Science in Society

Bryn Mawr College

Grad Idea Forum

24 June 2003
Hedgehogs, Fox and the Magister's Pox, continued Additions, revisions, extensions are encouraged in the Forum.

Attending: Paul Grobstein; Anne Dalke; Corey Shdaimah; Roland Stahl; Liz Shea; Liz McKormach; Cheryl Selah; Judie McCoyd; Sam Glazier

The meeting opened with an update from the working group on the teaching workshops/seminars that grew out of our reading of Womans Ways of Knowing. Letters have gone to Catherine Stimson and Mary Belenky to see whether they would be speakers. Reading lists are being developed and solidified currently and are being looked at to reflect practical, pedagogical and philosophical issues of teaching. Deans certificate requirements are still being explored and more involvement by the education department will be cultivated. Issues of final assessments/ evaluations were raised. The group will continue to keep the parentGIF group apprised.

This meeting we continued discussion of Hedgehogs, Fox and the Magisters Pox, though we wandered far and wide from the original reading. We started with the ending assertion last meeting that it was easier to understand natural phenomena by following them upie from atoms through cells and neurons up through social structures, than to read down. Several objections to this were raised, including the idea that things like racism and poverty are going to influence in ways that require reading downrather than up; further, the question was raised whether talking about material things like humans may differ from talking about processes and activities like evolution.

A different trajectory of discussion explored the possibility that scientific understanding may lead us to looking to smallest units, but that this may or may not be enlightening. However, the fact that these kind of scientific explanations are privileged in this society was again raised. In view of levels of complexity, the explanations may not work when considered in the finite manners of scientific method, and top down or bottom up understandings may miss much of what brings about complexity.

This then led to discussions of the distinctions between hardscience methods and social science methods, particularly Pauls contention that scientific method works to falsify an hypothesis, and others feeling that in reality, they work to prove their hypothesis, despite not asserting that. The social scientists felt that their approach is to question hypotheses, but even more, to look for the outliersand what makes any generalization inaccurate, as opposed to sciences which look for the average, broad truths that can be found and asserted to apply nearly universally. Some raised the idea that both culturesare led by testing of models about the way the world works, but that hardsciences are led by data and social scientists are led by ideas- an idea the social scientists felt was inaccurate. Corey suggested we had three red herringsgoing: Understanding vs. change as goals of research; quantitative vs. qualitative methodology; and explanatory vs. interpretive research outcomes. When the possibility that the conversation was creating a parallel process with the books argument was raised, a compromise that possibly social scienceslack of certainty is due to the complexity and dynamism of the topic explored while the relative finiteness and specifiability of variables in science may allow more assertion of certainty and create a privilege for certain knowledge.

Issues of how gender plays a role- particularly the believing game vs. the doubting game, typically identified as female and male styles respectively was raised as a potential factor in the affinity for one type of knowledge building over another. This led to a further assertion that purposes of inquiry and the phenomenon being studied should determine research method instead of credibility being determined by the method used to explore the topic. Further discussion of this idea will occur after reading Toulmins Return to Reason, as suggested by Roland for next time. The Metaphysical Club is also on the agenda, with Fast Food Nation as another suggestion.

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