2 years ago

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

costs and benefits of

costs and benefits of science loom as large as thoseof any other public policy. Yet, Kuhn managed tosucceed simply by ignoring the issue, leaving hisreaders with the impression – or perhaps misimpression– that, say, a multi-billion-dollarparticle accelerator is nothing more than a bigscientific playpen.Popper and his followers were unique in seizing aglaring weakness in Kuhn’s theory: Kuhniannormal science was a politically primitive socialformation that combined qualities of the Mafia, aroyal dynasty and a religious order. It lacked the sortof constitutional safeguards that we take forgranted in modern democracies that regularly forcepoliticians to be accountable to more people thanjust themselves. Scientists should be always tryingto falsify their theories, just as people should bealways invited to find fault in their governmentsand consider alternatives – and not simply waituntil the government can no longer hide itsmistakes. This notoriously led Popper and hisstudents to be equal opportunity fault-findersacross the natural and social sciences.Nevertheless, Kuhn’s political primitivism hasbeen closer to that of Western national sciencepolicy-makers who, since the end of World War II,have presumed that self-organising bodies ofscientists, roughly corresponding to academic46

disciplines, can determine the best researchers andresearch, and need change course only when theysee fit. Moreover, once scientists have deemed thattheir knowledge has sufficiently matured, it canbecome the grounds for expertise and technology.Thus was legitimated the so-called ‘linear model’for the conversion of ‘basic’ to ‘applied’ research,which was a staple of Cold War science policy. Sucha strategy avoids difficult second-order questionsabout the relative merits of the knowledge producedby two distinct bodies of scientists: Shouldwe fund more physics or more biology? What doeseach discipline contribute to our reasons forpursuing science as such? Silence on these mattersis typically broken only during a fiscal crisis, whenscientists are forced to operate within tight budgets.But policymakers see this as very much ‘external’ tothe normal course of science policy.Of course, like the most enduring monarchies,the scientific establishment continues to enjoywidespread public support on most matters,including the tinge of divine inspiration that hastraditionally legitimated royalty. It might thereforebe claimed that science already represents ‘the willof the people’, and hence requires no furtherphilosophical schemes for democratisation. HerePopper’s anti-majoritarian approach to democracy– what I would call his ‘civic republican’ sensibility47

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