Science Transformed?

Science Transformed?: Debating Claims of an Epochal Break

Alfred Nordmann
Hans Radder
Gregor Schiemann
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Science Transformed?
    Book Description:

    Advancements in computing, instrumentation, robotics, digital imaging, and simulation modeling have changed science into a technology-driven institution. Government, industry, and society increasingly exert their influence over science, raising questions of values and objectivity. These and other profound changes have led many to speculate that we are in the midst of an epochal break in scientific history.This edited volume presents an in-depth examination of these issues from philosophical, historical, social, and cultural perspectives. It offers arguments both for and against the epochal break thesis in light of historical antecedents. Contributors discuss topics such as: science as a continuing epistemological enterprise; the decline of the individual scientist and the rise of communities; the intertwining of scientific and technological needs; links to prior practices and ways of thinking; the alleged divide between mode-1 and mode-2 research methods; the commodification of university science; and the shift from the scientific to a technological enterprise. Additionally, they examine the epochal break thesis using specific examples, including the transition from laboratory to real world experiments; the increased reliance on computer imaging; how analog and digital technologies condition behaviors that shape the object and beholder; the cultural significance of humanoid robots; the erosion of scientific quality in experimentation; and the effect of computers on prediction at the expense of explanation.Whether these events represent a historic break in scientific theory, practice, and methodology is disputed. What they do offer is an important occasion for philosophical analysis of the epistemic, institutional and moral questions affecting current and future scientific pursuits.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7750-6
    Subjects: General Science, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. 1 Science after the End of Science? An Introduction to the “Epochal Break Thesis”
    (pp. 1-16)

    In the february 2008 issue ofNature Nanotechnology, physicist Philip Moriarty published a commentary that aims to reclaim academic science from postacademic science. Even though many of his readers are not at all familiar with the terms “academic” and “postacademic” science. Moriarty makes clear that the stakes are high. He is debating no less than the question whether it is still possible today to uphold an idea of science that values above all intellectual qualities like curiosity, creativity, and knowledge, and that does so for the sake of the public rather than the corporate good. At stake in reclaiming this...

  5. PART I
    • 2 The Age of Technoscience
      (pp. 19-30)

      Mode-2 research, postacademic science, technoscience, postnormal science, new natural history, entrepreneurial science—all these various labels speak of more or less profound changes in the organization of research. Do these changes amount to an epochal break that transforms scientific knowledge production as a whole? The theories behind each of these designations do not offer straightforward answers to this question. If a new kind of commissioned research enters the scene in the late twentieth century, this might leave most of the sciences unaffected. And if today’s research practices defy notions of “pure research” or “basic science,” and if they thereby open...

    • 3 We Are Not Witnesses to a New Scientific Revolution
      (pp. 31-42)

      Do the changes that have taken place in the structures and methods of the production of scientific knowledge and in our understanding of science over the past fifty years justify speaking of an epochal break in the development of science? Some philosophical and sociological descriptions of these changes do indeed assert that such an epochal break is becoming apparent (see Forman 2007; Funtowicz and Ravetz 1993, 2001; Gibbons et al. 1994; Nowotny, Scott, and Gibbons 2001, 2003; Ziman 2000; and others). In general, this thesis is formulated in such a way as to compare the extent of the changes that...

    • 4 “Knowledge Is Power,” or How to Capture the Relationship between Science and Technoscience
      (pp. 43-53)

      It is difficult, if not impossible, to judge the continuities or ruptures involved in a historical process of which oneself is a part. Historians are aware of the human tendency to view one’s own period as a turning point in history. Epochal breaks have been diagnosed galore, which we hardly remember anymore. Take the now almost forgotten “conference on security and cooperation in Europe,” which took place from 1973 to 1975 in Helsinki and Geneva and was considered at the time as a major turning point in the history of the second half of the twentieth century. But this event...

    • 5 Climbing the Hill: Seeing (and Not Seeing) Epochal Breaks from Multiple Vantage Points
      (pp. 54-65)
      CYRUS C. M. MODY

      Alfred nordmann, in this edited volume, lays out several sophisticated and plausible arguments for seeing today’s science as undergoing an epochal break. Unlike many epochal break believers, Nordmann recognizes the near-impossibility of convincing epochal break skeptics simply by inundating them with facts aboutdiamond v. chakrabartyor the Bayh-Dole Act. Instead, he wants to shows skeptics a path to a “vantage point” from which an epoch-making transition from science to technoscience is visible.

      The vantage point from which an epochal break is presently visible is not where I usually locate myself, but it is not a great stretch to climb...

    • 6 Breaking Up with the Epochal Break: The Case of Engineering Sciences
      (pp. 66-79)

      Epochal breaks abound. After a short session on Google one learns that apart from the break between modernity and postmodernity, epochal breaks have taken place also between the eighteenth century and Romantic literature (Perry 1996), the oral Greek tradition and Hellenistic epic (Barnes 2003), African Christianity and its European roots, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s doctrine ofvelayat-e faqihand the traditional quietism of the Shi’i Muslims as well as between the different monetary standards (Cesarano 1999) and different sensorial topologies.¹ What this apparent abundance of epochal breaks tells us is that once a handy diagnostic term gets coined, it will be...

    • 7 Science and Its Recent History: From an Epochal Break to Novel, Nonlocal Patterns
      (pp. 80-92)

      The epochal break thesis comes in several versions. What they have in common is the claim that during a limited period of time, science, as it is actually practiced, has changed substantially or even essentially. Moreover, this change is taken to mark the start of a new age. That is to say, its occurrence is intrinsically related to a wide-ranging, epoch-making sociocultural development and its impact extends far beyond the specialized practices of the sciences. Most advocates of the thesis agree about the dating of the break: the year 1980 is often mentioned as a focal point, even if this...

