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Who Rules in Science?: An Opinionated Guide to the Wars Paperback – Apr 29 2004


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1 edition (April 29 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674013646
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674013643
  • Product Dimensions: 1.7 x 14.6 x 22.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 399 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #491,045 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents


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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Too Soon Old on Feb. 23 2005
Format: Paperback
The above quote is the title of an essay by Michel De Montaigne written over 400 years ago. The author of "Who Rules in Science" would do well to read it.
As a senior citizen I enjoy reading about current affairs, culture, and science, and bought this book because I felt that I should learn more about the modern philosophers of science. Several people had written very comprehensive reviews of this book on the Amazon web site and gave it a high rating, so I assumed it must be worth a read. In hindsight, that was a big mistake.
James Brown, the author, is a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto. He states in his preface that "this book is an introduction-an opinionated introduction-to the issues (of who rules in science) for the general reader." The operative word here is "opinionated" and the non-operative words are "general reader."
Early in the book, he begins a discussion of the "Sokal Affair" which was a hoax perpetrated by the physicist, Alan Sokal, on the editors of the journal Social Text, in which he fooled them into publishing an article which, on the surface, appeared to be quite a piece of erudite writing but in reality was nothing but nonsense. If I had not already known what this was about, I would have had a hard time figuring out what he is talking about, because it is certainly not presented in a straight forward manner. His main purpose in bringing up the Sokal Affair is to show how easy it is to fool even supposedly very intelligent people, the unstated implication being that those fooled were somehow deceived because their views of the philosophy of science are wrong.
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By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on June 24 2003
Format: Hardcover
Some contend the conflict between the sciences and the humanities is behind us. Reading Brown's analysis on the one hand and the daily news on the other shows how mistaken this view is. This is a refreshing and perceptive examination of the topics encountered over education, workplace behaviour, health and environmental issues. In short, Brown asks what the role of science is in our lives and how should we consider it? While the so-called "science wars" may seem like a remote philosophical debate, Brown brings it home for us all. In his view, you, as a participant in society, have a role to play in what science ought to address. He is adamant, however, that how science is done should remain with those who understand the methods involved in seeking the truth, elusive as that concept might be.
Brown's reviews the famous "Sokal Hoax" in which a physicist scathingly exposed the limits of "postmodern" language and philosophy. He explains how the Sokal Affair raised the public consciousness about views of what science is and how it works. Brown presents and illuminates the issues with admirable clarity and logic. He is a Professor of Philosophy with a deep respect for rational thinking. Unlike some, he doesn't view "cultural relativism" as a fad. Instead, he's aware of its impact in education and the wider world of social and political life. We are daily confronted with decisions to be made. We must make them on a rational basis and not be misled by "charlatans" who would obfuscate the issues. We make decisions on the basis of the values we hold. Brown enjoins us to be clear on our values - their foundations and how they are derived. This all sounds familiar, even redundant.
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By A Customer on May 3 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is a nice little interesting book, but I can't agree with the effusive praise it's garnered. Brown does have some useful things to say, and his analysis is more balanced than that of many commentators on the science wars, but in places that analysis is rather shallow. It seems to me, for example, that the philosophical difficulties of naturalism would be something worth addressing by Brown, but he gives those difficulties short shrift.
Brown is just as capable as the extremists at dismissing those he disagrees with as "mushy-minded", "bad scientists" whose views are "laughable" and whose sanity should be doubted. All those who think moral norms might have divine origin? According to Brown, they're "naively religious". All those who disagree with Brown about capital punishment? According to Brown, they just must not have studied the matter as much as he has. (For Brown, this is apparently an issue on which it is impossible for there to be an honest, informed difference of opinion.) As someone who sympathizes with both Brown and Norman Levitt on many issues but disagrees with them each on others, I have to say that it's a lot more fun to be insulted by Levitt because he does it with such style! (Incidentally, Brown's analysis of Gross and Levitt's book only seems to make sense if Levitt is on the political Right. My reading of Levitt's _Prometheus Bedeviled_ leads me to believe that that is far from the case.)
One last item: Brown writes: "Most people could achieve a high-level understanding of any branch of science, but only if several years have been devoted to its intense study.
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