Thursday, March 26

Reaction to Kitcher

In chapter 10 of Kitcher’s book, he list four problems with science and democracy today. On Tuesday my group discussed some of the issues that arise with these problems and what we could do to limit the effects of these problems. I found the first two problems the most interesting. The problems are:

1) The Problem of Inadequate Representation
2) The Problem of the Tyranny of the Ignorant

These problems are obviously opposites of one another, but which of these do you find more troublesome when it comes to a scientific application? I find the second problem more troubling and frustrating than the first. The ignorant/uninformed/mislead are able to vote on things that they do not fully understand. This means that they can and are easily influenced by people with their own private agendas, who might not have the best interest of the collective in mind. I am not saying that we should take away someone’s right to vote, that is obviously the keystone of our society, but maybe we need to rethink how we vote and fund scientific research. I don’t have any answers on how to restructure this process, but I find it hard to believe that we can’t find a better and more efficient way of doing this. One thing that I have done to minimize my effect on this problem is that I don’t vote on issues that I do not understand. Anyway, what does everyone else think? Which of the two problems do you find more troublesome?


  1. In the Kitcher reading, I think the second problem is the bigger of the two problems stated as well, but all of the problems mentioned in Kitcher’s book can have serious consequences to the progression of science. Both of these problems can be seen working together in today's government, specifically the U.S. Congress. Everyday, senators and representatives make decisions that affect approximately 300 million people (there are only 535 Congressmen between the House and the Senate). This creates not only inadequate representation, but is also leads to tyranny of the ignorant is some ways. For example, the House of Representatives has a “Committee of Science and Technology” that is divided into 5 sub-categories: Technology and Innovation, Energy and Environment, Investigations and Oversight, Research and Science Education, and Space and Aeronautics. Let’s focus on the Research and Science Education category… there are 13 members of this committee, including the sub-committee chair. These are the people that see the initial legislation for any scientific research that requires government approval or funding. Even though some of the members of the committee have backgrounds in science (for example, according to the House of Representatives webpage, Chair Daniel Lipinski has degrees in Mechanical Engineering, Engineering-Economic Systems, and Political Science), not all of them have “expertise” in the areas that pertain to the legislation they are approving. They are also on other committees that have similar agendas, which could produce a conflict of interest. How can it be determined that the legislation involving scientific research is representative of the best needs of the country when there is only a small number of inexperienced individuals making these important decisions? I think this points out one of the flaws in our government system, specifically pertaining to the approval of scientific ventures. Is there a way to fix this? One solution could be to form the sub-committees with members with a scientific background. Since most members of Congress have an education in law or politics it might be difficult to find people with enough expertise to fill the positions. Another suggestion is to form the committee with experts from specific fields of science. But just as the topic of peer review, if members can be found with enough expertise on the subject, it could create a conflict of interest when legislation needs to be approved. Are there any other ways to fix this problem?

    The third problem in chapter 10 of the reading is:

    3) The Problem of False Consciousness

    This ties into the second problem as well. This problem arises when research agenda is changed through misrepresentation of facts. Relating this back to the Congress example…Let’s say that a piece of legislation is put forth for approval, but there has been a group of activists pushing their agenda against the research that the legislation includes. Even though scientists can prove that consequences from the research will be minimal and the results could potentially expand out understanding of the scientific subject, the group of activists pick out statistic that there is a small consequence to the research and decide to launch a campaign against it. Even if the research can be proven to be safe, the people who are deciding whether or not to approve the legislation have heard the agenda of the opposing views. This could inevitably lead to Congress not approving the bill, or putting harsh constraints on the research, which could affect the results of the research and how the results are used. How can this situation be changed? This problem seems more widespread in society since anyone can spin facts to support their views and agendas, especially with use of the internet that allows easier ways to distribute misinformed views. There is not an efficient way to regulate if facts are being used appropriately. Is there anyway to fix this problem?

    Website for the House of Reps Science and Technology Committee:

  2. In our last class dicussion my group was assigned to look at Kitcher's four problems with science and democracy. I found these very facinating and very eye opening. Out of the four problems I definitely found "Problem of the Tyranny of the Ignorant" the most problematic. Although they all tied into each other a great deal and I see them almost acting as a snowball effect to each other.
    With the tyranny of the ignorant as I said before I find the most problematic. It is sad that so much of our countries decisions are made from people who have no idea what they are talking about. As Brittany already pointed out, decisions on government levels are passed down from senators and house members down to committees and sub committees. These committee and sub committee members are almost a waste of time. They are trying to make it so more specialized people are focused on a topic, when in reality they are not as specialized as they could be. I think these committees would be much more beneficial if truely specialized people would be hired.
    I think this would also help the effects of false advertisement on the general population. I think people try so hard to make sure their view is correct that they skew the facts and causing a telephone effect and no one really gets the true facts. Placing people in charge that really know that facts and making sure these facts got out I think would really help our society. I believe that too many times decisions are based off the general populations views.


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