Science and cultures/values

Paul Grobstein's picture

Biology in Society Senior Seminar

Bryn Mawr College, Fall 2010

Sessions 1,2: Science and Culture/Values

 

  • Is biology/science "objective", value-free, culture-independent, universal?
  • Should it be?
  • Is there a distinctive biology/science culture? set of values?
  • Should there be? 

BBC News Hour 26 August (1300 GMT) segment on medicine and religion 44:01-49:30)

"There is no position of Olympian neutrality" in medicine.  Is there in science?

From forum discussion on session 1

I admitted in class that I am quick to judge and form opinions, and that is exactly what happened when the following question was posed: Is biology/science "objective", value-free, culture-independent, universal? Should it be? I immediately answered that “yes” it is and “yes” it should be. However, as the discussion evolved, I realized just how unclear the answer to this question really is.

I don't know what a doctor has to go through to remain neutral, but I think that going to a doctor means that you are putting your health in the hands of someone else.

it is important to clarify in exactly what content we are discussing the definition of a “fact”.  A well-trained, professional, competent doctor in North America is taught by the American Medical Association to repeat the facts (that have been previously PROVEN) to a patient without bias.

when a doctor is advising a cancer patient as to alternative types of treatments, he will subconsciously emphasize those he thinks are best suitable. In this situation, he is clearly stating facts about the different types of treatment; however, his opinion is affecting his presentation of the types of treatment a patient may receive and how emphasis is imparted may make his opinion seem to be a fact.

it is impractical for a doctor to list every remedy ever theorized in an attempt to achieve neutrality (which may very well be unobtainable). While it is risky to accept something as fact, it is a risk we must take in order to function. Ultimately the goal is to treat the patient and in order to do that, we must accept certain things as fact and assume that the doctor is acting in the interest of the patient. As patients, it is our responsibility to realize that we are asking the doctor for a professional opinion, not neutrality. 

facts are objectively true or false, depending on empirical evidence. Opinions are subjectively true or false, depending on personal experience. I think one of the places where we became confused yesterday is how to draw the line between subjectivity and objectivity. And I'm sure this will continue to confuse us. Realistically speaking, objectivity is not attainable and never will be, as is truth. Having said this, I realize I must now change my definitions of "facts" and "opinions", so I suppose that facts are less subjective than opinions. Perhaps facts are the most agreed upon subjective opinions?

While, in a perfect world, science should be an objective, value-free, and culture-independent method of investigation, in reality this is not possible. Whenever humans are involved, it is close to impossible for facts to be presented impartially, and once even a hint of personal opinion enters the equation, there is no longer any hope that a doctor or scientist can remain impartial.

Since there is no way to prove truth, anything that a scientist states as "fact" must be understood to be a belief that is accepted by the majority of scientists in that field based on their own values and biases. No matter how hard we, as scientists, try to objectively investigate the world around us, there will always be a subtle subjectivity.

Every individual has a unique set of experiences, outlook, or culture that shapes the way he/she thinks and perceives the world. As a result, I think it is impossible to totally remove aspects of "self" from science. However, I don't think this is a problem. I think differences between people can actually contribute to science. Because each individual has a unique perspective and a unique way of thinking we can have different methods of solving the same problem. This in turn allows for co-constructive inquiry between scientists and most likely a deeper understanding of the topic in question.

 

The other side of science

"We longed for a richer analysis embracing competing philosophies, political and economic pressures, and personal attitudes and prejudices, a history that suggested how scientific knowledge was created and accepted.

"Acceptance of religious truth involves surrender to authority or a leap into the arms of faith, while a scientific truth (or as Shapin would say, “whatever it is that counts as Truth in a range of historical settings”) is supposedly provable to reason, its results confirmed by experiment or calculation. But how have we learned, or been persuaded, to accept the “facts” presented to us as “true,” to regard science as a secular enlightenment, in contrast to the obscurantism of religion?

"Establishing credibility in any claim involves understanding the unspoken subtleties of social forms: what kind of person is a good witness, what language persuades and what affronts. With regard to a scientific claim, we have to accept not only the accuracy of a particular experiment, but the implied process of inference by which one experiment—whether it be on air pressure or drug efficacy—”stands for” a general phenomenon, becoming “a shorthand for the natural world.” We may be persuaded by the proven accuracy of earlier work or by the approval of peer review or known authorities, but we have also become increasingly aware that political or commercial considerations may slant one presentation above another.

