Steve Fuller

Steve Fuller is a prolific sociologist of science, of the social constructionist school. He testified in the Kitzmiller trial in Dover, Pennsylvania in October 2005, as an expert witness for the defense. Amusingly enough, the judge cited his testimony in finding for the plaintiffs; his expert testimony turned out to be something of an own goal.

Professor Steven William Fuller testified that it is ID’s
project to change the ground rules of science to include the supernatural…This definition was described by many witnesses for both parties, notably including defense experts Minnich and Fuller, as “special creation” of
kinds of animals, an inherently religious and creationist concept…Moreover and as previously stated, there is
hardly better evidence of ID’s relationship with creationism than an explicit
statement by defense expert Fuller that ID is a form of creationism…First, defense expert Professor
Fuller agreed that ID aspires to “change the ground rules” of science and lead
defense expert Professor Behe admitted that his broadened definition of science,
which encompasses ID, would also embrace astrology.

Nothing abashed, Fuller spun some words in the Times Higher Education Supplement in December.

Secular societies insist on a segregation of science and religion that many thoughtful monotheists find arbitrary and even oppressive…In today’s secular culture, Darwin is more readily embraced than Newton as a scientific icon although Newton remains unquestionably the greater scientist…Darwin’s biography projects the politically correct image of a Christian who loses his faith through scientific inquiry. We are unlikely to see a similar exhibit for Newton because his life teaches that the Bible can provide a sure path to great science.

He was interviewed by the Guardian in January.

“The judge in the Dover case went back to the old standard of what the experts say…My guess is that Dawkins just doesn’t know enough about the history of secular humanism to realise that Darwin killed off man at the same time as he killed off God.”…According to Fuller, what does and does not count as science is the result of a power struggle between the evolutionists, who control the scientific establishment, and a marginalised ID community with a large religious following. “I see myself in an affirmative action position, voicing a point of view that would otherwise be systematically excluded,” he says. “If you were having a science studies class, all the things I was saying would be completely normal. The problem is, when you say them in a courtroom and it has a bearing on science policy, then people go ballistic.”…Historically, he says, it’s religion that has motivated people to study science. “We wouldn’t have science as we know it today if it weren’t for monotheism,” he argues, reeling off references to Newton and Mendel and their belief in divine plans.

Norman Levitt took a skeptical look at Fuller in the aftermath of Kitzmiller.

Fuller regards himself as a leader in the movement to “open up” science by nurturing and canonizing ways of “doing science” that differ radically from practices currently endorsed by the professional scientific consensus. This is a theme that plays well on the academic left, since it explicitly includes such notions as “citizen science” and “people’s science,” projects that Fuller gives leave to confront and reject the findings of established science…This bizarre project is propped up by Fuller’s dogma that one need not actually understand standard science to criticize it or to pose profoundly different alternatives. The specific content of standard science, its internal logic, the empirical results that buttress it, are not crucial elements in understanding “Science” as he maintains it should be understood. What, then, authorizes those who, like Fuller, do “social studies of science” to claim that supposedly superior understanding? “We study them [scientists] as people, not minor deities. We observe them in their workplaces, interpret their documents, and propose explanations for their activities that make sense of them, given other things we know about human beings.”

His latest gift to science studies, in March 2006, is a review of Scientific Values and Civic Virtues, edited byNoretta Koertge. It is reliable, still unabashed Fuller.

While it is relatively harmless to insist that mastery of a scientific specialty requires training in certain techniques, it is more problematic (pace Kuhn) to insist that all such specialists share the same disciplinary narrative – and still more problematic to require that they pledge allegiance to the same philosophical world-view, say, what the US National Academy of Sciences calls “methodological naturalism.” It makes for bad philosophy, bad science, and bad politics. Yet, we seem to be sliding down this slippery slope, which in the past has led to loyalty oaths and in the future could lead to the genetic profiling of people as unfit for scientific endeavors because of their propensity to belief in, say, the supernatural.

Yes, it could. As one reader of B&W dryly commented, “or, ‘in the future could lead to people having marmalade forced up their nostrils.’ or, ‘in the future could lead to people having their eyebrows shaved while dozing.’” Fuller seems to convince no one but fellow practitioners of ‘science studies’, but he makes a nice living in the process, so there you go.

Update, October 31 2009: Steve Fuller has drawn the spotlight to himself again, this time by posting an ‘obituary’ of Norman Levitt four days after his death.

Norman Levitt has died, aged 66, of heart failure. He was awarded a Ph.D. in mathematics from Princeton at age 24 in 1967 but his fame rests mainly on having been one of the great ‘Science Warriors’, especially via the book he co-authored with biologist Paul Gross, Higher Superstition (Johns Hopkins, 1994). I put the point this way because I imagine that Levitt as someone of great unfulfilled promise — mathematicians typically fulfil their promise much earlier than other academics – who then decided that he would defend the scientific establishment from those who questioned its legitimacy. Why? Well, one reason would be to render his own sense of failure intelligible…And yes, what I am offering is an ad hominem argument, but ad hominem arguments are fallacies only when they are used indiscriminately. In this case, it helps to explain – and perhaps even excuse – Levitt’s evolution into a minor science fascist.

I believe that Levitt’s ultimate claim to fame may rest on his having been as a pioneer of cyber-fascism, whereby a certain well-educated but (for whatever reason) academically disenfranchised group of people have managed to create their own parallel universe of what is right and wrong in matters of science, which is backed up (at least at the moment) by nothing more than a steady stream of invective. Their resentment demands a scapegoat — and ‘postmodernists’ function as Jews had previously. My guess is that very few academically successful people have ever thought about – let alone supported — what Levitt touted as “science’s side” in the Science Wars. Nevertheless, I am sure that a strong constituency for Levitt’s message has long existed amongst science’s many failed aspirants.

This ‘obituary’ has so far (four days after its posting) attracted 115 comments, nearly all of them expressing profound disgust.

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