principle with regards to this then…., you know, actually, the objective risk level doesn’t seem that high, and it’d be good to increase yield or something. So you can sort of get these, these value differences come through don’t know,. Justyna, have you got anything to respond on, on that topic.
Dr Justyna Bandola-Gill 56:02
Yeah. So I think I agree with Heather that you don’t want to force consensus. And also, I think, thinking about what differentiates the norms that guide science versus guide politics actually might be useful here in thinking about what is the value of science here? And because I completely agree that if there’s a tornado or hurricane, we want the specific decisions right now, right. But I think it would be a big misunderstanding to see it. Looking at policy problems, at problems of really short temporalities. Like there are some that are immediate. But I think we should not forget about problems that are actually prolonged and happen over a long period of time. And I think, looking at science as only usable and define usability of science only in the short term context, may actually strip it away from its long term value. So I think there is a value in keeping things complex in having an ongoing discussion in that narrowing down the debate too early. Because that’s where the value of science is because I think one of the value of science is that it self corrects. Right? So I think this is the examples of masks Heather just discussed that. At one point, we don’t know yet. But consensus might build over time and science will self correct, at least in some areas. And I think this is a value that might be threatened if we just focus on this short term usability, for immediate policy decisions. So I actually think that considering usability of science in these more complex way of what actually science offers, that other spaces of inquiry don’t, might be way out of it and thinking about actually appreciating lack of consensus and appreciating complexity over a longer period of time, or in areas that actually are not solvable.
Dr Julian Baggini 57:55
Thanks so much. Another question from the audience. Arby, I won’t try to pronounce a surname because I’m going to mangle it. And this relates to the broader issue perhaps of you know, I think a lot of people are going to find these norms of inquiry. Very sound good and but they’re going to wonder, can we are they really practised? Can we really follow them? And I think Arby question points to one concern people have, what are the forces shaping the space of inquiry, eg those who fund scientific endeavour like billionaires, there is there are serious concerns that actually a lot of philanthropy, for example, is actually distorting the priorities of the scientific community. And obviously, in pharmaceuticals, there’s a very, very long battle about this, that all the research is going into the kind of treatments that can be readily monetized and speak to the needs of wealthy ageing Americans rather than the needs of the Global South, for example. So how to safeguard the integrity of this space for inquiry in the presence of rich, powerful folks with agendas. Again, perhaps take Heather first and see if Justine is saying something to.
Heather Douglas 59:03
This is a great question Arby, and one that I am currently working on how to think about responsible funding mechanisms. Clearly, this is, you know, in the last 20 years, commercial funding has outstripped public funding for research and development in all OECD countries. So globally, there’s more commercial funding for science than public funding for science. And this does potentially and has been shown in particular areas to deeply distort research agendas, towards particular commercial funding towards patentable results. This is a deep problem. And you know, it might actually be potentially marinated by undoing patent laws or softening patent laws, which some of my colleagues work on. And we might also think about, sort of incentivising public funding for public interest science. Science that attempts to uncover or develop or ameliorate justice concerns. So their particular targeted research agendas, we don’t do much of that now. Most public funding of science is either sort of mission oriented, like defence spending for particular problems, or they tend to be sort of considered basic science, just like whatever the scientists are interested in. And that seems to be deeply problematic, because we aren’t sort of enabling pursuit of public interest. What is sort of interesting about philanthropy, is it actually, at least, you know, 10 years ago was, was last time I looked, I have to say, hugely influential in funding, you know, neglected disease research, because public funding wasn’t there. So by creating prizes, so there have been cases where philanthropic funding is actually been really quite beneficial. Whether or not we would rather take that over with the public purse is a hugely thorny issue. Justyna, do you have anything helpful to say here?
