Scientific Controversies: Case Studies in the Resolution and Closure of Disputes in Science and Technology
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
This collection of essays examines the ways in which disputes and controversies about the application of scientific knowledge are resolved. Four concrete examples of public controversy are considered in detail: the efficacy of Laetrile, the classification of homosexuality as a disease, the setting of safety standards in the workplace, and the utility of nuclear energy as a source of power. The essays in this volume show that debates about these cases are not confined to matters of empirical fact. Rather, as is seen with most scientific and technical controversies, they focus on and are structured by complex ethical, economic, and political interests. Drs. Engelhardt and Caplan have brought together a distinguished group of scholars from the sciences and humanities, who sketch a theory of scientific controversy and attempt to provide recommendations about the ways in which both scientists and the public ought to seek more informed resolutions of highly contentious issues in science and technology. Scientific Controversies is offered as a contribution to the better understanding of the roles of both science and nonscientific interests in disputes and controversies pertaining to science and technology.
and I take his conclusions to be well defended.2 His arguments are far superior to those of even able opponents - such as the confused arguments advanced by former Justice Fortas in a book on the subject.3 Nonetheless, there remains room for legitimate disagreement concerning the precise conditions under which civil disobedience is justified and as to whether particular acts, such as those of Daniel Ellsberg, actually fall under the justifying conditions. 2 3 John Rawls, A Theory of Justice
most closely conforms to the policy's directives and to the rejection of beliefs the policy requires to be rejected. Negotiation closure would be achieved, then, when the principals conformed to the directives and thereby settled their differences. What directives should constitute this policy for negotiation closure? I suggest five directives as the policy's components. 1. The policy should require two forms of consistency. Clearly, it should require that beliefs be internally consistent;
seems necessary, no real controversy will occur. Does it depend, then, on the community's perception of the merits of the case? In a way, yes. But more has to be said about who constitutes the "community" here. Supposing scientists are united in their judgment that a particular drug is worthless, or that a particular theory such as neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory is adequately substantiated: Would this mean that controversy about these claims is impossible? Obviously not. If a sizable number of
attempted to keep pace. But they had been forced into vagueness and occasional 68 Ernan McMullin inconsistency. Above all, they gave the impression of adjusting after the fact, instead of anticipating the facts as their rivals were doing. As Lavoisier drily put it (1783), phlogiston, by not being strictly defined, had become a "veritable Proteus" that could "accommodate itself to every explanation into which it is pressed." 16 Within five years of the appearance of the Traite, nearly all
decades of the century, when the controversy was the strongest, there simply was not sufficient evidence to resolve the issue. When the resolution came, it was not through evidence but through a new unifying theory, the genetic theory of natural selection, which was later firmly established. But before the scientific issue was resolved, there was a "correct" scientific conclusion, although its advocates tended not to be heard. The correct conclusion was simply that the evidence was not decisive.