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patriarchial science

Adrian Goldman Goldman at hippo.btk.utu.fi
Thu Dec 1 09:37:54 EST 1994

In article <199411281930.LAA10612 at net.bio.net>, MLJAP at VTVM1.CC.VT.EDU
(lederman) wrote:

I am just net.browsing, so probably my responses should be ignored.  However...
> There ARE practicing scientists
> engaged in the feminist critique of science - I am one - (although I
> probably have no reputation yet in the field) Evelyn Fox Keller was
> trained as a molecular biologist. The way that I read Janis' response,
> is that it would fall into the so-called "liberal" critique of science,
> specifically, that there is nothing "wrong" with science as it is
> practiced that cannot be fixed by people of good will. Things to be
> fixed include access of women, hours in the lab, subtle and not-so-
> subtle gender discrimination in hiring, lab social practices, etc.
With which I rather suspect I agree....

> Also in the post are two sentences  that I did copy down "Science
> itself is simply a way of asking a question" and "Understanding how the
> world works is not patriarchial, but the practice is" (last part
> paraphrased". There are some who would say that understanding how the
> world works IS patriarchial - that the rules for the doing of science
> that were set in place at the time of the Scientific Revolution are
> androcentric, that they allow human domination and exploitation of
> Nature and parenthetically its investigation. Interesting reading
> along these lines are Carolyn Merchant's "The Death of Nature" and
> a paper by Susan Bordo called "The Cartesian Masculinization of Thought"
> (sorry, I can't find the reference right now - will look and post later)
> that contains a line that to me encapsulates how the sturcutre of science
> is androcentric "The otherness of nature is what allows it to be known".
> As has been mentioned before, science is a social construct and it does
> reflect the biases of society. 
I really disagree.  What science is done certainly reflects the biases of
society - but I am not even certain if, at this late date, there is much
sexism in what is done (at least not in my field).  There is, however, an
awful lot of "fashion".  But, maybe more importantly, what science is done
reflects what can be done: before there were telescopes, you couldn't
discover that there were moons around Jupiter; before there were x-rays,
you couldn't do x-ray crystallography (my field); before Sanger invented
Sanger-sequencing, you couldn't do Sanger-sequencing and so on.

>To some extent, this calls into question
> the objectivity that scientist point to as unique about the enterprise.
The problem that I have - and, indeed, I think that most working
scientists have - with this statement could, I suppose, be summed up by
asking "Do you think apples would have fallen upwards if Newton had been a
woman?"  I think, I would say that the key thing that makes science not
_objective_ (because that sounds far too God-given: it reeks of tablets &
mountain tops) but _more_objective_ than (say) Philosophy, or Music, or
Religion or..... is that, eventually, in the long run, my prejudices don't
count.  If I have asked the question of Nature in the wrong way & come up
with a partial or total untruth, someone will find me out.  Nature will
find me out.  It's the Popperian falsefiability of theories that is
science's greatest strength and most unique feature: religion, art, lit.
crit., you name it -- no other branch of human thought is falsefiable.

Of course, there are certain areas of science -- particularly the "soft
sciences" for which the scientific method holds - shall we say -
pitfalls?  (One might even, on that basis, say that they are not "really"
sciences.)  In that category would probably fall almost all studies of
people: medicine, sociology, anthropology, you name it. Maybe, also,
studies of closely-related species: apes, etc.  Probably not studies of
the mating habits of bacteria.

> There may not be any "rules" that are inherent in the doing of science or
> what comes out of the doing of science.  The way you ask the question may
> very much influence the answer.
But I think you're missing the point.  Even if that is so, if the theory
you build on the answer doesn't hold water, someone else will discover the
fact: a theory that is not falsifiable isn't a scientific theory.  (And
science, at least in my book, is not really about the accumulation of
"facts" - though that is certainly what it feels like as a graduate
student.  It's about the accumulation of techniques, first, and theories,

         Just my 2 FIM,

                  Adrian Goldman

Adrian Goldman, Ph. D.            |Phone:    intl+358-(9)21-6338029
Group Leader,                     |FAX:      intl+358-(9)21-6338000
Macromolecular Structures,        |Internet: Goldman at Ala.Btk.Utu.Fi
Centre for Biotechnology,         |          Goldman at Hippo.Btk.Utu.Fi     
P. L. 123,                        | Bitnet:  AGoldman at Finabo.Bitnet      
FIN-20521 Turku, Finland.         |

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