Science wars

The science wars were a series of intellectual exchanges, between scientific realists and postmodernist critics, about the nature of scientific theory and intellectual inquiry - wikipedia

They took place principally in the United States in the 1990s in the academic and mainstream press. Scientific realists (such as Norman Levitt, Paul R. Gross, Jean Bricmont and Alan Sokal) argued that scientific knowledge is real, and accused the postmodernists of having effectively rejected scientific objectivity, the scientific method, and scientific knowledge.

Postmodernists interpreted Thomas Kuhn's ideas about scientific paradigms to mean that scientific theories are social constructs, and philosophers like Paul Feyerabend argued that other, non-realist forms of knowledge production were better suited to serve people's personal and spiritual needs.

Though much of the theory associated with 'postmodernism' (see poststructuralism) did not make any interventions into the natural sciences, the scientific realists took aim at its general influence.

The scientific realists argued that large swaths of scholarship, amounting to a rejection of objectivity and realism, had been influenced by major 20th Century poststructuralist philosophers (such as Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, Jean-Fran├žois Lyotard and others), whose work they declared to be incomprehensible or meaningless.

They implicated a broad range of fields in this trend, including cultural studies, cultural anthropology, feminist studies, comparative literature, media studies, and science and technology studies. They accused those postmodernist critics who did actually discuss science of having a limited understanding of it.

# Continued conflict

Interest in the science wars has waned considerably in recent years. Though the events of the science wars are still occasionally mentioned in mainstream press, they have had little effect on either the scientific community or the community of critical theorists. Both sides continue to maintain that the other does not understand their theories, or mistakes constructive criticisms and scholarly investigations for attacks. As Bruno Latour recently put it, "Scientists always stomp around meetings talking about 'bridging the two-culture gap', but when scores of people from outside the sciences begin to build just that bridge, they recoil in horror and want to impose the strangest of all gags on free speech since Socrates: only scientists should speak about science!" Subsequently, Latour has suggested a re-evaluation of sociology's epistemology based on lessons learnt from the Science Wars: "... scientists made us realize that there was not the slightest chance that the type of social forces we use as a cause could have objective facts as their effects".

However, more recently some of the leading critical theorists have recognized that their critiques have at times been counter-productive, and are providing intellectual ammunition for reactionary interests.

Writing about these developments in the context of global warming, Bruno Latour noted that "dangerous extremists are using the very same argument of social construction to destroy hard-won evidence that could save our lives. Was I wrong to participate in the invention of this field known as science studies? Is it enough to say that we did not really mean what we meant?"