Sociology of Science: Notes on Haack and Latour


Susan Haack, "Towards a Sober Sociology of Science"

Two kinds of sociology of science:

bad good
denies or ignores the fact that science, unlike banking or fashion, is engaged in inquiry does not deny this
no distinction between warrant [= justification] and acceptance distinction between warrant and acceptance
purely sociological account not purely sociological (acknowledges the relevance of evidential considerations)
debunking not debunking
examples: Bloor, Latour & Woolgar, Harding, etc. examples: Polanyi, Campbell, Rauch, etc.
intoxicated (by misunderstandings of the thesis that science is social) sober

two projects: (1) what constitutes good evidence; (2) what constitutes good procedure. Social factors play an important role in each.

"The right kind of sociology of science can help us understand what features of its internal organization and of its external environment encourage, and what discourage, successful science" (262)

keep authority and criticism in balance; "combine division of labor with overlapping competencies," studies of peer review, etc.

"Misunderstandings of the thesis that science is social"

  1. idea that warrant is just a matter of social practice (warrant doesn't depend on how justified a community thinks it is, but on how good the evidence is)
  2. "how good" must mean how good relative to the standards of a community. Haack: different people assess evidence differently because of differences in background beliefs, not due to differences in their view of what constitutes evidence. [Is this correct? Seems a bit fast, anyway. Perhaps scientists share a conception of what counts as good evidence, but contrast other examples, e.g. whether ABX testing is a good way to judge amps]
  3. scientific inquiry is social --> knowledge is socially constructed --> nothing more than product of negotiation. No: seeking, checking, and assessing evidence are not merely a matter of social negotiation.
  4. Theories are underdetermined by data, so social values must take up the slack. Haack's response: in cases when there is genuine underdetermination, we should just admit we don't know which is correct, rather than letting social values determine this. [She might also have mentioned Laudan's claim that "ampliative underdetermination" is much less common that it is often assumed to be.]
  5. theories are socially constructed --> objects are socially constructed. Haack: some "objects" are socially constructed -- money, marriage, prestige, etc. Even these are not constructed by the activity of theorizing about them, though. And atoms, quarks, etc. are not socially constructed in any sense.

Latour and Woolgar, Laboratory Life, Chapter 4: "The Microprocessing of Facts"

In a sense a response to the kind of point Haack is making. L & W realize that people like Haack think that their approach is fundamentally misguided because it pays attention only to sociological factors and ignores the fact that science is actually trying to discover the truth about a reality which is not itself socially constructed. L&W think this is all wrong; according to them the subject matter of science is just as much socially constructed as anything else. But this leaves them with a puzzle: why do people think that science is discovering the nature of reality? This chapter is largely an attempt to offer a sociological explanation of why people have the (mistaken, according to L&W) view that science tries to discover the truth about an independently existing reality.

You might think that the intoxicated sociological approach has left out "logic" and "reasoning," but according to Latour and Woolgar they haven't really:

"We focus on the routine exchanges and gestures which pass between scientists and on the way in which such minutiae are seen to give rise to "logical" arguments, the implementation of "proofs," and the operation of so-called 'thought processes'" (151).

"Our objective . . . is to show . . . that a belief in the logical and straightforward character of science itself arises in the course of these practices of interpretation"

Three topics:

  1. facts created and destroyed during brief conversational exchanges
  2. "process whereby the occurrence of this kind of exchanges becomes transformed into accounts about the genesis of 'ideas' and 'thought processes'"
  3. "sources of resistance to the understanding of facts as socially constructed"

are there arguments here? sort of; here are a few:

1. talk about facts is mushed together with social negotiations, decisions about what to do, etc. Therefore the supposed facts are really social products. (?) e.g. 159, 163

2. The reasoning used by scientists isn't deduction. Therefore it isn't logical. (166, 173)

3. L& W claim that the supposed correspondence between objects and statements "stems from the splitting and inversion of a statement within the laboratory context". At first scientists are simply working with statements. Then "splitting" takes place: scientists think there are two things, objects and statements about them. "It is as if the original statement had projected a virtual image of itself which exists outside the statement" (176). Then we get "inversion": the supposed object comes to seem more important than, and prior to, the statements (177). They offer three sources of support for this view:

Last update: November 5, 2008
Curtis Brown | Philosophy of Science | Philosophy Department | Trinity University