Back to Emptier I mean Fuller. From the morning session this time.

It is, in fact, very easy, as it were, for
things to fall out that, in a sense, the boundary
between science and non-science isn’t something one can
ever take for granted. It is actively being negotiated
at all times because there are all kinds of people who
are trying to make claims that what they’re doing is
scientific. Insofar as science is the most authoritative body
of knowledge in society. So in that respect, there’s a
kind of policing, you might say, and an occasional
negotiation of the boundary that takes place.

Yes, very true. There certainly are all kinds of people who
are trying to make claims that what they’re doing is
scientific. And there are also all kinds of people who amuse themselves by trying to create suspicions about the whole arrangement via words like ‘policing’ and ‘boundary’ and ‘authoritative’. (No doubt the next generation of Science Studies whizzers will be talking in terms of handcuffs and cells and torture and lethal injections. Why not.)

Q. Does the text Governance of Science speak to the
role of peer review in science?

A. Well, yes. And one of the things that it says is
that, while the scientific community is nominally
governed by a peer review process, as a matter of fact,
relatively few scientists ever participate in it. So if one were to look at the structure of
science from a sort of, you might say, political science
standpoint, and ask, well, what kind of regime governs
science, it wouldn’t be a democracy in the sense that
everyone has an equal say, or even that there are clear
representative bodies in terms of which the bulk of the
scientific community, as it were, could turn to and who
would then, in turn, be held accountable.
There is a tendency, in fact, for science to be
governed by a kind of, to put it bluntly, self-perpetuating elite.

Now what I want to know is, why would one want to look at the ‘structure’ of science from a political science standpoint? Is science supposed to be a form of politics? Is political science a relevant way to study the structure of science? It doesn’t seem very relevant to me – at least not in the usual sense of political science. I can certainly believe there is plenty of ‘political’ maneuvering and manipulation in science, as in any vocation, profession, workplace, group of people; and that that kind of thing is eminently worth looking at. But is that what’s meant by political science? I don’t think so. I think political science is about governance, and government. That’s a different subject. (So we have here another example of mission creep, and of changing the subject.) And that matters, because the reality is that science isn’t supposed to be ‘a democracy in the sense that everyone has an equal say’. For obvious reasons. Scientific results aren’t supposed to be reached by a vote; scientific questions aren’t supposed to be decided by majority rule. (Except on juries. Which can be a real problem…a problem which illustrates the problems with the basic idea.) Mistakes don’t turn into non-mistakes simply because a lot of people think they should.

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