Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Golem: What You Should Know about Science
Harry Collins & Trevor Pinch
Canto, 2nd edn, 1998.

Cambridge University Press.

(Canto 1st edn published in 1994. First published 1943. Excerpts from below are taken from the Afterword newly added to the Canto 2nd edn.)

pg 172-174

[...] That we can be misread in this way may be because the physicists' notion of truth implies that it has been attained by a certain route, whereas the sociologist is happy to discuss truth as it is encountered within the surrounding society. For the sociologist, as sociologist, scientific truth is that which is affirmed by scientists. The misunderstanding arises, perhaps, because discussions of truth take as their starting point an idealised model of scientific truth generation - an imaginary laboratory bench. Instead let us give ourselves a little shock by trying to think about truth from the 'outside' and then working 'inwards' to the laboratory bench.

Consider the lay person's knowledge of relativity. Such a person might know from reading the newspapers (in 1919) that starlight is bent in its passage near the Sun; they might be able to chant, "E = mc(squared)", and they might have an inkling that this saying accounts in some way for the power of the atomic bomb; they might know that it is impossible to travel faster than the speed of light. On the other hand there may be a group of television viewers for whom faster than light travel is as commonplace as it is on the Starship Enterprise. One of these groups has hold of the truth and one does not, yet we can see immediately that both groups have reached their views through broadly similar means - listening to what they have been told, reading what they have read, and viewing what they have viewed. Neither group has any direct experience of the world which has touched on relativity.

Exactly the same applies to us, the authors of this book. When we say that relativity is the truth, we are merely repeating what we have come to believe by being embedded in our culture. We have never done any experiments relating to the truth of relativity; we have merely read about experiments and listened to what others have told us about the meaning of these experiments. So when our critics berate us for not endorsing the truth of relativity sufficiently vigorously, or for seeming to cast doubt on the truth of relativity by our historical treatment, they are really demanding that we endorse what we have been told. This is something we are happy to do; all we ask is a little space to talk about the way it works.

The same applies to 99.99% of readers of this book, the 0.01% being scientists who have worked on experiments involving relativity. The 99.99% have not seen the truth of relativity with their own eyes or felt it with their own senses; the way they came by their views of relativity is deeply social.

If, then, we want to describe ourselves as making a 'judgment' where we endorse relativity, it is society that is being judged. We know the way society is organised and so we know where the experts in this kind of thing are located; we know they are in physics departments in universities and similar institutions. Those for whom Star Trek is as salient as special relativity are not making a mistake in their physics - they have no physics, or virtually no physics - they are misunderstanding the way society is organised. If they do realise that to gain expertise in the working of the physical world one must first have experience, they do not know which social locations provide the right kind of experience. They do not know that it is physicists who are found in the right locations, not script-writers.

We can carry this argument ever further inwards. In the end we find that those who have the kind of direct experience that, according to the ideals of science, should be the only thing that leads to truth are very few in number and their social networks are very small. What The Golem does is show that even for the few, matters were more complicated than they are usually portrayed as being. At best, even those few took time to reach the truth of special relativity and took even longer to reach the truth of general relativity. And in order to reach those truths they had to trust each other's experiments, and agree to accept certain interpretations and dismiss other interpretations of data, and to accept vast rafts of traditional knowledge that they were themselves unable to test and within which these interpretations were set. If admitting this is incompatible with the statement that they eventually reached what we all count as truth, then The Golem is an attack on science. Otherwise it is merely an attack on misleading models of truth-generation.

pg 175-176
what we mean to argue is that experiments in deeply disputed science - the kind of science discussed in The Golem - cannot be clearly settled by experiments. In deeply disputed science the potential that is always there to question and reinterpret the meaning of an experiment is actualised. When the stakes are high, the trust disappears, the embedding culture loses its power to maintain consensus, and scientists no longer accept what they have been told. This takes away the potency of experiment. Note that this does not mean that experiment should cease to be a feature of the scientific method. If we stopped doing experiments we would no longer be doing science. But we should be clear that the determined critic can always subvert the force of any experimental result.