Dr Justyna Bandola-Gill 1:01:14
Yeah, I don’t know helpful what I’m about to say. But I think this is spot on in the sense that the issue is that this kind of emptying of public spaces has been filled out by commercial and philanthropy, research funders. And even though it is a problem in places like the UK or the US, I think if we look globally, it’s even bigger of an issue that developing countries often see just external support as kind of the main funding mechanisms of science. And of course, on the one hand, it does have positive effects that you know, you have research institutes that are funded by philanthropies. On the other hand, there’s this whole kind of epistemic system of, you know, what kind of data has been collected, what kinds of disciplines gets support is the one and that doesn’t have a democratic control or democratic input at all, which I find quite troubling because public funding of science, even though it doesn’t come without its issues, at least it does have a level of democratic input into what we’re finding as a society and how, and what do we value? And how do we assign this value? Whereas I think this is the area which is kind of uncontrolled by the Democratic inputs. Which I would like to think more of I don’t have a clear answer of how to do it. But I think that definitely, this is a risk to spaces of inquiry, because then they’re definitely becoming limited. So this idea of diversity is, I think it’s being challenged here. By this these forms of research funding.
Dr Julian Baggini 1:02:59
I mean, just a bit of, perhaps of clarification actually Heather, because a lot of the norms of the space of inquiry concern that the manner in which science is done. But I mean, as you did say earlier in the talk that one of the big questions of values is what is actually studied what the priorities are. And, you know, I wonder in thinking about these things, whether that deserves perhaps more weight, I mean, maybe it comes under your idea of norms of openness of restraints. Right? Because one’s got to acknowledge the fact that, you know, be be clear about why it is that what is does come under that, you know, the idea that being open about the norm was about the sorry, the openness of restraints is about being clear about why certain things being funded, why you’re doing certain things rather than others. So not the most articulate question, but to what, you know, how central really, is it to sort of focus on on that value, what it’s been directed at not just how it’s being studied?
Heather Douglas 1:03:57
I actually think it’s incredibly on point for you to point to pick up on this, partly because we, if the norm of openness is about those sort of constraints on funding and the way in which we direct science funding, that is anything but open right now. So you look at the way in which even publicly funded science works. You know, why different things get funded by say, the NIH or the NSF or the European Research Council? It is not open. And this is something that I am puzzled by currently, how to think about science funding systems, and how to incentivize more of the kind of research that seems to be increasingly hollowed out in science funding systems, namely the public interest science. And I don’t have good answers yet. This is my project for the next several months here at the centre to really sort of do dig into this because I am troubled by it. And I don’t quite know where to think about it. So anyone who wants to send me anything about this, one of the interesting moments is sort of to think about instead, the old model was that they should put money into basic or, you know, basic science. And eventually scientists will apply and public good comes out this sort of linear model science funding, which is not neither accurate nor desirable in many ways. But what if we sort had more a more complex ontology for the kinds of research that we were funding, so that we had explicit funding for public interest science, we had explicit funding for, you know, science that address injustices, global injustices, we had explicit funding for commercial interests, right, are often funded commercially. And then we also had sort of curiosity based research. But curiosity based research wouldn’t have to make promises about and this will lead to a cure for XYZ disease, 20 years down the road, if if all these things come to pass, because very often, those are promissory notes that are pie in the sky, and not really what isn’t of interest to the scientist. And then there might be sort of spaces for lottery funding more. And lottery funding, modified lotteries are really interesting mechanisms for funding for increasing again, the diversity of kinds of projects. What you do is you have a sort of minimal evaluation, is it plausible? You’re not producing perpetual motion machine. You’re not sort of like reinventing Darwinian evolution, you just, you know, it’s at least competent science. And then all of those proposals go into a lottery. And the funder just pulls them out until the fundings run out. And then next year, the same process can go back into the lottery. Notice that this reduces massively the burden on peer reviewers, which is everyone considers over the top at this point in time. And keeps the sort of conservativism that people are worried about with science funding machine mechanisms that, you know, reviewers tend to only like the proposals that are sort of like what they would like to do out of the system. So there are some really interesting possibilities for science funding. But I don’t have really good answers here. Because it’s hard. Given that a lot of science funding science project science doesn’t pan out, right, like that’s the whole point. We don’t know yet.