"we accept “facts” as true when they are vouched for by people we trust in a given role, “teachers, professors, physicians, nurses, plumbers, mechanics, colleagues.” This openness to familiar voices also affects the exchange of information between scientific and technical groups, and between experts themselves, lowering the threshold of skepticism.

"all scientific work, in its many diverse aspects, is not only historically situated but also spatially located. This seems so obvious that one wonders why it should be worth discussing, yet the resistance to such historicism is astonishing. Scientific knowledge is commonly held to stand “outside of history.”

"Both Descartes and Robert Boyle insisted, if unconvincingly, that they were free of adherence to earlier authorities or to dogmatic positions. In addition, Boyle and his followers claimed that within the experimental community, which was “open to all,” it was possible to set aside partisan politics, class, and nationalism; in the search for truth all could be equal and united.

"an illusion as much in the Royal Society as in the nation. Once more, the quest for credibility involves manipulation of circumstance. The need for “trustworthy” members of the society to witness experimental findings immediately limited membership according to then-current dictates of social hierarchy

"we no longer believe scientists because we know them or have direct experience of their work. Instead “we believe them because of their visible display of the emblems of recognized expertise and because their claims are vouched for by other experts we do not know.”

"With the rise of professionals it became increasingly difficult to consider science as disinterested. The assumption of virtue faded with the secularization of the nineteenth century: if nature was no longer divine, a scientist could not claim a divine calling. The institutionalization of science in universities bolstered its scholarly credentials, but the incorporation of science into industry and government departments fostered suspicions that far from being “pure,” science was the lackey of Mammon."

Scientific method and the crack; objectivity as shared subjectivity

A recent relevant article: Does your language shape how you think?

The two plaintiffs at center of the ban on stem cell use

"The two researchers whose claims of injury led to a judge’s decision Monday to issue a  preliminary injunction banning federal funding for the research using human embryonic stem cells, have a history of disputes with colleagues as well as ethical objections to embryonic stem cell research."

The need for a science code of conduct?

  • the value of collective stories and of problem-solving - knowledge as context-dependent
  • anti-authoritarian
  • don't restrict observations?
  • allow observations to influence values

Summary of session 2 (Dakota)

We actually started off our discussion this session with a point that we ended with two hours later. In recapping the previous blog posts, Professor Grobstein recounted one student’s definition of fact as the most agreed upon subjective opinion and another student’s belief that there is no such thing as an objective fact. From there, we briefly re-evaluated our opinions of doctors at which point someone noted that they now had more appreciation for doctors since they had to try and filter out all of their beliefs. In response to this comment, we reemphasized that it is impossible for a doctor to practice medicine without letting their beliefs shine through. While doctors can attempt to separate their religious and moral beliefs from the way they practice medicine, by practicing medicine, they are inherently letting their belief system impact the way they practice. Practicing western medicine means that the doctor’s belief in western medicine influences the way she/he practices medicine.

This prefaced our conversation on why we believe in the superiority of western medicine. The class agreed that we are biased as we have grown up with western medicine and have repeatedly seen it help heal those close to us. It takes a risk to believe in a fact and thus we are more inclined to take a risk on something, such as western medicine, which other people around us believe in. For us, western medicine seems to deliver the most consistent results and thus appears to be the safest bet. However, very few studies have been conducted to prove the superiority of western medicine as our society is reluctant to fund such studies that could dismantle one aspect of western supremacy. Even if the studies were conducted, there is no guarantee that they would be published. In defense of alternative medicine practices, it was noted that numerous western medicines are derived from herbs. At this point, one student wondered whether we were attacking America by questioning western medicine.

