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(2015) Objectivity in science, Dordrecht, Springer.


objectivity in science

Jonathan Y. Tsou , Alan Richardson , Flavia Padovani

pp. 1-15

While few would question the importance of the objectivity of science for providing a well-supported factual basis upon which policy decisions can be reliably made, it is far from clear what scientific objectivity is or how it should be achieved. In recent decades, questions regarding the objectivity of science have become increasingly salient in framing public debates about science and science policy: for example, can we trust medical research when it is funded by pharmaceutical companies? Or, whose research in climate science meets the standards of scientific objectivity? At the same time, the objectivity of science has become an increasingly important topic among historians and philosophers of science, as well as researchers in related fields in science and technology studies. In the wake of Karl Popper's (1972) account of objective knowledge and Thomas Kuhn's (1977) landmark analysis of scientific values in connection with issues of scientific objectivity and rationality, philosophers of science have attempted to clarify questions concerning the role of values in theory choice, the distinction between epistemic (or "cognitive") and non-epistemic (or 'social") values, and the ways in which different kinds of values (including non-epistemic values) contribute to the objectivity of science. By contrast, historians of science have offered rich historical analyses that aim to clarify the changing historical meanings of objectivity by examining the emergence of particular scientific ideals in specific episodes in the history of science. These historical studies have revealed the complex, multifaceted, and ultimately contingent nature of the ideals that contribute to our current notions and understandings of scientific objectivity. Finally, sociologists and anthropologists of science have offered analyses that explicitly bring into question specific understandings of scientific objectivity as, for example, the disinterestedness or value neutrality of scientific work, by revealing the role of social processes—including the workings of structures of credit, rhetorical practices in science, and the pressure of funding regimes—in the production of scientific knowledge. Taken together, these investigations offer compelling reasons for thinking that scientific objectivity is much more complicated than one might have imagined. Two emergent themes from the science and technology studies literature are especially important in this regard.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-14349-1_1

Full citation:

Tsou, J. Y. , Richardson, A. , Padovani, F. (2015)., Introduction: objectivity in science, in F. Padovani, A. Richardson & J. Y. Tsou (eds.), Objectivity in science, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 1-15.

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