Dr Julian Baggini 1:07:33
I mean, one thing is really interesting about the talk and also having Justyna here and everything is that, you know, it’s very easy sort of, you know, you’re not that kind of pie in the sky, abstractly theoretical kind of philosopher, who sort of like talks about norms as though there is no relationship to what actually goes on in the world, but it seems as if we’re going to properly understand what’s going on? Yeah. So for the point of view of an audience member and myself, who’s not a pure philosopher or a pure sociologist, we sort of do need these disciplines to come together. And I guess this is where the sociologists really earn their keep, isn’t it Justyna because I think some people perhaps think the STS or the field, got a bit of a bad name for being pilloried for being, you know, certain figures sort of maintaining that science was just another narrative, these maybe caricatures. I think maybe. And, I think also about we talked about, you know, philanthropist, but also a business interest, there’s a lot of money, for example, going into cultured meat at the moment from like, venture capitalists and startups and everything. And some people have argued that this is totally, misguided that this is putting a lot of money towards a highly speculative technology, which isn’t going to work when there were other things, which, with more money could help feed us quicker, and so forth. So, when sociologists are looking at this debate, I guess I’m perhaps I’m not really asking question. I’m just saying, I think this is why you’re valuable. But you have something to say about about this issue of, of money resources. And and because as sociologists, are you interested in trying to come up with proposals for how to sort of deal with these issues? Or are you just analysing them so that we can see how, how problematic are sciences?
Dr Justyna Bandola-Gill 1:09:26
I wish I had solutions? Although I think I’m more focused on what people what kinds of issues people are identifying out there. And, yeah, I think there are two things here and also in what Heather just said that one of the issues with science funding is that I think it should be focused on diversity of different forms of science that is being practised. And I think there’s been a ongoing challenge around the world that research funding and research assessment actually narrows down practices significantly everywhere, everywhere we go. So the issue here is how to open it up how to make research funding work in a way that wouldn’t narrow it down and focus just on specific types of scholarships, but also specific understanding of quality of excellence and so on. And, and I think the second thing that Heather’s responses has me thinking about is, we have norms, but we also have these kind of underlying norms. So and I think, you know, the question of Murtonian rules is a really, really good one. Because, you know, we know that in practice, actually, that they don’t work in the way that Murton would like them to to work. And I think lottery funding here is a really interesting case study of that, because we see that it works. In increasing diversity, it works in more equality in in assignments. And also we see that actually, often, it doesn’t, there’s no difference between the quality of outputs between peer review and lottery. But people who are actually the decision makers, and also scientists are often really opposing it because the norm of meritocracy is so deeply entrenched that they don’t want to give up on that. So there is this kind of underlying myth that somehow if we go through peer review is going to be better than just giving it up to chance. So I think there’s, there’s an interesting clash here between the norms that guide our practices, and also the norms that actually, maybe sometimes are barriers to developing these systems that might work better.
Dr Julian Baggini 1:11:38
Actually, you pointed by diversity segues very nicely into another audience question by someone going under the name of pessimistic inductions. And this relates to this relates to the norm Heather you were talking about, to stop sort of Mavericks and fake inquiries, as you said, coming into this. And the question is, well, what qualifies as ideologically rigid? This seems like a place that if not properly specified, could turn science into politics with tribal scientific circles, weeding out dissenting views, as ideology. So how do you stop that happening?