From here, our discussion transitioned to science and objectivity. The first question posed was why it is believed that science has a particular claim to fact. One student suggested this was so because science is repeatable. However, Professor Grobstein refuted this assessment by referencing monks’ claim that if you meditate at a high enough level, you will consistently see and feel the same thing. In contrasting the subjectivity of feelings to science, the concept of normal was mentioned. When asked to define normal, the class made it seem like this term’s definition depended on the context. In the context of science, we defined normal as healthy. When we were subsequently asked to define healthy, we could only come up with normal as our definition. It should be noted that this cyclical relationship between our understanding of these two words frustrated several members of the class.
In order to preserve the sanity of the class, we abandoned our attempt at defining normal and moved on to discussing the “seriously loopy scientific method.” In making sense of an original set of observations, we must make a prediction. If the new observation matches the prediction, it does not mean that our way of understanding things is the definitive answer as it only makes sense of all observations to date. This is where we discussed the contextual usefulness of past methods of understanding things, such as gravity. Gravity did not exist before Newton and it no longer exists today as Einstein disproved it. However, gravity is still a useful theory in certain contexts. We then discussed “the crack” which refers to what happens when the prediction made does not match the new observation. In this case, we need to come up with a new way of making sense of the original set of observations. Since there are an infinite number of ways to make sense of the observations, understanding is always going to be subjective as we must choose which option we will utilize in order to understand. We then connected our discussion to what was discussed the beginning of class by noting that objectivity isn’t the opposite of subjectivity, it’s what you aspire to when looking for the commonalities among subjectivity. Science is a commitment to finding these commonalities in subjectivity. Professor Grobstein ended the class by asking us to consider whether or not there are any distinctive values associated with science.
 

Comments

mlhodges's picture

Let's add this to the crack...

            I clearly expressed at the beginning of class to be a strong advocate for Western medicine. When asked “why,” I jumped to the conclusion that we were the best because we have the most advanced medicine. While I do still partially believe this, I understand now that it was a shallow mindset and only addressed one part of the picture.

I think it is important to differentiate what exactly we are treating when discussing the best form of medicine (traditional western vs. holistic). For acute conditions, such as broken bones, heart attacks, and trauma injuries, traditional medicine has the upperhand. It is the more efficient in treating the condition quickly and thoroughly. Also, western medicine is superior at detecting and preventing certain conditions. The technology available to those Americans (with health insurance, of course) is astounding.

            However, on another note, holistic medicine has proven to be an effective form of medicine as well.  Many chronic conditions, such as heart disease, GI disorders, headaches and sinusitis aren’t always treatable by popping a pill. They’re sometimes a permanent part of one’s lifestyle and often require “outside of the box” treatment in order to find relief.  This is when some natural remedies can be successful – either along with the traditional cocktail of pharmaceuticals, or alone. Over time, some holistic approaches may even ease the patient off strong medications that cause an array of negative, unpleasant side effects for the patient.  In this regard, holistic medicine is actually better than traditional western medicine.

            So, I have changed my conclusion since last week’s class. I now feel it is essential that the crack include the best of both Eastern and Western procedures. Multiple forms of treatment are often necessary in order to best heal the whole body – one’s mental health and physical health.  It often depends on the context of the situation, or what the doctor is aiming to treat. For example, perhaps in the West the main purpose of the doctor is to fix the symptoms in order to re-gain physical health, while in different parts of the world the purpose of the doctor is different – maybe it is to rid the person of the “devil” or whatever their culture believes is making them ill. Then, specific results/reactions from the patient (whether or not the person is ‘healing’ according to our standards) shows that their healers have done their job. In this case, their culture’s medicine is the best, and Western medicine is completely out of the picture. I guess it’s all about the frame of reference…

Conventional western medicine is not the best in all cases. The crack explains why multiple systems of medicine exist.

 

Kwarlizzle's picture

Some one once told me that

Some one once told me that "too much 'eye open' is 'eye close'!" And I think I agree wholeheartedly with that assertion. As scientists, doctors, biologists and people in general, it is important to listen to other people's rationales for doing things, and learn to accept them without judgment. But there does come a point in time where without judgment, somebody has to draw a line somewhere.

So Ghanaians and a lot of other (West Africans) believe in witches and alla that. There have been people who have confessed to being witches, there have been people who have claimed innocence. Those who believe in witches and demons and dwarves have their religion, national memory, and personal experiences to draw from. So  you can't fault them. But I'm not going to sit back and say just because it's t heir belief it's okay to pour acid down a child's throat to exorcise him (happened in Nigeria) or whip a 5-year-old child senseless because 'he is possessed' (happened in Ghana within the past two weeks). It's simply not okay - religion or personality or whatever.

Same applies to science/western medicine in many ways (the Hmong example, or female genital mutilation). The trick is to negotiate these places of difference with as much respect and understanding and non-judgmentalism as possible. But we can't sit on our hands and say - "oh it's their culture, it's their religion." We don't seem to have had a good track record doing that

smaley's picture

Is western medicine really superior?

