Affirming values and convincing scientists

If the implication, the outcome, can affirm your values, you think about it in a much more open-minded way–Dan Kahan (~3-minute mark)

While Kahan was addressing climate change, I think his message should be taken to heart by those in the science studies community (myself included). Especially given the overblown rhetoric about rationality and scientific thinking, it’s easy to forget that scientists are people too! We have some of the very flaws and tendencies we often criticize in others. And just like everyone else, scientists don’t like to see their values attacked.

Fair or not, science studies is often viewed as attacking science, or at least some of the core underlying values of science. Consider climate scientist Andrew Dessler’s comment on this (rather ancient) blog post: “I guess what I really object to in STS is the assertion that all knowledge is relative.”

I don’t know a single STSer who thinks all knowledge is relative. But since Dessler appears to believe otherwise, he is understandably resistant to some of their other suggestions. I think his distrust comes through in the thread.

As annoying as it may be for some, perhaps such discussions should be prefaced with something like: “I acknowledge there is a a real world which contain objective facts. I also acknowledge that we can and should study the world in a methodological, coherent manner. When possible, we should try to replicate our findings…yada, yada, yada.” I suspect the omission of this type of message is part of the reason STS hasn’t gained more traction among scientists.

Another reason is that STS-folks tend to be typical academics, and are thus content sit in their own little world not engaging in outreach and communication. But that’s a topic for a different time!

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