Trusting Science in a Post-Truth World

@ATREE auditorium at 3.45 pm on 24th March 2017

Abstract

Explanation, prediction and intervention are the three main objectives of scientific inquiry. The success of science in performing the above three objectives is considered as one of the main reasons for trusting science. But, history of science suggests that one could achieve success without possessing correct theories and at times even with completely wrong theories. Therefore, success does not always indicate truth. This throws us into a scenario where we have to trust a mode of inquiry which successfully employs untrue theories. (The geo-centric theory of planetary motion, the aether theory of light, caloric theory of heat, and different atom models are some among the many such successfully employed currently discarded scientific theories.) Along with this, if success could be achieved by employing non-scientific or pseudoscientific enquiries, one should identify different reasons other than success to keep trust in science. Objectivity of the scientific investigation is pointed out as one such important reason. Therefore characterizing scientific objectivity becomes an important task both in the epistemic and political arena involving science in the post-truth world.

When the subjective values and biases of the inquirer is screened off from an inquiry and its results, that investigation is generally considered as objective. One way to establish such objectivity is to appeal to a method which is unique to the inquiry (science). If there is such a scientific method, then the employment of that method irrespective of the biases of the scientist would ensure objectivity. However, the pot-positivist philosophy of science showed the futility of attempts to zero in the scientific method. If no such method is available, then we have to characterize objectivity of scientific inquiry by other means.

This presentation attempts to show the importance of discussions in history and philosophy science in presenting a case for trusting science. We would begin with a taxonomy of scientific objectivity. This would help us to delineate different notions of objectivity which are usually conflated in use. We would then pose the question of values in scientific inquiry. Is scientific inquiry necessarily enmeshed in social and individual values? If so, is it possible to retain objectivity of the inquiry even with the influences of various values? Finally, we would attempt to characterize objectivity best suitable for complex sciences (such as climatology, ecology etc.) where the scope of intervention and replication of experiments are rather meagre.

About the speaker

Shinod teaches Philosophy at the Government Brennen College, Thalasseri, Kerala. He holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Hyderabad and an M.Phil. in Philosophy of Language from Pondicherry University