Monday, February 11, 2008

The Science wars were a series of intellectual battles in the 1990s between "postmodernists" and "realists" (though neither party would likely use the terms to describe themselves) about the nature of scientific theories. In brief, the postmodernists questioned the objectivity of science and encompass a huge variety of critiques on scientific knowledge and method within cultural studies, cultural anthropology, feminist studies, comparative literature, media studies, and science and technology studies. The realists countered that there is such a thing as objective scientific knowledge and accused the postmodernists of having a poor understanding of the subject they were critiquing.

Historical background
This apparent attack on the validity of science from the humanities and social sciences worried many people in the scientific community, especially as the language of social construction was appropriated by groups which claimed to be proffering alternate scientific paradigms, but which were actually, according to the view of many scientists, attempting to assert political control over the use of science in society (see, for example, the Creation-evolution controversy, and Creation science). In 1994, scientists Paul R. Gross and Norman Levitt published Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels With Science, an open attack on the postmodernists. According to supporters, the book brought the shortcomings of relativism into sharp focus, claiming that the postmodernists knew little about the scientific theories they discussed and pursued sloppy scholarship for political reasons. According to scholars in science studies (the postmodernists under attack), the book brought the authors' failure to understand the theoretical approaches they criticize into sharp focus, and relied more on "caricature, misreading, and condescension than argument."

Science wars Science wars in Social Text
Since the "Science Wars" edition of Social Text, the seriousness and volume of discussion increased significantly, much of it focused on reconciling the "warring" camps of humanists and scientists. One significant event was the "Science and Its Critics" conference in early 1997; it brought together scientists and scholars who study science and featured Alan Sokal and Steve Fuller as keynote speakers. The conference generated the final wave of substantial press coverage (in both news media and scientific journals), though by no means resolved the fundamental issues of social construction and objectivity in science..

See also

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