“Can There Be a Feminist Science?”

In the paper “Can There Be A Feminist Science?”, Helen E. Longino explores the various interpretations of feminist science and discusses what she identifies as problems with the current state of scientific inquiry.  To many, including myself, science has remained void of cultural interaction. 

Our quests for universal truths seem to fail to indicate any clear connections between the scientific method and the world’s social conditions. However, Longino argues that this is not the case.  While Longino makes some strong assertions about science and its interactions between cultural values and ideologies, there is room for argument especially in regards to her claim that we are “passive onlookers” or slaves to knowledge.

Before Longino discusses how “good” science fails to incorporate values, ideologies, and emotion, she first describes two kinds of values she believes is relevant to the sciences–constitutive values and contextual values.  Constitutive values are the rules that determine what is acceptable scientific practice or scientific method, whereas contextual values indicate to what social and cultural context the science in question particularly belong. 

Many believe that these two values are exclusive; Longino believes that the distinction between the two should not be maintained if we are to foster “good” science.  As confusing and arbitrary as it sounds, what Longino ultimately means is that science cannot be completely objective. 

Even within the physical and biological sciences which are founded upon strict universal methods of hypothesis-making, educated predictions, logical procedure development, control group distinctions, and scientific validity, feminist scientists argue that it is impossible to make science completely objective.  Since males dominate the sciences, deviations from objectivity are thus resultant of the male impact on constitutive and contextual values.  This inherently is “bad” science.

Why is all this important?  From a feminist’s standpoint, this is of the utmost importance.  From a politically neutral scientist’s standpoint, gender bias in the sciences probably does not hold any true relevance.  They would probably just note it and return to their studies.  So if science brings about truths, correctly answers questions, and minimizes ambiguity, why should the origins of scientific values matter? 

Here, Longino makes a good point.  While we can greatly appreciate science’s advances and ends to enlightenment, one should always question the means to those ends.  While this is not an argument about ethics, gender bias in the sciences and its effects on scientific outcomes should be held up to the same importance as ethical issues in science, such as how there is still laboratory animal abuse and how that has affected scientific outcomes.  If all we care about is the end to each scientific experiment, founding, or study, then what does that say about our values?

Longino, however, makes a very odd argument about passivity of science.  Reading any research publication exemplifies this well.  Novels and newspapers oppositely utilize active voice, while it is quite clear that science papers utilize passive voice.  An example of passive voice can be seen in “it is concluded that…” or “it has been discovered that…” or “no such effects were found…” 

Longino makes the argument that because of this passive voice, we have become “passive onlookers, helpless to affect the course of knowledge.”  Her argument here is rather odd in that I believe that it holds little relevance.  So what if we are passive onlookers?  Just because scientists happen to use passive voice, they are subordinate to the knowledge that they generate? 

And if it were accepted that scientists are in fact subordinate to knowledge, is it not the knowledge we should be glorifying rather than one particular person who discovered such knowledge anyway?  Longino’s position reveals a rather narcissist view of our species in that it shows how we must always be in control, that being subordinate is always a bad thing.  My position simply states that being passive or active onlookers in the realm of science really doesn’t matter.

Overall, Longino makes some strong arguments on the subject of feminist science.  Since science is not wholly objective, that it does reflect contextual values, we must change what those contextual values are in order to move towards a “better” or less biased science


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