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Why I Am Not a Scientist: Anthropology and Modern Knowledge

Jonathan Marks
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Why I Am Not a Scientist
    Book Description:

    This lively and provocative book casts an anthropological eye on the field of science in a wide-ranging and innovative discussion that integrates philosophy, history, sociology, and auto-ethnography. Jonathan Marks examines biological anthropology, the history of the life sciences, and the literature of science studies while upending common understandings of science and culture with a mixture of anthropology, common sense, and disarming humor. Science, Marks argues, is widely accepted to be three things: a method of understanding and a means of establishing facts about the universe, the facts themselves, and a voice of authority or a locus of cultural power. This triple identity creates conflicting roles and tensions within the field of science and leads to its record of instructive successes and failures. Among the topics Marks addresses are the scientific revolution, science as thought and performance, creationism, scientific fraud, and modern scientific racism. Applying his considerable insight, energy, and wit, Marks sheds new light on the evolution of science, its role in modern culture, and its challenges for the twenty-first century.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94330-8
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. ONE Science as a Culture and as a “Side”
    (pp. 1-24)

    Many years ago, in the late 1980s, as a postdoc in genetics at the University of California at Davis, I was interviewed by National Public Radio on the subject of the Human Genome Project, then beseeching Congress and the American public for a few billion dollars.

    Sure, it would keep molecular biologists employed into the foreseeable future, but was it science?

    Of course not, I told NPR, with the assuredness that comes with having recently earned a doctorate and of working in a laboratory with radioactive isotopes, toxic chemicals, and expensive machines with flashing multicolored lights. Science involvestesting hypotheses;...

  5. TWO The Scientific Revolution
    (pp. 25-49)

    The publication dates of 1543 and 1687 are generally used to bracket the Scientific Revolution. Even if we downplay the intellectual ferment before 1543 (the prior half-century had witnessed the discovery of the Americas and the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, after all) and subsequent to 1687 (the next century would finally bring “Enlightenment”), it is still hard to consider it much of a “revolution,” since it took a full 144 years to transpire. That is probably why nobody referred to it as a revolution until the middle of the twentieth century.¹

    Its revolutionary nature is visible principally in hindsight...

  6. THREE Normative Science
    (pp. 50-73)

    The practice of science, like any other social endeavor, entails rules of conduct. Commonly these rules are not explicitly articulated but are assimilated by participation in the community. Although the question “How do we do science?” was answered in various forms by Francis Bacon, René Descartes, and others from its inception, the modern philosophy of science essentially begins with a group of philosophers clustered in Austria in the 1930s. The “Vienna Circle” maintained (as had William Whewell, who coined the termscientistin the nineteenth century) that the purest and most advanced sciences were physics, math, and astronomy, and they...

  7. FOUR Science as Practice
    (pp. 74-102)

    The sign by the door admonishes students, “Big Blabs Sink Labs.” Is this a top-secret government facility beneath Area 51, studying the aliens whose spaceship crashed in Roswell decades ago and needing to keep a lid on it for fear of triggering mass panic?

    Nope, it’s a regular laboratory in a regular science department in a regular university, doing respected but largely uncontroversial work on human genetics. But the professor knows that novelty (or the perception of it) is the currency of continued success in science, measured in grants and publications. And it is not in his interests to have...

  8. FIVE The Problem of Creationism
    (pp. 103-128)

    Creationism is younger than Darwinism. It has to be that way, since creationism arose as a reaction against Darwinism. Prior to Darwinism, there was no need to have a word to denote it, since mysterious or miraculous origins of species constituted the universe of possibilities. It was not until the later nineteenth century, in the wake of the emerging cultural debates about religion and science, that creationism needed acknowledgment as a reactionary position or a movement and consequently required a name.¹

    Successive generations of readers in late nineteenth-century Christendom were obliged to cope with a wave of challenges to their...

  9. SIX Bogus Science
    (pp. 129-161)

    A distinguished biology professor at Yale writes in to a respected journal to defend a friend of his against the charge of scientific fraud: “The … work is good science inasmuch as it is repeatable and independently corroborated.”¹

    Well, maybe the conclusions were repeatable and corroborated, or maybe they weren’t, but is that really what constitutes good science? There are two nested problems here: the misplaced emphasis on the conclusions, rather than on the methods, as the crucial indicator of the quality of the science; and the casual manner in which a science educator can so grossly misrepresent the scientific...

  10. SEVEN Scientific Misconduct
    (pp. 162-197)
    Peter H. Raven

    The two most famous cases of fraud in the history of the life sciences are not at all prototypical. In the case of Piltdown Man, the deceiver was most likely not a professional scientist and thus had a motive other than personal gain for his work. In the case of the Midwife Toad, the deceiver—while never admitting his guilt—honorably blew his brains out upon the public revelation that his work had been falsified rather than face the humiliation. Far more often than not, scientific fraud is committed by scientists themselves (hence the name,scientific fraud), and they hardly...

  11. EIGHT The Rise and Fall of Colonial Science
    (pp. 198-229)

    As the American nation expanded westward in the early nineteenth century, expelling, impoverishing, and exterminating the former inhabitants of the land, it soon came upon a remarkable series of geological phenomena. Near St. Louis, for example, sits a group of enormous conical mounds full of skeletal and cultural remains—a site now known as Cahokia. They seemed almost to be the overgrown remains of ancient towns, and clearly the products of human creativity.

    But the activity of what humans? Surely not the filthy savages we were busily displacing, dispossessing, and decimating. If their ancestors had made such large-scale and impressive...

  12. NINE Racial and Gendered Science
    (pp. 230-259)

    To an outsider like me, who doesn’t know him, James Watson is an enigma. In 1953, with Francis Crick, he reasoned out the structure of DNA and literally invented the field of molecular genetics. In 1962 he won the Nobel Prize for it. His 1968 memoirThe Double Helixis a foundational work of science studies, since it was really the first “ethnography” of laboratory life. And it caused a sensation for its candor—even if it was a firsthand, self-interested account—in describing the researchers as egotistical cutthroats rather than as the humble, social altruists that scientists generally wanted...

  13. TEN Nature/Culture
    (pp. 260-280)

    I don’t want to be a member of any club where scientific racism is welcome. Scientific racism has no place in science. Like scientific creationism, it is ideology disguised as science, to give it legitimacy. If it fools some people who have scientific credentials, that is a problem for the credentialing process and for the scientific community. An integral, if often overlooked, aspect of science is the ability to tell when scientists say things that are false, or evil, or both. Scientists themselves sometimes cannot even tell—because they are no better than anyone else (and possibly worse) at telling...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 281-314)
  15. Index
    (pp. 315-325)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 326-326)