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

4.4 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1 edition (March 30 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674013646
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674013643
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 1.6 x 23.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 399 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #748,699 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

ostmodernists and social constructionists claim that there can be no such thing as "objective science." Indeed, many argue that the underlying "facts" of science are merely social conventions and that any view of the natural world is as likely to be as accurate as any other: "[i]t is one story among many stories," says Stanley Aronowitz. The process of scientific investigation and the knowledge that it yields, therefore, is worthy of neither particular respect nor governmental funding. University of Toronto professor of philosophy Brown (Smoke and Mirrors) ably takes on many of the claims proffered by the antiscience camp and argues that the logic in those claims is faulty. Brown's engaging style makes accessible complex issues central to the philosophy of science. The positions of two of the 20th century's great philosophers of science, Thomas Kuhn and Karl Popper, for example, are summarized deftly and fairly harshly, and contrasted with those of their most famous detractors: Bruno Latour, Jacques Derrida and David Bloor. Brown somewhat gleefully recounts the renowned hoax wherein physicist Alan Sokal sent in "a concoction of cleverly contrived gibberish written in the worst postmodern jargon" to the pomo journal Social Text. But he's no apologist for science, and he contends that scientists are subject to social bias and that science and social justice should be closely linked. "Science," according to Brown, "is the single most important institution in our lives," and thus understanding how it's used and misused is critical to a well-functioning democracy.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


This is a wonderful book: funny, learned, intelligent, strong-minded. In a clear and understanding fashion, James Robert Brown introduces us to the battles over the nature of science. He is never afraid to make judgements, yet always with appreciation of people's positions, however extreme. If you read only one book on the "Science Wars," read this. My only regret is that Who Rules in Science? is not longer. (Michael Ruse, Florida State University)

This book is a lively, engrossing overview of the philosophical and political issues at stake in the current debates about science. Brown doesn't pull any punches in stating his own views, but he always takes care to present fairly even those arguments with which he disagrees. And he's an equal-opportunity debunker: scientists, sociologists and his fellow philosophers all come in for (mostly justified) criticism. (Alan Sokal, co-author of Fashionable Nonsense)

A breath of commonsense, lucidly and wittily argued. (Robin Dunbar, author of Gossip, Grooming, and the Evolution of Language and The Trouble with Science)

Who Rules in Science? restores the image of the scientist as a rational actor, capable of generating reliable knowledge and defending the public interest. The book is wonderfully written and should be read as widely as possible. (Ullica Segerstrale, author of Defenders of the Truth)

Meaty and challenging are the words to describe Brown's treatment of the arguments that go on over the nature and social impact of science. "The battleground in the current round of the science wars," he writes, "is epistemology (What is evidence? Objectivity? Rationality? Could any belief be justified?)...The stakes are political, however; social issues are constantly lurking in the background. How we structure and organize our society is the consequence. Whoever wins the science wars will have an unprecedented influence on how we are governed. Brown, professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, gives a rich and closely reasoned discussion of the issues in the science wars. (Scientific American)

Brown ably takes on many of the claims proffered by the antiscience camp and argues that the logic in those claims is faulty. Brown's engaging style makes accessible complex issues central to the philosophy of science. (Publishers Weekly 2001-11-05)

While what has been known as "the science wars" seems to have finally played itself out--not, so much as I can tell, that distrust between the sciences and humanities has been settled, but that interest on the part of spectators has pretty well waned--the issues that animated the debate, and their practical importance in everyday life, may not have been successfully clarified for the general public. James Robert Brown's Who Rules in Science? is the clearest, most accessible book on the subject for the general reader that I have come across during the many years of this bickering. (Tom Bowden TechDirections 2002-02-19)

In Who Rules in Science, James Brown...warns that there's much more at stake here than people realize. This is not just a battle between postmodernist philosophers and working scientists over whether an electron is real or merely a social construction. It's about who gets to define reality, truth and rationality. (Sheilla Jones Globe and Mail 2002-02-09)

