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sberman's picture

Post discussion thoughts-scientists and "shared subjectivity"

Throughout our class last night, I felt an internal struggle between the class conclusion that there is a lack of absolute/true objectivity, and my goal as a scientist of determining and subsequently reporting understandable, experimentally proven facts. The closest we came (in my opinion) to an agreement of objectivity was a "shared subjectivity;" we supposedly can agree what something is or isn't only in a highly defined and agreed upon construct. One of us then questioned, "Whose shared subjectivity constitutes objectivity?"

Given that we are all scientists and conducting research, I feel it is important for us to think about what the lack of ultimate objectivity means in terms of how we plan/perform scientific experiments and then communicate the results of these experiments. Whenever we communicate what we have found, the "shared subjectivity"/objectivity parameters must be taken into account. But are these parameters, and consequently, the objectivity construct, something that is understood or even mostly understood? Or should we as scientists be more explicit about the desired "shared subjectivity," so that are results will be less likely to be misinterpreted? In terms of the epilepsy case that I brought up (the book is entitled "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down" and is by Anne Fadiman, for any of you who are interested), it seems that the "shared subjectivity," which is in this case the society in which epilepsy is being analyzed, obviously must be explicitly stated. But is this the norm or exception? 

This discussion has led me to the personal conclusions that even if I view something as completely objective (numbers, for example), I must consider other viewpoints, because nothing is absolutely objective. I also feel, however, that without a constructed reality in which we have at least partially/mostly agreed upon objectivities, it would be difficult for society as a whole to function.

Lastly, I'd like to partially respond to David's post discussion thought and the issue of scientific funding as a determinant of what we as scientists should study. If we are basing what we study on what receives scientific funding, then maybe we should research based on achieving a desired function, not just learning/communicating facts/theories/phenomenons. For example, we would want to learn not why cancer cells divide so rapidly, but how to stop this division. But then, probably the best way to do this would be to learn why the cells divide so quickly in the first place. We're then right back where we started--even trying to determine what we study based on function, we have to go back to "objective" facts- and what are these objective facts? I guess scientific funding isn't all that helpful in telling us what science we should and should not study.


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