Boyle wanted us to have an experimental community, a situation that Hobbes found threatening because this experimental community (a group we today call scientists) could develop into a new priesthood that mediated access to natural philosophy. For Boyle, though, the experimental community was an ideal, civil society: “The potency of knowledge came from nature, not from privileged persons. Matters of fact were made when the community freely displayed its joint assent” (Shapin and Schafer 2011:295).
In the end, which perspective do you this is more idealistic? Hobbes position is that everyone would have access to judging the validity of experimentation, but in today’s world where we have a specialized division of labor, would everyone in society be able to judge the validity of a scientific experiment? Would people have the patience (or even the interest) to be such judges? But on the other hand, Boyle’s problem was in seeing these issues as ‘matters of fact.’ Does any human community reach assent through a thorough and objective review of the case in hand, or do we factionalize, see things through political (small-p) lenses?
For Boyle, the point then would be to establish some kind of social space where his experimental program could thrive: “The establishment of a space which was so securely bounded that dispute could occur safely within it was a difficult accomplishment in social cartography. The technologies Boyle developed were designed to sustain the integrity of this space” (Shapin and Schafer 2011:303). What do you think this social space is? How is ‘safety’ achieved in this space? What is lost in creating this safe social space for experimental scientists? Think of this in terms of the Royal Society, as well as organizations/institutions that you are familiar with. Moreover, one condition of this ‘safe space’ is the supposed disinterested autonomy by the experimental community.
Here are some concluding thoughts by Shapin and Schafer’s from their historical study of the Hobbes-Boyle debate:
“First, scientific practitioners have created, selected, and maintained a polity within which they operate and make their intellectual product; second, the intellectual product made within that polity has become an element in political activity in the state; third, there is a conditional relationship between the nature of the polity occupied by scientific intellectuals and the nature of the wider polity” (Shapin and Schafer 2011:332).
This should sound familiar, after reading Bourdieu; we will read more along these lines, that talk about science (writ large) and/or academia as making up a polity – a political actor in its own right, despite claims of objectivity and disinterestedness. The Royal Society itself should be seen as an emerging political actor, much like the academic or disciplinary organizations (such as the American Anthropological Association or the American Historical Association); there is a reason why many of our contemporary academic organizations like the American Anthropological Association are headquartered in Washington, DC.
In fact, think back to where we started, in terms of the use of science-based policy (or evidence based policy) and some of the points raised by the authors. While we read how science’s primary goal is the systematic search for a reliable and accurate understanding of the world, there may be other goals (financial support for scientific institutions, political perspectives held by scientists) that shape how science itself is practiced and how it impacts wider society through policy making.
“The language that transports politics outside of science is precisely what we need to understand and explain. We find ourselves standing against much current sentiment in the history of science that holds that we should have less talk of the “insides” and “outsides” of science, that we have transcended such outmoded categories” (Shapin and Shafer 2011:342)