Tuesday, March 10

Judgments for research determined by government or political structures

Kitcher gives a good example with the passing of Human Genome Project (HGP) and failure of superconducting supercollider (SS) for researches determined by political/governmental structures. Though the HGP was sold as benefits with regards with science and health, they were actually passed on the ground of possible economic benefits. I will also go further that even the people (in democracy) connected intuitively more with the benefits proposed by HGP and less so by the SS project So, does that mean SS is less important? This is where I want to bring in the criteria by Kuhn in “Objectivity, Value Judgment and Theory Choice” article from last weeks discussion, which were: accuracy, consistency, scope, simplicity and fruitfulness.

How could one efficiently apply the criterion of scope when even the scientist (let alone the decision makers for funding) can not visualize the scope particularly for new-original-unique theories? Physics is no longer in the state it used to be during the early 20th century when most groundbreaking theories were being developed and hence most non-physicist currently cannot understand or comprehend and hence cannot make a judgment on the possible scopes. But that does not necessarily mean SS project is less worthy of funds and hence I agree with Kitcher that science that leads to knowledge definitely has intrinsic value. As an additional argument, considering the massive economic and human resources for developing the atomic bombs that were eventually dropped in Hiroshima & Nagasaki were based on much more complicated reasons, none based on science. Though those supporting the research would mention the benefits particularly as an alternative source of energy, we have yet to see the scale of benefit proposed as they get outweighed by the fear from the unarguable destructive power.

The researches that involve biological investigations to reveal natural differences are based on the claim of enlightening social policy, but their oppositions have radical views against such research. I think both are wrong because the main issue for me is to question the morality of the researchers for such studies and not just the proposed objectives. Since, the main idea of scientific research is that we want to gain new or more knowledge and most research don’t give results the way we want it to, so it would be presumptuous to take a radical stand against such research but it is also wrong if the researchers motive is in search of particular findings to refute or support controversial social issues which would lead more harm than benefits, not to mention the scientific legitimacy. Though I don’t agree with the radical stance, I do agree that the standards might differ for such biological studies as most of these findings lead to more inconclusive reasoning rather than analyzing the science behind (as can be seen in popular media). This is best demonstrated in the numerous researches during 19th and early 20th century on various races that lead to eugenics and the fertile grounds for the “pure Aryans” in Nazism.

Therefore, with the current situation where the panels for determining the researches are faced with various conflicts of interests ranging from economic and political to personal opinions (mostly misinformed) I don’t think the decision-making structure has a firm foundation. Some might argue this as it worked with the success of Apollo11 mission but this example can equally be argued as this was motivated during cold-war and there are also some well known scientists who question the scientific intentions of later space missions.

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