It is worth reiterating the chain of reasoning: A quasi-philosophical argument shows that no set of experimental results can retain their potency in the face of reinterpretation by sufficiently committed critics. Or, to put this more positively, experimental data retains its potency under these circumstances only when there are no such critics. Whether the potential for reinterpretation will be actualised depends on the setting of the experiment: if it is not actualised, we will see science as running smoothly; if it is actualised, we will see science that resembles the case studies presented in this volume. In sum, the potential for dispute is always there in the structure of scientific and technological knowledge, but it is the social force fields (including those found in science itself) which give scientific debates their form and intensity.

These last remarks provide another reason for The Golem's concentration on controversies. Controversies may be statistically unrepresentative of science as a whole but they are 'philosophically representative'; they show what science can do and cannot do when it confronts trouble. What it cannot do, as we try to show, is settle complex disagreements with quick experimental tests or theoretical revelations and in this sense even the cold fusion controversy, described here, was science as normal.

Monday, January 22, 2007

You know that you have suffered some brain damage when you read "extensive lymphocytic infiltration is a consistent characteristic of EBV-positive carcinomas and correlates with less aggressive behaviour" and suddenly you imagine tumours jumping up and going "RAWR!!".

Sunday, January 21, 2007

One of the joys of reading The World is Flat, by Thomas L. Friedman, is that he makes the topic of globalization vivid and accessible. For someone like me who has no economics, history, political science or international relations background at all, this is Globalization for Dummies 101, made interesting.

Very cool.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Today is the first ever Social Workers' Day in Singapore =) but I can't go for the celebrations because of a prior commitment to my company's annual Family Day at Loyang Aloha chalet. Which I'll enjoy as well, but in a different way. It's about time that social work was recognised as a profession though.

The Straits Times Saturday special feature for today focuses on social work. Go read it.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Things have been quiet around here the past few weeks. I've been working, doing SW assignments, reading a great deal, maybe getting involved in one or two or three or at most four new projects. Trying my best to grow my new projects. I think one or two of them are getting neglected very badly.


I think I might be more free after next week when semester ends. It'll start again in late Feb, which gives me enough time to read all the books and readings.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

More and more, I feel as if I don't belong to this country.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

I recently came into contact with someone who expressed great interest in my blog archives, so I thought I'd just filch something from a random page (March '04) to do again. For amusement. Those in italics are the things that have changed.

name = SM
piercings = ears.
tattoos = no, never.
height = 160 cm
shoe size = 7?
hair color = Black with white strands here and there
length = right now, neither long nor short.
siblings = three. girls, all.
pets = never before.

movie you rented = Happy Feet
movie you bought = nope
song you listened to = Irreplaceable, by Beyonce
song that was stuck in your head = Chasing Cars, by Snow Patrol
thing you've downloaded = some pdf document
cd you bought = this was a long time ago but I think it was Encore by Sarah Brightman
cd you listened to = The Best of Christmas Favorites, some jazz thing
person you've called = Jax
person that called you = Joce
tv show you've watched = So You Think You Can Dance
person you were thinking of = John Molina. He was playing at Rouge where I was on new year's eve.

you have a bf or gf = (blank)
you have a crush on someone = No.
you wish you could live somewhere else = Yeah.
you think about suicide = Not anymore.
you believe in online dating = If it works for you, it works. If it doesn't work for you, then it doesn't.
you want more piercings = No
you want more tattoos = No
you drink = About once every two months, yes
you do drugs = Coffee
you smoke = No
you like cleaning = Yes. Cleaning can be very therapeutic.
you like roller coasters = No. Same principle as horror movies.
you write in cursive or print = Either. Depends on mood + lecturer's talking speed.
you carry a donor card = Yes

For or Against..
teenage smoking = Against
doing drugs = Against
premarital sex = Your choice, I boh chup abt ur life
driving drunk = absolutely against.

tv show = So You Think You Can Dance
thing in the world = "drink, when you are thirsty. eat, when you are hungry. that will give you ease." idea not mine, from where I cannot recall at this particular moment.
thing to collect = Knowledge.
colors of all time = that storm-gray of the sea
thing to do on a rainy day = go out in the rain with a good friend and splash water at each other
feeling in the world = love

Have you...
ever cried over a guy = Countless times.
ever lied to someone = Yes
ever been in a fist fight = Verbal ones.

