Is science socially constructed—And can it still inform public policy?
This paper addresses, and seeks to correct, some frequent misunderstandings concerning the claim that science is socially constructed. It describes several features of scientific inquiry that have been usefully illuminated by constructivist studies of science, including the mundane or tacit skills involved in research, the social relationships in scientific laboratories, the causes of scientific controversy, and the interconnection of science and culture. Social construction, the paper argues, should be seen not as an alternative to but an enhancement of scientists’ own professional understanding of how science is done. The richer, more finely textured accounts of scientific practice that the constructivist approach provides are potentially of great relevance to public policy.
KeywordsSTS social construction relativism public policy
Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.
- 1.Weinberg, S. (1995) “Night Thoughts of a Quantum Physicist,”Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences XLIX:51–64.Google Scholar
- 2.Gross, P. and N. Levitt. (1994)Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science, Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore.Google Scholar
- 4.Winner, L. (1986)The Whale and the Reactor, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
- 5.Gross, P. and N. Levitt. (1994), p. 43.Google Scholar
- 6.Latour, B. and S. Woolgar (1979)Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts, Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J.Google Scholar
- 7.Barnes, B. and D. Bloor (1982) “Relativism, Rationalism and the Sociology of Knowledge,” pp. 21–47 in M. Hollis and S. Lukes, eds.,Rationality and Relativism. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
- 8.Shapin, S. (1994)A Social History of Truth, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.Google Scholar
- 9.Wynne, B. (1995) “Public Understanding of Science,” pp. 361–388 in S. Jasanoff et al., eds.The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA.Google Scholar
- 10.Douglas, M. and A. Wildavsky (1982)Risk and Culture, University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.Google Scholar
- 11.Jasanoff, S. (1991) “American Exceptionalism and the Political Acknowledgment of Risk,”Daedalus 119:61–81.Google Scholar
- 12.Keller, E.F. (1983)A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock, Freeman, New York.Google Scholar
- 13.Duster, T. (1990)Backdoor to Eugenics, Routledge, New York.Google Scholar
- 15.Latour, B. (1985)Science In Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through Society, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
- 16.Gross, P. and N. Levitt. (1994), p. 58, author’s emphasis.Google Scholar
- 17.Gross, P. and N. Levitt. (1994), p. 162, author’s emphasis.Google Scholar
- 21.Colwell, R. (1986) “Global Climate: Emerging Diseases and New Epidemics”, AAAS President’s Lecture, Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 10 February 1996.Google Scholar
- 22.Jasanoff, S. (1995)Science at the Bar: Law, Science, and Technology in America, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar