Note: this Shapin article is in from a report from the National Academy of Medicine on ethics in biomedicine.
“The alternative to trust is … ignorance”
- trust relations among scientists is important to understand because of its connection to scientific authority (and perhaps the viability of science as a social endeavor), but that the connection between virtue and science was severed in history
- before the emergence of modern science, there was a link between the integrity of individuals and the knowledge they produced (e.g., “speaking truth”)
- virtue and honesty has been displaced by objectivity as the basis of scientific truth
- Science and moral authority is difficult to reconcile because of our ideas about objectivity.
Authority to speak on what is true is disengaged from authority to speak on what is good (Shapin 1995:388)
Why is the importance of trust among scientists invisible to the wider public? While Shapin doesn’t really emphasize this in terms of the rise of “objectivity,” his argument essentially connects to this issue (which we will also read about later) from the perspective of the personal attributes of people who produce knowledge, using history to show how those attributes have changed. Asked in another way, why do we separate “virtue” from “scientific knowledgeability” (essentially, this is Gould’s point with NOMA). In a nutshell, over thousands of years of history:
Philosopher (love of truth) –> Gentleman (no influences can change him) -> Scientist (as moral heroes? )
The problem (remember, this is part of a group exploring issues in bioethics):
On the one hand, many contemporary areas of ethical choice implicate such technical knowledgeability that few but the possessors of relevant expertise can hope competently to address the issues involved, while, on the other, it is not now supposed that those who have expert knowledge are ethically privileged or more likely to make virtuous decisions than anybody else in our society (Shapin 1995:388)
Here are some quotes that bring out other elements of Shapin’s perspective on trust and scientific authority:
The great specialization of modern science means in a very obvious way that individual scientists do not hold the whole of their own discipline’s knowledge, and still less that of science in general, in their heads (Shapin 1995:394).
Vigilance can do serious damage to science for the reason that trust relations among scientists are constitutive of the making, maintenance, and extension of scientific knowledge, that is, to the capacity of the scientific community to produce consensual knowledge upon which others may rely (Shapin 1995:401).
… what is agreed upon among scientists as “the facts of the matter” is widely considered an unproblematic element in any potential discussions over “what then ought to be done” as a morally relevant decision (Shapin 1995:403).