    • 8 Knowledge Making in Transition: On the Changing Contexts of Science and Technology
      (pp. 93-105)

      The making of knowledge has become an ever more integral part of our contemporary way of life. But much of the knowledge that is being made has little in common with what is usually referred to as “science.” As social life has come to be infused with an overarching commercial mentality, science has lost much of its autonomy and the “academic freedom” that went with it. What was once a distinctly separate world of its own—a scientific community—has become a thing of the past, a figment of the imagination. “Looking for an expression that could capture the change...

    • 9 Alliances between Styles: A New Model for the Interaction between Science and Technology
      (pp. 106-116)

      Biotechnology and nanotechnology have acquired, or almost acquired, a paradigm status of what science is today. Science is technoscience now, and philosophers of science are catching up with the recent status of technology vis-à-vis science. For better or for worse, the university is no longer the home of pure science. “If pure science ever existed,” many would assert. But as Paul Forman (2007) reminded us, before 1980 neither scientists nor engineers, neither philosophers nor historians of science, and politicians the least of all, doubted the cultural primacy of science over technology.

      If the cultural primacy of science was a myth,...

  6. PART II
    • 10 Experimenting with the Concept of Experiment: Probing the Epochal Break
      (pp. 119-134)

      For a couple of years now a chorus of rather cacophonic voices has been heralding the fact that over the past few decades science has undergone a profound transformation. This has been answered by another chorus, more precise and concordant, that there has been no such transformation—at least no break or sharp discontinuity—and that the existing, commonly accepted vocabulary is sufficiently apt to describe recent developments in science and society. Beyond the parameters of this so far indissoluble antinomy, several voices have been attempting to overcome this dualistic formation. In this chapter we focus on one such position...

    • 11 Intensification, Not Transformation: Digital Media’s Effects on Scientific Practice
      (pp. 135-146)

      Part of the current context in which scientific practice occurs is the increasingly frequent use of digital media to produce and communicate knowledge. Of course, this context is not science’s alone; rather, it permeates many aspects of developed- and developing-world societies. Discussions about the significance of digital media’s effects on how individuals access and interact with information through digital media—and further, how these interactions inform and form practices of knowing and communicating—have also become more frequent. In fact, some commentators claim that we are in the midst of the shift to a “digital age” or that we are...

    • 12 Technologies of Viewing: Aspects of Imaging in Natural Sciences
      (pp. 147-158)

      “Medium” is a very broad term, denoting the transmission of a certain message with the help of specific tools. Its definition extends from technological, audiovisual media to speech, drawing, language, or writing. Accordingly, the history of science is also a history of the development of use of different media, especially in regard to the visualization of its objects. Traditionally, all natural sciences have used drawings and charts to specify their chosen examples. It is readily apparent that the connection between an object and its visual representation is not naturally given but is constructed by way of conventions. Contemporary science studies...

    • 13 Technoscience as Popular Culture: On Pleasure, Consumer Technologies, and the Economy of Attention
      (pp. 159-176)

      The increasing market orientation of universities and other research institutions, the worldwide competition for key technologies, as well as the race for research funding and public attention are changing not only the relation between mass media and technosciences but also research strategies and paradigms of the technosciences themselves. In this chapter I analyze the cultural turn of technoscience(s) and changes in its epistemology, ontology, and rhetoric with regard to recent developments in personal service robotics and especially humanoid robotics. Robotics as a technoscience is not only more and more involved in PR activities, but is increasingly becoming—and stages itself...

    • 14 The Good Old Days: Medical Research Then and Now
      (pp. 177-188)

      There was never a golden age when medical research was all sweetness and light. Only fools could think otherwise. Yet, in many respects, former times were better times. The quality of research has suffered from the assault inflicted upon it from corporate interests and their scientific hirelings who are more concerned with mammon than medicine. This is a major change and it is not for the better. It is partly the result of significant discoveries, partly of methodological innovation, and partly of social and institutional change. Inevitably, some will see this as the natural evolution of science, technology, and society....

    • 15 Toward a New Culture of Prediction: Computational Modeling in the Era of Desktop Computing
      (pp. 189-200)

      Computers and simulation methods play prominent roles in a wide range of present-day scientific and engineering research. Without doubt, the computer, computational science, and scientific and engineering research have all mutually shaped one another—what is computationally possible informs the questions scientists and engineers ask and the questions scientists and engineers ask, in part, shape the development of new hardware and software. These mutual influences have been frequently examined, largely through the origins of scientific computing and the application of computers to a series of scientific disciplines and problems in the 1940s and 1950s. However, we want to focus on...

    • 16 Epilogue: The Sticking Points of the Epochal Break Thesis
      (pp. 201-206)

      At this point it should be clear that the epochal break thesis involves a wide-ranging and ambitious claim concerning recent science and its history. The preceding chapters display a diversity of views on this thesis. Hence, drawing a single, straightforward conclusion from these chapters, for or against the epochal break thesis, would obviously be premature. What is feasible, however, is to extract from the preceding chapters a number of “sticking points,” to use a phrase of Ian Hacking; that is to say, central issues that can be expected to remain the focus of extensive research and debate. Each of these...

    (pp. 207-212)
  8. INDEX
    (pp. 213-222)