Objectivity (science)  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Objectivity in science is a value that informs how science is practiced and how scientific truths are discovered. It is the idea that scientists, in attempting to uncover truths about the natural world, must aspire to eliminate personal biases, a priori commitments, emotional involvement, etc.

Critiques of scientific objectivity

A critical argument on scientific objectivity and positivism is that all science has a degree of interpretivism. In the 1920s, Percy Bridgman's operationalism was centered in such recognition.

Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Based on a historical review of the development of certain scientific theories in his book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, scientist and historian Thomas Kuhn raised some philosophical objections to claims of the possibility of scientific understanding being truly objective. In Kuhn's analysis, scientists in different disciplines organise themselves into de facto paradigms, within which scientific research is done, junior scientists are educated, and scientific problems are determined.

When observational data arises which appears to contradict or falsify a given scientific paradigm, scientists within that paradigm have not, historically, immediately rejected the paradigm in question (as Sir Karl Popper's philosophical theory of falsificationism would have them do), but instead they have gone to considerable lengths to resolve the apparent conflict without rejecting the paradigm. Through ad hoc variations to the theory and sympathetic interpretation of the data, supporting scientists will resolve the apparent conundrum. In extreme cases, they may even ignore the data altogether.

Thus, Kuhn argues, the failure of a scientific revolution is not an objectively measurable, deterministic event, but a far more contingent shift in social order. A paradigm will go into a crisis when a significant portion of the scientists working in the field lose confidence in the paradigm, regardless of their reasons for doing so. The corollary of this observation is that the primacy of a given paradigm is similarly contingent on the social order amongst scientists at the time it gains ascendancy.

Kuhn's theory has been criticised by scientists such as Richard Dawkins and Alan Sokal as presenting a profoundly relativist view of scientific progress. In a postscript to the third edition of his book, Kuhn denied being a relativist.


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