Heather Douglas 1:12:19
Yeah, so I wouldn’t want to identify pre identify, particular, any view as ideologically rigid. What is more important is that those who attempt to articulate alternate views, once they engage in space of inquiry, are responsive to reasons and to criticism. So Flat Earthers are a great example. Alright, so there are people who think that the Earth is flat, and they will present views. And they’re really interesting videos of them trying to test their theories on YouTube. Amazingly, when the evidence actually goes against their theories, they go, huh, I wonder what’s wrong with experiment. Now, if you do that too many times, you start to be like, Well, okay, if I keep you keep, you know, trying to demand test or doing tests yourself, and the tests keep going against the view that you are holding, you should probably give up the view. And that has to happen, you know, in not too many iterations of this kind of thing. So that’s like an extreme example. But the responsiveness to criticism is crucial. And I don’t want to say like, so I was, I went to a really brilliant talk by a philosopher of physics on Friday on dark matter. And he was talking about the history of evidence gathering for dark metaphysics, which is an area you know, very little about, because it’s not something that public policy needs to be made anything about. So I haven’t paid attention. And he was talking about the sort of growing consensus around dark matter. But there’s this alternative view, called monde, or something like that. And one of the things that was really interesting was the way in which monde researchers sort of kept trying to get their theory off the ground, but apparently haven’t really figured out a way to have evidential test for it. And I asked him in the q&a whether or not there was a moment it was, but holding on to monde itself was sort of kick people out of the space of, you know, physics inquiry, and he said, no, that there were people who held the view, but he was still participating in the generation of data and the further refinement of views were very much part of the inquiry. But if they’re just continually bringing up, hey, there’s this alternative, we should develop it and not having anything else to add. And they’re just on that loop. They’re not really engaged anymore in the space of inquiry. So it’s not even the position itself. It’s more of the sets of behaviours within the practice that make the difference. And that’s to keep us from becoming rigid.
Dr Julian Baggini 1:15:07
It’s interesting, I guess, you talked about the Flat Earthers. I think the Flat Earthers. Yeah, you picked it deliberate is an extreme example. But I mean, I remember I wish I could remember the name. I’m terrible with names. I mean, one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century sort of very famously kept running experiments, which didn’t work and doggedly persisted and eventually turned out to be right. So you always get these counter examples of people who sort of like refuse to give up who if they were following, straightforward preparing and falsification would have given up years ago, and they didn’t do it. So I mean, it just seems that in order to make good judgments on this, actually, you know, there isn’t a simple kind of like, two or three check. Are you doing this? Are you doing Y? I mean, in broad terms, yes. Are you doing this while you’re doing that, but then beyond that, it seems that’s quite a lot of judgement call going on here about the sincerity of the participant, how much they’re really trying and so forth. And is it sometimes the case that one of the problems is that one doesn’t really recognise it acknowledge openly the extent to which scientists themselves are relying quite a lot on what we might even call hunch or intuition here, things that can’t quantify? And that’s kind of a necessary part of the scientific process. But it also opens up the possibility that, that leads to them dismissing something because it’s too out of their box.
Heather Douglas 1:16:32
So I mean, there’s a difference between having a hunch about like the way the world is, that’s like not evidently supported, and having a hunch or response, because you’ve interacted with a person. And you’ve seen them respond to sort of critique of their view. And that sort of that that will change things. I think, also, there is, you know, something really important about continuing to pursue research when you are continuing to get evidence for it, even though the rest of the community isn’t acknowledging it. So I think about Evelyn Fox Keller’s work on Barbara McClintock, and this sort of slow revelation that there’s this, there are acquired characteristics that are inheritable, which is amazing overturning of, you know, 100 years of settled science, through epigenetics, but it took a long time of seeing a phenomenon and being willing to see it, and continuing to follow that thread, to really convince the scientific community to change its mind. And then it becomes, you know, a whole area of research that is quite robust, and interesting and challenging for us. So, you know, I don’t want to just say, oh, you know, go with your hunch, because it can’t just be that, but there’s sort of this noticing of a phenomenon that doesn’t fit with the standard view. And then also noticing when the people that you’re working with or the other fellow travellers in the community that you’re interacting with? How are they responding to your sort of results? And how are you responding to their critiques, and that often is a much sort of closer, personal dynamic, then most members of the public can even watch. And that’s actually the really difficult thing for members of the public, who are not part of a space of inquiry, how do they know that someone is behaving properly? And actually doing this kind of uptake? And response properly? That can be really difficult to see from the outside.
