Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Porter, Theodore. "Schrodinger's Goose." AMERICAN SCIENTIST (November/December 2008).

Shapin, Steven. The Scientific Life: a Moral History of a Late Modern Vocation. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2008. Steven Shapin, one of our most creative and productive historians of science, has spent much of his career writing about the 17th century against the background of the 20th. In The Scientific Life he reverses field, drawing on perspectives he worked out in writings on Robert Boyle, the Royal Society and the early-modern invention of laboratory science to comprehend the scientific role in our age of technoscience. At first glance, we see only contrasts. Boyle, a rich nobleman, was beholden to no one and claimed the authority to pronounce on matters of truth based on his status as an independent gentleman with landed wealth. Science now is a job, open to anyone with the appropriate training, and is supported on a large scale in many kinds of institutions. Max Weber summed up these great historical changes in the character of science and scholarship when he wrote that Wissenschaft had been transformed from a calling into a career. Shapin highlights a doctrine of "moral equivalence"—the idea that the practice of science implies no higher morality—that arose with Weber and was formulated with epigrammatic clarity by the American sociologist Robert Merton. We no longer expect scientists to display qualities of personal integrity beyond what we would demand of lawyers, businesspeople or store clerks. Their involvement with war and their willing subordination to the expectations of profit-driven industry seem to support this doctrine of equivalence, and the modern intermingling of academic research with entrepreneurship exemplifies the decline of an ideal of disinterested truth. Yet Shapin is not so sure, and for him the persistence of a moral vocabulary in science is one of the key continuities between the 17th century and the 21st. . . . Read the whole review here:

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