Item description for The No-Nonsense Guide to Science (No-Nonsense Guides) by Jerome Ravetz...
In this No-Nonsense Guide Jerome Ravetz introduces a new way of thinking about science, moving away from simplistic ideas of perfect certainty and objectivity. The book gives a fresh look at science's history, with a guide to the key theories, and concludes with a questionnaire that enables anyone engaged in science to locate themselves in the bigger picture.
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Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 0.5" Width: 4.25" Height: 7.25" Weight: 0.35 lbs.
Release Date Nov 1, 2006
Publisher New Internationalist
ISBN 1904456464 ISBN13 9781904456469
Availability 0 units.
More About Jerome Ravetz
Jerome R. Ravetz is the Director of Research Methods Consultancy and author of Scientific Knowledge and Social Problems. They both reside in England.
Reviews - What do customers think about The No-Nonsense Guide to Science (No-Nonsense Guides)?
About the politics of big science Mar 15, 2007
This book is mostly about the politics of science and is not a "guide" in the sense that reading it will increase your knowledge about science. Nor is it much about how science works. Aside from the title being a bit misleading, this is okay. Science has become increasingly politicized mainly, as Ravetz points out, because "little science" is dead, and only big science (or "post-normal" or "mega" science, to use his terminology), really exists to any significant degree. And big science requires big investments which means only governments and large corporations have the power to fuel scientific discoveries. Consequently a book on the politics of science is welcome.
I don't know if this is the right book. Certainly it is not objective in the sense that Ravetz speaks for big science or for the corporate structure or for the "military-industrial complex." He doesn't. He speaks against the growing power of Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Agriculture, RAND, Raytheon, etc., and the US military in particular. In fact, Ravetz is not especially enamored of science it would appear. He spends some time pointing to the historical mistakes and misconceptions of the science, how Galileo got it wrong, complete with a reproduction of a Galileo misdrawing of some of the features on the moon. He also takes Newton to task for missing out on the duel particle/wave nature of light, and even Darwin is faulted because he was worried about how to reconcile the time required by evolution with Kelvin's erroneous conclusion about the age of the earth. Ravetz's point is that at any given time science is likely to be wrong about something.
My counterpoint would be everybody in science knows this: scientific conclusions are always subject to being refuted. That is the beauty of science. Science makes no claim to absolute knowledge the way some other systems such as religion do. Instead it merely stakes claim to the most likely knowledge, given what we now know.
Ravetz's tone suggests to me not so much "post-normal" as postmodern. He is less impressed with scientific objectivity than he is with demonstrating that scientific truths are social constructions in the postmodern sense. I think the thing to say about this is to note that what science does--and this is all humans can do--is to more and more extend our reach into the very large, the very small, the very close, the very distant, and further into the past and perhaps make better predictions about the future. Any belief that we can have absolute knowledge or construct correct "theories of everything" is delusive. That is the truth that postmoderns ought to grab onto, not that science is a social construction.
Of course science is a social construction to some degree. But so is all of human culture. More to the point, being a social construction is NOT what is significant about science. In fact, science is the one tool we have that to any appreciable degree goes beyond our social and human limitations.
What I found interesting and valid in this book is some of the terminology that points to a new way to evaluate science and to understand where we stand vis-a-vis humanity's most powerful tool. Ravetz asserts that post-normal science today can be expressed conveniently by the acronym "GRAINN," which stands for Genomics, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Neuroscience, and Nanotechnology. These are the fields that will change our world in ways that are unimaginable. Because the power of GRAINN is so immense and so fraught with danger, Ravetz also posits for our consideration the acronym, SHEE, which stands for "the sciences of safety, health and environment, plus ethics." What Ravetz wants is more political control over what science is doing and where it's headed. It is perhaps ironic that this puts him in bed with the evangelicals in the US who would also like to control science.
Nonetheless it is clear that Ravetz is addressing a critical question of our times, namely how to receive the benefits of scientific discovery and the subsequent technological advances while at the same time mitigate against the dangers. The development of nuclear power, as Ravetz rightly points out, is the pivotal point in the scientific dilemma. The genie is out of the bottle and we haven't yet been able to control that genie let alone put it back in the bottle. How much more worrisome are the potential products of e.g., nanotechnology? Thermonuclear weapons may usher in a new stone age, but GRAINN science may bring about the end of humanity as we know it. A question that Ravetz does not ask is, would this be a bad thing?
GRAINN implies a post-human world. It's scary, but we are only part of a process, and I'm not so sure that trying to control science is the right approach. After all we are imperfect creatures whose views about right and wrong are conditioned and limited by our biology. Perhaps the products of GRAINN itself, post-humans, will be the ones who should and will make the decisions about where science should tread and where it should not.
For the moment though it is hard to disagree with this statement from page 14: "Giant corporations and giant state bureaucracies have their own agendas; and what is right for Monsanto or the Pentagon is not necessarily right for the rest of us."
The danger that might come from attempts to control science is to give power to those in society who believe that knowledge from "authority," especially religious authority, is superior to scientific knowledge. If that happens a return to something like the dark ages may be the result.