Annual lectures

Differentiating Scientific Inquiry and Politics

Heather Douglas lays out norms for scientific inquiry that make it distinct in practice from politics.

Over the past two decades, our view of the ideals for science in society has changed. Discussions of the roles for values in science and changes in the views on the responsibilities in science have shifted the understanding of science from ideally value-free to properly value-laden. This shift, however, seems to remove a key difference between science and politics, as now both science and politics are value-laden, and disputes in both can arise from value disagreements. If science is not value-free (nor should it be), what differentiates science from politics?

This talk lays out norms for scientific inquiry that make it distinct in practice from politics. Even as we understand scientific inquiry as pursued within society, we pursue it in a distinctive space, guided by distinctive norms and practices. Although there are parallels between democratic political norms and norms for scientific inquiry (as Merton argued), there are crucial differences as well. Understanding and defending these differences help to protect science from abuses of power.

  • Speaker

    Heather Douglas is a philosopher of science who works on the relationships among science, values, and democratic publics. She is an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Michigan State University, Senior Visiting Fellow at the Center for Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh (2021-2022), and a AAAS fellow. She is the author of Science, Policy, and the Value-Free Ideal (2009), The Rightful Place of Science: Science, Values, and Democracy (2021), and editor of the book series Science, Values, and the Public for University of Pittsburgh Press.