The social relevance of history and philosophy of science

Over at The Bubble Chamber, they’re having a spirited discussion on the (possible!) social relevance of history and philosophy of science.  I’ve supported this enterprise for quite some time now, and it’s refreshing to hear what practicing philosophers think.

I’d especially like to see more discussion on some of the “big issues” (public discourse anyone?).  Many people already spend time on discrete topics such as climate change and nanotechnology.  I think more people in HPS should try to help create a better narrative of what we call science.

6 Comments

  1. I’m sympathetic to what you’re calling for, or at least I think so. I’d love to hear a few more details about what you’d like to see. What do you think this better narrative would look like? At first read it sounds like describing how science is done. While that is another thing that could benefit from additional explanation, I’d love to hear how you think historians and philosophers of science can contribute to something that has been traditionally seen as more of a focus for sociologists of science.

    1. Hi David. Thanks for the comment, and for forcing me to clarify. I’ll have to give it some thought, and I’ll try to get to it over the weekend. But to briefly sketch out a better narrative, I think that a key point is that science isn’t “done” in any single way. It’s done in many different ways. Especially in the 21st century, when global science expenditures (combined gov’t plus industry*) probably approache close to $1 trillion, we have to be very careful before making grand claims about “the” scientific method.

      In short, I think the public (whatever that means!) should have a greater appreciation of the epistemic heterogeneity of science along with the difficulties of the demarcation problem.

      *Do you have a more solid number than this? By my count, the US spends ~$450 billion total ($150 by the feds, $300 by industry). I figure the rest of the world is at least another $550. Am I totally off?

  2. When in doubt for R&D numbers, start with the National Science Foundation and its statistics division. National R&D numbers for 2008 are estimated at a bit south of $400 billion in current dollars.

    http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind10/c4/fig04-01.gif

    Figure 1 in Globalization of Science and Engineering Research puts worldwide R&D spending in 2007 at $1.1 trillion.

    Both figures have likely declines since.

    As for the clarification, I’m on board, but you need to rephrase this:

    “I think the public (whatever that means!) should have a greater appreciation of the epistemic heterogeneity of science along with the difficulties of the demarcation problem.”

    so that those unfamiliar with philosophy can grasp both ideas in a couple of sentences.

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