The latest and perhaps most comprehensive attempt at rescuing the pro-science "hard" Left from the anti-science cons Left is James Robert Brown's Who Rules in Science. Like Sokal, Chomsky, Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Lewontin, and others he believes that clear thinking is the Left's best weapon, and that good science is a powerful engine of social justice. Thus, constructivism, which undermines the authority of science and reason, is not only wrong-headed but also socially irresponsible. (Kevin Shapiro Commentary Magazine 2002-02-01)

James Brown...details in this very readable book the Great Divide between the humanities and science, and between constructivist and empirically oriented camps...For those who are quite comfortable with the standard approach in science, Who Rules exposes a very unpleasant underbelly of science, in which scientists can be influenced by personal or political motivations. (Keith Harris Metapsychology)

A close analysis of the 'science wars' examines the link between politics and epistemology. Brown does an admirable job of engaging the general reader in such issues as the role that science plays in creating or changing the social order and the role of social factors in the creating or changing of scientific theories...The author takes readers through a whirlwind course in the philosophy of science in the 20th century, focusing on the concepts of realism, objectivity, and values. He acknowledges that social constructivists are right in seeing social factors at work in science, but he insists that reason and evidence play a dominant role. Brown sees the democratization of science as one of the central themes of the science wars, and he takes the position that when participants are drawn from every affected social group, more objective science will result. He argues that knowledge grows through comparative theory assessment, and that the way to ensure the optimal diversity of rival theories is by having a wide variety of theorists from diverse backgrounds; thus the political act of affirmative action leads to more objective science. Brings the science wars home for the lay reader by identifying the combatants, examining their goals, and exposing the strengths and weaknesses of their arguments. (Kirkus Reviews 2001-09-01)

Brown...here provides a cheerful gloss on some philosophical issues arising from the currently fashionable "science wars." The result is a readable survey of the history of the analytic philosophy of science and the sociology of knowledge from positivism to constructivism, with the positions of the usual suspects characterized and criticized. (P. D. Skiff Choice 2002-06-01)

Many readers will finish James Robert Brown's Who Rules in Science? Feeling that this "war" is more than a little phoney...The idea that these two schools are at "war" serves only to deflect attention away from their furtive collaboration. Who Rules in Science? sheds overdue light on this dark and secret liason. (David Hawkes Times Literary Supplement 2002-09-08)

In Who Rules in Science?, philosopher James Robert Brown argues cogently for public accountability for science--and public funding for scientists. He points out that debates about what science is, its control and its funding are not esoteric; they are the essence of the politics of science. (New Scientist 2004-05-01)

Although opinionated, Who Rules in Science? is one of the least distorted and most generous surveys of the often bitter confrontations in the science wars. Brown's exposition of the ideas and significance of Thomas Kuhn and David Bloor are particularly well done. But Brown's crisp and accessible survey of the various factions in the analytic philosophy of science and the sociology of knowledge is a prolegomenon to his main theme: the role of power, authority, and politics in modern science. (Martin Fichmann History and Philosophy of Life Sciences 2007-01-01)

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Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent and pleasantly surprising book. Not only does it pull off the trick of explaining the differences between the positivists, Popper, and Kuhn in one concise, easy-to-read chapter, but it places the political aspect of the debate in a reasonable light, pointing out that the objectivist-constructivist divide is not simply a divide of the right and left politically, but of a certain portion of the left, those whacked out French philosophes, the "nihilist wing of social constructivism," as Brown calls them.
It is this combination of explaining philosophical terms and political problems in a clear manner that makes this book the good read that it is. It has better explanations about the philosophy of science and such terms as naturalism, realism, rationalism, and even underdetermination than I've seen elsewhere. All this in a book written for the layman, not the expert.
The one problem I had with the book was its treatment of realism. I don't think Brown brought out the problems inherent in realism. Realism not only posits that objects exist; it posits we can know and describe their properties. What is wrong with this line of thought? Parmenides said "a thing is or it is not." Give it a linguistic turn, and one might say "description describes what is or it is not description." The complaint against realism is that historically, realistic descriptions of objects have not endured and so are not descriptions.
Look at Brown's definition of realism (96):
1. The aim of science is to give a true (or approximately true) description of reality.
2. Scientific theories are either true or false.
3. It is possible to have evidence for the truth (or falsity) of a theory. (It remains possible, however, that all the evidence supports some theory T, yet T is false.
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