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Who Rules in Science?: An Opinionated Guide to the Wars [Englisch] [Gebundene Ausgabe]

James Brown , Theodore E. Brown

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21. Dezember 2001
In Who Rules in Science? James Brown takes us through the various engagements in the science wars - from the infamous "Sokal affair" to angry confrontations over the nature of evidence, the possibility of objectivity, and the methods of science - to show how the contested terrain may be science, but the prize is political: Whoever wins the science wars will have an unprecedented influence on how we are governed.


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"In Who Rules in Science, James Brown... warns that there's much more at stake here than people realize. This is not just a battle between postmodernist philosophers and working scientists over whether an electron is real or merely a social construction. It's about who gets to define reality, truth and rationality." - Sheilla Jones, Globe and Mail; "This book is a lively, engrossing overview of the philosophical and political issues at stake in the current debates about science. Brown doesn't pull any punches in stating his own views, but he always takes care to present fairly even those arguments with which he disagrees. And he's an equal-opportunity debunker: scientists, sociologists and his fellow philosophers all come in for (mostly justified) criticism." - Alan Sokal, coauthor of Fashionable Nonsense"


In Who Rules in Science? James Brown takes us through the various engagements in the science wars - from the infamous "Sokal affair" to angry confrontations over the nature of evidence, the possibility of objectivity, and the methods of science - to show how the contested terrain may be science, but the prize is political: Whoever wins the science wars will have an unprecedented influence on how we are governed.

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Amazon.com: 4.3 von 5 Sternen  6 Rezensionen
30 von 31 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen the best single book on the "Science Wars" 8. März 2002
Von Autonomeus - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
This new book by Canadian philosopher of science James Robert Brown follows in a direct lineage from Gross & Levitt's 1994 HIGHER SUPERSTITION, which inspired Alan Sokal's famous hoax in the journal Social Text. Sokal was Brown's inspiration! Brown has written 4 previous books in the philosophy of science, but this one is different in that it is pitched to a popular audience rather than philosophers. The first 4 chapters are a very readable introduction to the issues. Included are a summary of the nature of science, a brief history of the philosophy of science, and a ruthless skewering of the "nihilist/postmodern" wing of social constructivism. My only objection here is Brown's peculiar treatment of Popper, who is a hero of mine. Brown takes "science is puzzle-solving" to be an anti-Popperian position, but Popper said again and again that science is problem-solving!

The next 3 chapters, 5-7, are the heart of the book. The going gets rougher, but it is well worth the effort to follow the arguments. Brown analyzes three concepts (realism, objectivity and values) which are necessary to understand the various positions. Sorting out the difference between realism and objectivity makes it possible to disentangle much confusion. Brown presents a 2 X 2 table, with both objective and subjective forms of both ontology and epistemology. So, for instance, Kuhn rejects ontological objectivity -- the properties of the world are not real, they are just the result of our paradigms for understanding it. But Kuhn does not reject epistemological objectivity, despite widespread misinterpretation -- he says there are good reasons for choosing one paradigm over another. (Brown and I are not social constructivists in that we maintain that the properties of the world are indeed real!) Brown then tackles the SSK group, centered around Bloor, labeled by Brown the "naturalist wing of social constructionism." This section makes perfect sense, including Brown's argument that "reasons can be causes," except for the discussion of Friedman's attempted compromise, which I'll have to read again.

You need not agree with Brown's moral/ideological agenda to benefit from the book. But the opinionated part is that Brown is a left/liberal who thinks science has an important role to play in bringing about progressive change in society -- in a word, change toward greater equality. I share his views entirely, including his arguments regarding national health care -- both the Canadian and the British model are vastly preferable to the American one. The last chapters discuss the issue of "democratization of science" and "science with a social agenda." I find Brown to be eminently reasonable in sorting out what sorts of democratization would actually be beneficial -- he rejects simplistic notions of direct democracy. The people should rule, says Brown, but "they need to hear more intelligent and informed voices." Brown concludes by calling for critics of science to focus on the role of money and corporate agendas rather than on epistemology. Then we could fight a Science War that, rather than being merely a rearguard defense of reason, might really do some good!
16 von 17 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Outstanding contribution to applied philosophy of science 14. September 2002
Von Todd I. Stark - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
I agree with the previous review that this is probably the single best book on the "science wars" to date.
While I learned more about the different ways science is viewed in Western culture from reading both sides in Labinger and Collins' "The One Culture," this book is nearly as educational and quite a bit easier to read. Brown is extremely good at making complex things (like philosophy of science) much more understandable and at explaining things we too quickly assume we are thinking about the same way (like politics) in a way that helps understanding as well.
Brown is remarkably fair to all sides in the often contentious debates over science, sometimes reminding me of that other excellent Canadian philosopher, Ian Hacking. He satisfyingly plays both sociologists of science and "internalist" supporters of science against postmodern philosophers whom he (I think correctly) disqualifies as being largely irrelevant to serious debates because as often as not they are simply unfamiliar with the real content of the scientific theories they claim to be arbitrary cultural constructions.
The point stressed in this book is that the usual interpretation of the debate follows the sides defined in Gross and Levitt's "Higher Superstition:" the "academic left" opponents of science vs. the supporters of science, and that this is an understandable error in defining the real sides.

