Fw: Pluralism in Science: a statement (fwd)

From: Party of Citizens (citizens@vcn.bc.ca)
Date: Mon Jul 30 2001 - 14:17:22 MDT

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 30 Jul 2001 16:00:22 +0100
From: srlclark <srlclark@EASYNET.CO.UK>
Subject: Fw: Pluralism in Science: a statement

From: JMZiman@cs.com <JMZiman@cs.com>

Pluralism in Science: A Statement

Scientific knowledge is incurably pluralistic. It requires systematic study
of the world at every level of complexity, from quarks to quagmires to
quangos. But present-day views of science are unhealthily polarised. Those
who assert that science can completely discover reality are opposed by
who insist that scientific knowledge is simply a social construct. Each
dismisses intemperately the views of the other.

In practice, however, most working scientists take neither of these extreme
positions. They are aware that established scientific procedures ultimately
rely on human judgements, but are confident that they produce peculiarly
credible and reliable bodies of knowledge. They also realise that although
the scientific account of the world is remarkably extensive and detailed,
misses out many vital features of human existence.

This attitude is not just a pragmatic compromise between irreconcilable
opposites. It is a coherent conception of science, implicit in much recent
philosophical, sociological and historical thinking. Its strength lies
precisely in its inner tensions. It recognises that:-
- The various sciences – physical, biological, social, and so on – do not
have in common a unique research ‘method’: yet they all strive to account
for a great variety of shared human experiences in terms of the same
‘external’ world.
- From their research findings scientists often infer the existence of
entities whose properties they cannot directly observe: yet these
constructs are not accepted as valid until they have survived critical
testing for consistency with empirical experience.
- Scientific knowledge is presented as impersonal and universal, as if true
by logical necessity: yet it is produced by named individuals working
together in research communities, whose collective criticism renders it
highly credible.
- Research communities are peculiarly specialised and self-contained: yet
(provided they are not captured by political or commercial interests) they
are open and transparent.
- Science is often regarded as indisputable and impartial: yet it is always
corrigible and never entirely objective.
- Like geographers, scientists ‘map’ the world in different ways for
different purposes. These ‘maps’ often overlap: yet there is no proof they
can be extended and unified into a ‘theory of everything’ that covers all

In particular, the behaviour of compound entities, such as living
cannot be ‘reduced’ to the properties of their constituents, such as
chemical atoms. And human beings are the most complicated of all organisms.
Any aspect of human life can be made the subject of rational inquiry.
does not have a monopoly on facts. History, geography and everyday
give us facts that are just as certain. Would-be scientific discourse is
a suitable tool for understanding the moral, aesthetic and religious
of life. It is no disgrace to science that, for all these purposes we need
use other ways of thinking.

This 'statement' was prepared, in consultation with other scholars, by John
Ziman and Mary Midgley. It is not a 'manifesto', but if you wish to
'subscribe' to it, or to obtain further information, please apply by email
<jmziman@cs.com> .

Feel free to disseminate it in any way to possible
'subscribers', but please make it clear that it is not being issued
as a 'manifesto' with named signatories.


Prof. John Ziman
27 Little London Green
Oakley, Aylesbury, Bucks
HP18 9QL , England
Tel/Fax: +44 1844 237 464
email: jmziman@cs.com

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