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Science

1998
Author:

Steve Fuller

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A surprising examination of our understanding of science.

Fuller highlights science’s multicultural nature through a discussion of episodes in which the West’s own perception of science has been decisively affected by its encounters with Islam and Japan. Through this analysis we come to understand that science’s most attractive feature-its openness to criticism-is threatened by the role it increasingly plays in the maintenance of social and economic order.

“Science is a swashbuckling book. Fuller’s formidable scholarship takes no prisoners.” --Nature

This book is a useful and insightful journey through some of the key debates about science as a human activity. It covers a great deal of ground: Fuller is concerned with science as a domain of economic activity, an epistemological system, a social institution and as a historical and cultural artifact. The extraordinary erudition that the author displays makes the book both stimulating and thought-provoking.

Sociological Research Online

What qualifies such seemingly disparate disciplines as paleontology, high-energy physics, industrial chemistry, and genetic engineering as “sciences,” and hence worthy of sustained public interest and support? In this innovative and controversial introduction to the social character of scientific knowledge, Steve Fuller argues that if these disciplines share anything at all, it is more likely the way they strategically misinterpret their own history rather than any privileged access to the nature of reality.

Science features a report written in the persona of a Martian anthropologist who systematically compares religious and scientific institutions on Earth, only to find that science does not necessarily live up to its own ideals of rationality. Fuller highlights science’s multicultural nature through a discussion of episodes in which the West’s own perception of science has been decisively affected by its encounters with Islam and Japan. Through this analysis we come to understand that science’s most attractive feature-its openness to criticism-is threatened by the role it increasingly plays in the maintenance of social and economic order.

ISBN 0-8166-3124-7 Cloth $37.95xx CUSA
ISBN 0-8166-3125-5 Paper $14.95x CUSA
160 pages 5 5/16 x 8 1/2
Concepts in Social Thought Series
Translation inquiries: Open University Press, UK

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Steve Fuller is professor of sociology and social policy at the University of Durham, UK.

Book Default Image

This book is a useful and insightful journey through some of the key debates about science as a human activity. It covers a great deal of ground: Fuller is concerned with science as a domain of economic activity, an epistemological system, a social institution and as a historical and cultural artifact. The extraordinary erudition that the author displays makes the book both stimulating and thought-provoking.

Sociological Research Online

The work makes original and ingenious use of various conceptual tools from several social sciences. It contains a philosophical depth and a cultural and historical breadth rare in social accounts of science, while dealing with the most current contested issues. It sparkles with numerous new ideas and opens many avenues of inquiry for the scholar. The work is written in an engaging and witty style, making it useful as an introductory text as well as an analytic evaluation of current issues such as of that multiculturalism in science for more advanced scholars in sociology, science studies and philosophy.

History of the Human Sciences

As a self-confessed purveyor of ‘frequently outrageous views,’ Steve Fuller can be relied on for a spirited and provocative text-and so this proves. What is impressive is Fuller’s intellectual boldness in weaving together a wealth of sociological, philosophical and historical arguments that aim to reveal for public scrutiny the true nature of science. This volume reveals how difficult and fraught the process of bridge-building will be, but also how rich the rewards will be if science is seen by its practitioners and critics alike as a pursuit that is both wonderful and flawed, both distinctive and ordinary in turn-a mix no less true than of all other areas of human endeavor.

Public Understanding of Science

Fuller sees science as a product of a particular civilization and thus draws his material from a broad cultural and historic range. He is just as interested in looking at science from the inside as from the outside: from the perspective of Islam, China and Japan. Indeed, even the Martians get a look in. In a powerfully argued chapter on 'science as superstition', Fuller looks at science from the perspective of visiting Martians who are well-versed anthropologists. They start by wondering whether they should disguise themselves as 'a member of a group that is essential to reproducing the social order of science but traditionally marginal to its power structure' such as 'women, ethnic minorities, postdoctoral fellows and technical support staff'. Eventually they decide to use conventional categories of religious thought to understand science. Their conclusions: science does a good job of reminding scientists what it is like to be perfect but provides little guidance on how to improve; just because humans appeal to science to justify their beliefs does not mean that these beliefs are rational; scientists use 'methodological ventriloquism' to project their descriptive and explanatory categories on an indifferent reality; and democratic governments use the appeal of scientific authority to control and coerce people. Fuller's Martians see the norms of science in terms of cultural imperialism, mafiosism, opportunism, and collective irresponsibility. Science is a swashbuckling book. Fuller's formidable scholarship takes no prisoners; his project is not just to demonstrate the end of scientific knowledge but to speed up its demise. However, while the future of western science is doubtful, traditional sciences in non-western civilizations may come to the fore. The emphasis on morality and ethics in science in Islam and the notions of mystery, duality and incoherence in Chinese science are signposts for the future. The Japanese have already demonstrated that the non-west does not need to retrace the history of science in the West or accept and adopt its philosophical and metaphysical principles to evolve a particularly local scientific culture. Fuller provides a wide-ranging tour of the whole gamut of the social studies of science. But Fuller demonstrates the true import of the sociological, philosophical and historical critiques of science by driving home their implications for the role of science in contemporary society.

Nature