As a supporter of science who is on the left and is an academic, Brown points out the fallacy of defining the sides that way, and also points out the too often ignored intentions of the sociologists of science to be _doing_ legitimate science, not attacking it. He interprets the lesson of Alan Sokal's famous hoax as raising the flag of rational thought for both the political left and the political right, rather than pitting one against the other.
This book contains one of the very best general introductions to the philosophy of science, an excellent recap of the best arguments against extreme versions of social constructionism, and also a superb overview of the strengths and weaknesses of the textbook internalist view of science as the confirmation and refutation of hypotheses. He makes the specific unique contributions of each philosopher of science particularly clear.
This wonderful and solid introduction to the issues is followed by an equally good introduction to the program of scientists who study science itself, "externally," and how it differs from programs studying other objects. Perhaps Brown's most useful contribution of all is identifying the difference between the "external"and "internal" programs as different perspectives on human belief, what causes people to accept and reject beliefs, rather than different ways of looking at realism and objectivity. I was persuaded by his argument that the central difference is whether we see reasoning and evidence as strong causal forces in human belief, or whether we see other causal forces as primary. It isn't difficult to find plenty of cases where theorists have to decide between different interpretations based on their subjective plausibility, and plenty of ways that reasoning from evidence goes astray. The question becomes whether we can actually rely on reasoning without going astray, whether norms of objectivity themselves actually do lead to objective reasoning in some sense.
The book ends with an interesting discussion of the democratization of science that helpfully ties all of the themes together to the author's conclusion that epsitemology is inseparable from politics, that science does indeed work, that it relies on a diversity of theories competing with one another, and that we need better informed and intelligent voices promoting it.
I had one point of confusion about Brown's explanations, in an otherwise very clear book. His explanation of "naturalism" didn't quite make sense to me. Rather than just leaving it simply as a view of nature that precludes the supernatural, he adds some assumptions that seem to tie naturalism directly to positivism, seeing the norm of objectivity as not only essential to science but to naturalism in general, and the only and best way of gathering information about the world.
It seems to me that people can be naturalists in the philosophical sense and yet consider non-scientific ways of knowing to be valuable. Emotions, metaphor, and examples aren't specifically tools of science, but they are still part of the natural world and ways of gathering potentially useful information about it that can subsequently be introduced into science. Regarding an "aesthetic understanding" of the world as being outside of the natural world doesn't quite make sense to me. It isn't important to his argument however, and a minor quibble about an otherwise outstanding and well-written book.
Brown leaves no important consideration unconsidered in this original and valuable contribution to the literature on the study of science.
11 von 16 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen One ring to rule them all 3. März 2002
Von John C. Landon - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
This is a useful and interesting introit to the 'science wars', entering the pickup phase as in '52 pickup'. The author begins by noting the reversal of left and right between the original 'two cultures' debate of C.P. Snow, and proceeds to outline almost in manual style the 'rules of the game', from the various epistemologies of science, from logical positivism to Popper and Feyerbend, to the Sokal fracas. The author would seem to give postmodernism not much of a hearing, which means that he is committed in his perspective, but more than fairly so. The division of left and right across the science wars duality is a false dilemma, as the author suggests producing a quadrant redivision of the 'what side you are on' merry-go-round. I think the failure to find solid grounds for the social construction of science, while indicated on the surface, after the Sokal incident, is treading on the dangerous grounds of overconfidence, speaking as one more interested in science. The failure of both sides to see any social construction in theories of evolution makes on feel the divide is less than it seems.
Very cogent and readable book, one way or the other.
15 von 23 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
2.0 von 5 Sternen "It Is Folly to Measure Truth and Error by Our Own Capacity" 23. Februar 2005
Von Too Soon Old - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
The above quote is the title of an essay by Michel De Montaigne written over 400 years ago. The author of "Who Rules in Science" would do well to read it.
As a senior citizen I enjoy reading about current affairs, culture, and science, and bought this book because I felt that I should learn more about the modern philosophers of science. Several people had written very comprehensive reviews of this book on the Amazon web site and gave it a high rating, so I assumed it must be worth a read. In hindsight, that was a big mistake.
James Brown, the author, is a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto. He states in his preface that "this book is an introduction-an opinionated introduction-to the issues (of who rules in science) for the general reader." The operative word here is "opinionated" and the non-operative words are "general reader."
Early in the book, he begins a discussion of the "Sokal Affair" which was a hoax perpetrated by the physicist, Alan Sokal, on the editors of the journal Social Text, in which he fooled them into publishing an article which, on the surface, appeared to be quite a piece of erudite writing but in reality was nothing but nonsense. If I had not already known what this was about, I would have had a hard time figuring out what he is talking about, because it is certainly not presented in a straight forward manner. His main purpose in bringing up the Sokal Affair is to show how easy it is to fool even supposedly very intelligent people, the unstated implication being that those fooled were somehow deceived because their views of the philosophy of science are wrong.
Some of the reviews at Amazon describe the content of the book in great detail, but in summary it is a discussion of the views of the "social constructivists" in science, who believe that there is a large personal and social impact on the way science gets done and interpreted, as opposed to the views of the "realists", who believe that reason and logic are the only tools which can create a scientific truth independent of human nature.
The author is firmly in the realist camp. To advance his views at the expense of his opponents he sets them up as straw dogs so that he can attack their ideas at his leisure. Even the few actual examples from science he uses are also selected to make it appear that his ideas and criticism are the only correct point of view.
When his argument seems weak, he does not hesitate to abandon reason and logic and resort to assertion, sarcasm, exaggeration, and snide remarks about his opponents' views. He will call an idea nonsense without explaining why, and call his opponents' thinking "silly", "absurd", or "unparalleled ignorance". It is hard to avoid the impression that like a religious fundamentalist, he regards his ideas as the only true religion for scientists.
The book is filled with quite a bit of philosophical jargon and references that the "general reader" would not know. Without any sense of irony, he himself notes that "jargon itself frustrates the average reader."
There are constant references to various "-isms" and "-ists" such as, "Realism embraces objectivity, but it is clear for instance that instrumentalists and verificationists, are also objectivists in the sense that social constructivists are not".
At one point, he complains that he finds someone's statements irritating because they have a habit of making major claims that are not explained or justified beyond citing some author. This is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.
"Evidential reason" appears to be his God, and that this can exist somehow independent of the human mind that creates it. He believes and has faith in his objective rationality and therefore can use rationality to prove that it exists. Sort of Descartes, "I think, therefore I am."
There is a satirical program on Canadian television called "Air Farce". One of the frequent skits is called "The Confused Philosopher". The character in the skit keeps asking himself a series of questions that he never really will be able to answer. This image came to mind frequently as I was reading this book.
The last sections of the book on "The Democratization of Science" and "Science With a Social Agenda" are written in a more calm and reasonable manner. He is at his best when not attacking the views of others. He still insists, however, that values do not in any way determine the theories we come to believe in, but does concede that in practice this is difficult to sort out. In my own humble view, it would take some sort of a scientific God to be able to do this.
Brown's biggest problem is that the value bias he so highly condemns in others, is so highly evident in his own views that he becomes his own worst enemy.