Perfume do you use = don't tell you
shoes do you wear = all kinds, except boots
are you scared of = see Bene Gesserit Litany of Fear, Frank Herbert in Dune series.

of continents I have lived in? One.
of drugs taken illegally? Does alcohol count? How about passive smoking?
of people I would classify as true, could trust with my life type friends? Quite a lot. Blessed with them.
of people I consider my enemies? Don't.
of times my name has appeared in the newspaper? One, I think.
of scars on my body? Here and there.

Have you ever...
Fallen for your best friend? Yes.
Made out with JUST a friend? Erm...
Been in love? Unfortunately.
Cheated on someone? No.

Who was the last person...
You touched? my second sis
You talked to? Bernard
You hugged? my second sis

Have you/are you/do you....
Considered a life of crime? No
Considered being a hooker? No, I don't quite qualify.
Considered being a pimp? No
Are you psycho? Perhaps.
Split personalities? No.
Schizophrenic? No.
Obsessive compulsive? No.
Panic? Sometimes yes, and sometimes I'm so un-panicky the ppl around me panic on my behalf. Get real. Who doesn't panic at some point?
Anxiety? Some...
Depressed? not that i know of
Obsessed with hate? No!
Dream of mutilated bodies, blood, death, and gore? No
Dream of doing those things instead of just seeing them? Absolutely not.

Are you...
Understanding: I get into trouble because I'm too understanding, and I also get a lot of happiness with other ppl because I'm understanding. What's the point of this question?
Open-minded: probably more so than in 2004
Interesting: no comment
Hungry: not now.
Friendly: generally, no
Childish: to some people
Healthy: hmmmm
Difficult: The answer is an unequivocal yes.
Thirsty: Yeah.
Responsible: Unfortunately, yes :)
Sad: Yeah.
Happy: Yeah.
Trusting: Where? Maybe.
Talkative: I have been described in this manner by some ppl, yes.
Lonely: On occasion.
Own a webcam? No.

Current Clothes: T-shirt and shorts
Current Mood: savouring the taste of the song 'Take My Breath Away'
Current Taste: water
Current Hair: medium
Current Annoyance: how to be a better person
Current Smell: uh, i think the rain outside my room smells quite nice
Current thing you ought to be doing: SW homework, and thinking
Current Book: The World is Flat, Thomas L. Friedman
Current DVD In Player: No DVDs...
Current Refreshment: more water
Current Worry: i don't think my current worry is something that anyone can help me with
Current Crush: none

On Dating....
Long or short hair? Short hair.
Dark or blond hair? No preference.
Tall or short? No preference, really.
Mr. Sensitive or Mr. Funny? neither are appealing without basic self-confidence
Good boy or bad boy? No preference.
Dark or light eyes? No preference.
Pierced or no? Depends on the location of the piercing

On preferences....
Chocolate milk or hot chocolate? the milk. i dislike things that stick to my tongue after I eat them.
McDonalds or Burger King? neither
Marry the perfect lover or the perfect friend? Perfect friend.
Sweet or sour? Sour.
Root Beer or Dr. Pepper? i get high on vodka cranberry.
Sappy/action/comedy/horror? action
Ocean or Pool? Ocean.
Cool Ranch or Nacho Cheese? hate cheese. see above.
With or without ice-cubes? Now that really depends on what we are using the ice cubes for, darling......
Shine or rain? either. since both occur regardless of my personal preference, it's pointless to prefer.
Winter/Summer/Fall/Spring? fall
Vanilla or Chocolate? Vanilla
Gloves or mittens? gloves.
Eyes open or closed? open
Fly or breathe under water? Fly
Bunk-bed or waterbed? either
Chewing gum or hard candy? i strongly dislike chewing gum. see above.
Motor boat or sailboat? irrelevant qn.

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