Mittwoch, 14. Januar 2015, 17:30 - 19:00 iCal

Is Science Being Rendered Obsolete?


Department of Science and Technology Studies / Seminar Room / Staircase II / 6th floor (NIG)
Universitätsstraße 7, 1010 Wien


“Speaking Truth to Power” was the triumphantly noble, if risky, rallying-cry for independent science in the post-war period. In the following decades running into the early 21st Century however, the classical normative culture of that so-called independent science (the one which had claimed authorship not only for penicillin, but also the atomic bomb), as articulated in the mid-20th Century by the American sociologist of science Robert Merton, seems to have become more-and-more blatantly false. Those defining Mertonian norms – communalism, universalism, disinterestedness, organised scepticism, CUDOS – were always challenged as a descriptive account of real science, by the 1970s empirically based sociological research on scientific knowledge-production processes, as inspired by historian-philosopher Thomas Kuhn. However their acute disconnection from, even contradiction of, actual scientific-institutional driving forces, practices and processes of today, seem even farther distant from reality. The independence of science has become intensely necessary for policy institutions attempting to gain public authority for commitments made in the name of ‘science-informed, rational democracy’, while at the same time being intensely controversial as the ‘science’ which justifies or defends such commitments is manipulated and selectively framed in order to serve that political role.


In this lecture I will first review the sociological debate over the Mertonian account of science and its social role in democratic societies, along with the conventional models of the role of scientific knowledge in public policy which still with minor qualifications (over for example, scientific uncertainty) rule policy culture even today. Into this I will then introduce the co-production thesis of STS scholar Sheila Jasanoff, which recognises through extensive international empirical case-study work as well as historically informed conceptual work, how scientific and policy cultures work themselves together into mutually reinforcing cognitive-institutional policy orders. The claim of independence is difficult to sustain in face of this thesis, and the political economic changes in science which are well accounted for by increasing numbers of scholars, also make this key claim for science’s political role even less credible as an empirically-founded, rather than aspiration-founded account. I will conclude by posing some important questions about the future of science as we (think we) know it.


Brian Wynne


Karin Neumann
Institut für Wissenschafts- und Technikforschung