Apparently the author has done very little reading in the neurosciences, sociobiology or psychology. In the bibliography there are no references to any works on the operation of the human brain and the amazing discoveries on how our senses work, how we learn and form memories, and what part nature and nurture play in developing the way we perceive and reason about the world. It seems to me that the research and writings of people like Steven Pinker, Antonio Damasio, E.O Wilson, Rita Carter, and John Searle are much more pertinent to the philosophy of science than many of the people the author has focused on attacking. Even Mark Twain in his book "What Is Man" had a much deeper understanding of the reality of the human condition than James Brown seems to have.
To be honest, it is probably the style and method of presentation that turned me off this book more than the content itself. I did learn the names of some of the important players in the philosophy of science and I now have to find an author who can clearly and objectively explain what the ideas of these people really are.
5 von 8 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen Not the Best Thing since Sliced Bread 3. Mai 2003
Von Ein Kunde - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
This is a nice little interesting book, but I can't agree with the effusive praise it's garnered. Brown does have some useful things to say, and his analysis is more balanced than that of many commentators on the science wars, but in places that analysis is rather shallow. It seems to me, for example, that the philosophical difficulties of naturalism would be something worth addressing by Brown, but he gives those difficulties short shrift.
Brown is just as capable as the extremists at dismissing those he disagrees with as "mushy-minded", "bad scientists" whose views are "laughable" and whose sanity should be doubted. All those who think moral norms might have divine origin? According to Brown, they're "naively religious". All those who disagree with Brown about capital punishment? According to Brown, they just must not have studied the matter as much as he has. (For Brown, this is apparently an issue on which it is impossible for there to be an honest, informed difference of opinion.) As someone who sympathizes with both Brown and Norman Levitt on many issues but disagrees with them each on others, I have to say that it's a lot more fun to be insulted by Levitt because he does it with such style! (Incidentally, Brown's analysis of Gross and Levitt's book only seems to make sense if Levitt is on the political Right. My reading of Levitt's _Prometheus Bedeviled_ leads me to believe that that is far from the case.)
One last item: Brown writes: "Most people could achieve a high-level understanding of any branch of science, but only if several years have been devoted to its intense study." I'm not sure whether Brown classifies mathematics as a branch of science, but I see no more evidence that sufficient training could provide most people with a high-level understanding of mathematics than that sufficient training could provide most people with the ability to high jump 7 feet. I used to tell my students that intense study would undoubtedly make them successful; after seeing several hard-workers earn D's, I stopped saying that.
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