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Of the Neutrality Question in Science and Technology

Of the Neutrality Question in Science and Technology

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Published by alloyihuah
This paper argues that, science and technology are not and cannot be value-free, and that, the burden of proof (of evidence of marked injury to man and his environment) should lie on the man/woman who introduces any change (scientific/technological breakthrough) before the change or the breakthrough proceeds for public use. The paper argues the conclusion that, the complicated planet earth, inhabited by more than a million and half species living together in a more or less balanced equilibrium, in which they use and re-use the same “facilities” cannot, and should not be improved by aimless and uninformed tinkering.
This paper argues that, science and technology are not and cannot be value-free, and that, the burden of proof (of evidence of marked injury to man and his environment) should lie on the man/woman who introduces any change (scientific/technological breakthrough) before the change or the breakthrough proceeds for public use. The paper argues the conclusion that, the complicated planet earth, inhabited by more than a million and half species living together in a more or less balanced equilibrium, in which they use and re-use the same “facilities” cannot, and should not be improved by aimless and uninformed tinkering.

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Published by: alloyihuah on Feb 03, 2010
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Of The Neutrality Question in Science and Technology
 Alloy S Ihuah PhD Deptof Rel. and Philosophy, Benue State University, Makurdi. Abstract 
This paper argues that, science and technology are not and cannot be value-free, and that,the burden of proof (of evidence of marked injury to man) should lie on the man who wants tointroduce any change (or scientific or technological breakthrough) before the change or thebreakthrough will proceed for public use. The paper argues the conclusion that, thecomplicated planet, inhabited by more than a million and half species living together in amore or less balanced equilibrium, in which they use and re-use the same “facilities” cannot,and should not be improved by aimless and uninformed tinkering.
 __________________________________________________________________________
The concept of neutrality associated to any human activity suggests an inherentquality of perfection. In relation to science and technology, the neutrality theory argues for itself the omniscience, which suggests and elevates the scientist (and to some extent thetechnologist) to the role of a high priest expounding its truths. The theory grants to itself theself-contained completeness of knowledge – truths especially when science is considered inthe context of what is normally defined as pure and applied science.Sir Ernest Chain more clearly states the thesis of scientific neutrality thus:
…science aslong as it limits itself to the descriptive study of the laws of nature, has no moral or ethical quality,and this applies to the physical as well as the biological sciences (1970).
This position is traditionally inherent in scientific thinking more so that science seeksto ascertain the truth about nature, which hypotheses which aim to move nearer and nearer toan accurate description of natural laws, which are seen as universal truths. Such thinking isalso anchored on the fact that objective reasoning cannot deny scientific facts and allscientists must inevitably reach the same conclusion.It means, then, as Joan Lipscombe and Bill Williams (1979:6) posited, that “value judgements, cultural biases or political standpoints do not in any way influence or determinescientific knowledge. There is nothing ‘good’ or ‘bad’ about scientific knowledge”. Suchunderstanding of science has been carried forward and is strongly supported today which perhaps may have informed the thought of Bronowski who attributes to science “anunrelenting independence in the search for truth that pays no attention to received opinion or expediency or political advantage (Bronowski, 1971:25).The neutrality of technology unlike science does not very well find convenientapplication. Indeed, there is no way in which we can talk about “the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake” or the objectivity of observations, experiments and theory as applied totechnology, for it necessarily implies the application of science, invention and industry and or commerce to matters which are of importance to our life style and must, therefore, have asocial effect. Notwithstanding such position, technology is, undoubtedly, commonlyregarded as being neutral in some senses of the word. Considered as a collection of machines, techniques and tools, technology is here said to be neutral in the sense that in itself it does not incorporate or imply any political or social values, and that it is neither ‘good’ nor ‘evil’.
 
