THE NO-NONSENSE GUIDE TO SCIENCE by Jerome Ravetz (Between the Lines), 143 pages, $14.95 paper. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Suckling at the military-industrial complex teat for the past century, science has become a colossal goldmine. It has also received a critical beating. The whole notion of scientific objectivity, a fiction in the face of profit, is officially passé.
In the No-Nonsense Guide To Science, British academic Jerome Ravetz offers sensible explanations about what makes science dangerous and boldly points toward a solution.
Ravetz calmly dissects the history of science and its modern mutations. Old disciplines like physics, chemistry and biology are giving way to what he calls GRAIN sciences: genomics, robotics, artificial intelligence and nanotechnology. Left unchecked in the context of the old dogmatic belief in the infallibility of the scientific method, GRAIN science will do more harm than good.
Under Thatcher and Reagan, science was finally subsumed into industry. In what Ravetz calls "post-normal science," his core idea, scientific inquiry would be carried out with social responsibility in mind, recognizing that stakes are high and decisions urgent, and taking into account a plurality of legitimate perspectives. To bring profit-minded "mega-science" under democratic control, we need an open dialogue that includes scientists, policy-makers and the public.
So integrity is the new objectivity. Reform will come with better science education, teaching students to be aware of the role of judgment in observation and to question the dogma of infallibility. Ravetz's best chapter expounds the wisdom of uncertainty, gently pointing out the unreliability of the scientific method, not to mention the scientist's own bias and ignorance.
Too bad the book often seems to be preaching to a converted audience of earnest teens, concerned future scientists looking for guidance. Broad, yes, but it lacks depth. Proposing that scientific arguments cannot be conclusive sounds good, but Ravetz's inconclusive post-normal science will need a whole new philosophical framework if he's going to convince the science fundamentalists.
Wish him well.