Dr Julian Baggini 1:18:49
Justyna, do you have anything to add before we go to another question.
Dr Justyna Bandola-Gill 1:18:54
Not much, I just think that I very much agree with what Heather just said maybe just adding one point that I don’t think having a consensus and then kind of periphery of how knowledge is being developed means that the consensus is becoming political or rigid. So I think there’s a consensus and science will self correct, but it doesn’t mean that the space became political. Yeah, so does I think there’s there’s a differentiation doesn’t mean that it become ideological or, you know, blind to new evidence.
Dr Julian Baggini 1:19:27
Okay, well, we just brought this up, again, relates to a question we got from an audience member, Julian, which is about how these issues play out in the management of alleged consensus in policy areas. Are potential critics muted by their own career interests. And I guess, yeah, there’s a broader. There’s a broader issue here really, isn’t it? Which is that in talking about a lot of these norms, there are always potential problems of motivated thinking for either kind of like obvious self interest or simple groupthink and so forth. Did you do, is it your view, Heather, perhaps that as long as we follow these norms properly, we don’t have to worry about things like motivated thinking, careerism, and so forth, or are these kinds of additional things we need to think about in order to make sure the norms are properly followed.
Heather Douglas 1:20:22
So my hope would be that the norms would help fight against careerism, and motivated thinking that by putting one’s ideas into these sort of spaces that are going to be critical and can’t have be examined critically by diverse practitioners, that that we can actually avoid some of the worries about groupthink and careerism, which are different things, but in many cases, you can still even a group, even without careerism, and people can be, you know, sort of I’m a maverick, as like a brand for their career. So there’s distinct problems. And you would hope that sort of the requirements I’ve laid out would help mitigate against them, you know, one of the critiques of groupthink is that you haven’t had enough diverse practitioners in, right in engaging in this or and you and you have, you’ve closed down debate prematurely, or you have not responded to a set of concerns raised by other practitioners in the space. So there are sort of resources to criticise groupthink within the norms. And careerism is just, you know, the usual self interested, BS that we have to worry about. You know, and that’s where virtue make a difference.
Dr Julian Baggini 1:21:53
yeah, yeah. Again, Justyna do you want to add anything to this.
Dr Justyna Bandola-Gill 1:21:59
No, I think I agree with Heather, I think if the question was about careerism, on the political side, I think that will require a closer analysis of the norms guiding the political sphere, right? Because I think they’re not the same. It’s not a mirror image of the norms in science. And I’m not saying there’s no careers in science, of course there is. But I think as Heather said, the the value of critique and debate and credit assignment and so on, actually might not prevent the careerism from happening, but at least it shows it makes it more transparent. Right. So I think there’s a, an issue that we can overcome. But there’s also an issue that we might make visible. And I think there’s norms of science are geared towards making them visible rather than making it disappear, right? Because as any kind of social group, science is not going to be perfect.
Dr Julian Baggini 1:22:52
Related to something, there’s something there about these these norms. We’re talking a lot about science, of course, and as it’s different from politics, but to what extent are the norms of politics, the norms that it should have. I mean, for example, would politics sometimes benefit from having some of the norms of sciences, particularly around criticism, and response we can see are things about the need to conclude and the necessity for some exclusionary spaces actually being important in politics? Are there any areas where you think that politics should perhaps borrow some of these norms or adopt them from science?