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Taken, therefore, as a blameless tool, any beneficial or harmful effect is said to ariseout of the motives of the people applying a particular piece of technology and the end towhich it is used. It means, then, that where a particular application, chosen for its beneficialresults, produces harmful side-effects, these are blamed either on inadequate social policies or on lack of sophistication in the control of the effects of technology. Whichever is chosen as awhipping boy, concludes Joan Lipscombe and Bill Williams (1979:19), technology itself is‘neutral’.But the most challenging question is, “to what extent is science and technologyneutral?” The question of the neutrality of science and technology is essentially the questionof the rationality of science and technology. This is perhaps where the essential link betweenscience and technology very clearly bears on man in his integral whole, in both his materialand spiritual life, but more so in the spiritual towards which the material must serve. Sufficeto say here that the argument in support of “an unrelenting independence [of science andtechnology] in the search for truth that pays no attention to received opinion or expediency or  political advantage” is an exercise in the promotion of ignorance and scepticism. To quoteAndrew Efemini:
 Anyone with scientific consciousness, understands the place of sciencein man’s struggle to improve his living… (science is not) something that  should be pursued for its own sake but something that should be pursued for man’s benefit (Efemini, 1982:18).
It thus means that, traditionally, practical knowledge i.e.
techne
which is concernedwith making (recta ratio factibilium) directed to the perfection of the object of knowledge,combines with theoretical knowledge i.e. scientia or episteme comprising also contemplationof nature, which goal is the perfection of the subject (the knower) to bring about the ultimateend in the perfection of the whole man. Such an endeavour is a conscious and goal orientedone, which not only reflects the value systems of the society at that time, but are value ladenin themselves.Granted that science is a move towards the unknown according to which “it isimpossible to foresee the practical results of any research in pure science”, it is neither a blindmove nor a goalless move. Matthew Nwoko aptly suggests here that:
 At least a scientific research worthy of the name must be a planned venture. Even if the scientist does not foresee the remote consequences of hisventure, but the planned structure of his work carries or must carry anultimate intention of discovery for the good of man (Nwoko, 1992:143).
It is, thus, the inherent vocation of the scientist to lay bare the richness of nature,which practical use the technologist will bring to bear for the good of man. This is therationality of scientific inquiry, and such is the rationality of technological practice.Understood as such, both the scientist and the technologist are said to be humanists who“must not only reach out to the world’s wealth of knowledge and practice, but must also pursue the solution of our problems (of industrial, manufacture, environmental pollution,economic progress etc) with dedication, conviction and patriotism (Newswatch Feb. 12,1990:14).Furthermore, to argue that science is unaffected by extraneous factors, which pontification justifies scientific neutrality, is an overstatement to say the least. The dialecticsof science is intertwined with theological, ethical, ideological and other non-scientificarguments, which at some points become impossible to separate them, and stand-points onreality were determined by considering all these aspects. R. M. Young (1971:31) thus, arguesthat, “what people were prepared to accept as the ‘truth’ was not determined by sciencealone” but also by subtle and often un-acknowledged influence of social factors.
 
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The deliberate suppression of scientific knowledge or the active promotion of  particular theories, which conform to a specific political situation, similarly counts against theneutrality theory of science. A ready example, here, is the Lysenko affair in Russia in whicha whole area of genetics was eliminated from Russian teaching and his theories imposed because they were more supportive of the political system. Russian scientists worked withinthe framework of these theories believing them to be ‘true’, at least as far as the existingevidence was concerned (D. W. Caspari and R. E. Marshak 1965:275-278). The case of Jeremiah Abalaka, a Nigerian, is another example in which the scientist’s search for the truthand or scientific knowledge is substantially tempered with to bolster up the Nigerian/foreigninterest. Pursued to a logical conclusion, and in the extreme case, ‘scientific facts’ (if Abalaka succumbs) may be the invention of a political regime instead of results fromdisinterested pursuit of knowledge for its own sake.Again, proponents of the neutrality theory say that science concerns itself purely witha description of the world as it is, and so argue out the impossibility of scientific knowledgegiving rise to normative and evaluative statements. Arguably it cannot give rise to statementabout what should or should not be (normative), nor can it pass judgement on what is good or  bad (evaluative). Indeed orthodox philosophical argument has it that the only validconclusions of deductive arguments are the ones which contain only material which isalready in the premises, consequently scientific premises (factual) cannot lead to normativeor evaluative statements (Lipscombe and Williams 1979:8).But, this argument collapses because of the difficulty in identifying which premisesare factual – normative statements, it is argued could be expressed in the same way as factualones, and there are considerable difficulties in clearly distinguishing one from the other.Black thus asserts that:
Some normative evaluative propositions are objective (generallyaccepted and not subject to individual values) and this removes thedistinction which separates scientific propositions from others(1975:40).
It is, thus, possible for science to provide factual statements that could lead tonormative or evaluative statements. An example of this could be:Plant defoliants can cause food shortage (
factual
)Food shortage lead to people starving (
factual
)It is wrong that people should starve directly because of man’s action (
Normative
)Therefore, plant defoliants should not be used (
Normative
)The base of our argument, here, is that the scientist has a social responsibility for theapplication of his work. This is informed by the logic of distinction between the abstractconcept of ‘science’ which argued position is the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, fromthe practical manifestation of that concept. This is science in the context of an overallactivity. Black mentions that:
Science as an overall activity can no longer be considered as thedisinterested pursuit of truth. Even where scientists are working on the purest science, which has no apparent applications, scientists cannot escape the dilemma of responsibility because the speed of development is such that discoveries are often harnessed very quickly to industrial,military or other practical uses. (Black, 1975:40)
Besides, much of today’s pure research is consciously directed at serving specificobjectives and or solving some problems. Black argues further that:
 It can no longer be considered neutral and is carried out with a definite purpose in mind: to increase the profits of industry or strengthen the power of government. Scientists involved in such projects know this

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