Heather Douglas 1:23:33
Of course, I do. I’m an academic. I want better criticism and response? You know, I mean, one of the things that’s quite disturbing about the US Senate is apparently it used to be this really deliberative body where they actually debated with each other. And then as soon as C-SPAN got in there, and started broadcasting the debate and the politicians realised that their bigger audience was the audience on television, they stopped talking to each other, and they just were sort of posturing for the audience’s back home, and then that has really hollowed out the function of the US Senate. So that’s not good. But so the question is, like, you know, we need deliberative fora, in politics, whether those deliberative fora need to have the same or some more of this spaces of inquiry imported over into them, you know, I would like to see it. I was in Canada, and it made me crazy that politicians thought that they needed to, you know, if anything showed up in the news, and they were a minister, that they needed to have the answers for the press right away, regardless of like, you know, the possibility of really clear information flow, and I just thought this is unhelpful for a democratic system. Why doesn’t the politician say I don’t know yet. Why can’t that be a legitimate response to a new unfolding situation? Of course it should be. So just like I just said, I don’t know about funding yet. That has to be a legitimate response in some in some times. And I think it would be better for our political systems if some of those norms were brought back into delivery spaces. One thing I think would be really interesting to think about is how to reinvigorate genuine deliberative fora in broader politics. I know it Fishkin is a theorist and practitioner here in the US has been trying to bring together deliberative mini publics to do genuine, you know, political deliberation across deep political divides and see what happens. But that’s not the politicians. So, fettered news channels that create genuine discussion. Social media is not helping.
Dr Justyna Bandola-Gill 1:25:57
Yeah, no, it’s making it worse.
Dr Julian Baggini 1:25:59
I wonder, I wonder where the public needs to change, though, if we’re going to change those norms as well, because I think you know, the reason one reason why people don’t just say I just I don’t know, is I think they believe that the public want confidence, certainty and strength from their leaders. And it appears weak. If they say, I don’t know yet you know, it. So maybe public expectations need to change or do you have more faith in the public than I do? I’m a member of the public, by the way. So I don’t have faith in myself by saying that.
Heather Douglas 1:26:28
I think. I mean, I think part of the problem in the space of science is that we teach science as something that we’re all the answers are already known, we teach it that way in grade school, which is a big mistake, because that’s not what science is. So I think it gives a misleading sense of things, the public. I think, actually, if we had more sort of open inquiry as practised in grade school, and secondary school, which is possible. People will be better as citizens in understanding when that happens in real life cases.
Dr Julian Baggini 1:27:09
Okay, now, we’re nearly out of time. There’s one final question, which I’ll get short answer from both of you on is from Dr. Canaan. And the question is, we know there are differences in scientific inquiry and political space, but how should scientists communicate with politicians? Is there any standard methods? So what I’d quite like from from both of you, if you could, briefly is what do you think is your your one piece of advice you’d give about how scientists should be communicating their work to politicians? Who’s going to go first? On the spot?
Heather Douglas 1:27:46
Okay, so the one thing and this is something that some colleagues of mine have worked on here in the US, is, you know, be clear, but also speak to the interests of the politician. The politician very often is made with their care about and their interests public. And if you can tie your understanding of the world to what they are interested in, in some clear and concrete way. That is how to communicate with them.
Dr Julian Baggini 1:28:19
Dr Justyna Bandola-Gill 1:28:21
Yeah, no, I completely agree with Heather’s and I would add, also, don’t underestimate the skills and capabilities of policymakers, I think they do have a scope for complexity. And just making it too simple is never an option. And I think scientists should try to keep it complex, because policymakers can handle it.
Dr Julian Baggini 1:28:44
Well, thanks so much. Look, it’s been a really, really interesting, a great talk from Heather. Fascinating response on Justyna, great discussion. And thank you for your questions for making it a truly collaborative event as well. Thank you also to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, for co-hosting this event and behind the scenes to Nazia Khan who’s helped us pull it all together. This is the second time we’ve done these online and last year’s lecture is available for you to look up as well. So do you have a look at last year’s, and Royal Institute of Philosophy has a huge number of its talks now on its Youtube channel. So please do explore those to join our respective mailing lists to find out what is coming up in the future. But for now, it just reminds you one final time to thank Dr Justyna Bandola-Gill, and also Heather Douglas. Thank you very much.