The idea that western medicine may in fact not be the one and only solution to all health issues is one that has resonated with me. Western medicine, and the drugs that come along with it, is a relative newcomer in the grand scheme of things. While there have undoubtedly been some drastic improvements in treatments, as evidenced by the increased lifespan of many populations, this does not mean that some of the older, more traditional medications were not useful. In fact, if you go into any grocery store, pharmacy, or vitamin store, you will see hundreds of different vitamins, oils, and who knows what else neatly packaged into pills for convenience, many of which are only refined versions of some alternative medicines. Many doctors will even suggest to their patients that they take certain supplements, for whatever reason. While there have been some definite changes, mainly the packaging of everything into pills, there is little difference between these pills, and their less refined, but still useful precursors that are still used today in non-western medicine. I guess my question really is, are all of these supplements really all that much better, just because they come neatly packaged, and are sold in franchised stores? Is the only reason that western medicine has become so widely accepted, and alternative medicines so criticized, the fact that it comes nicely packaged, tied with a pretty bow? As a society, can we afford to remain so apathetic, or is it our duty to question what we’ve been told, if only to reaffirm that the current healthcare system is truly the best one for society as a whole?

 

 

Colette's picture

I believe trust is built upon

I believe trust is built upon respect and if one is able acquire that respect; he/she will be able to establish a greater degree of trust. In the book “Blink” the author Malcolm Gladwell showed for example that doctors who were sued by their patients spent less time with their patients whereas those who spent more time building a relationship engendering trust were sued less. There was no difference in the amount or quality of information either group of doctors gave their patients. People will choose the alternative that they think will best satisfy their needs. If a doctor wants to have a beneficial effect on a patient, he/she will need to convince their patients to do what they suggest.

 

            Doctors, who are in a very competitive field, have more formal training than any other service provider, including supervised practical training because they need so much knowledge to do their job well. Doctors are known to be part of a medical community that shares knowledge and those who are not in good stead with their peers are excluded. All of this is common knowledge and engenders respect for their learning and trust follows.

 

            Pure scientists are also well informed individuals; this should not discourage any one from studying science. In fact, everyone should be encouraged to have at least a basic understanding of science. This would benefit individuals and society by increasing respect for science based on person assessment of scientific findings.

lbonnell's picture

Normal?

 I thought an interesting part of Thursday's discussion was when we talked about the idea of normalcy. At first we talked about how there was a normal temperature and weight for humans. However then we discussed how this was not necessarily true- every individual has a unique normal body temperature that can depend on the time of day and other factors. Similarly, normal weight depends on the individual. In another class, I remember being taught that every individual has a set point that his/her weight will tend to fall around. 

In both of these examples the concept of what is normal depends on the individual, not society as a whole. I think this is a good way of thinking about what is normal in general. Just every individual has a unique body, everyone has a different way of forming his/her idea of normalcy. Experience/ culture/ ect. lead people to form opinions of what of what is typical and what is not. Normalcy is also subjective. 

Crystal Leonard's picture

Should scientists be held to an ethical code?

I'd like to comment on the question posed at the end of class regarding whether scientists should abide by an ethical code. The example of the Manhattan Project was offered: should the scientists involved have continued their research on nuclear fission when they knew that it would result in the massive destruction of human life? While I am decidedly against weapons development myself, I feel that scientists should not be held to an ethical code. Instead, I feel that scientists should be held to scientific integrity. Scientists should be required to accurately present their data, without fabrication, to the public. Without this requirement in place society cannot trust anything that a scientists claims. In addition, I believe it should be the right of any scientist to refuse to work on a project that they are ethically opposed to. However, I do not think that the projects that scientists work on should be limited by a predetermined ethical code. The entire purpose of science is the pursuit of knowledge, to try to better understand how the world around us works. The discoveries made can then be used to advance (or hurt, depending on one's perspective) all aspects of society, whether it be health care, transportation, agriculture, architecture, or even defense/military operations. Thus, scientific inquiry is extremely useful to society. Just because one is against a particular application of scientific knowledge does not mean that society is better off without the knowledge in the first place. If governments want to ban certain applications (such as nuclear weapons), and they have the support of their constituencies on the matter, then that is the governments' right. However, scientists have not spent years gaining expertise in ethics; they've spent years gaining expertise in acquiring and interpreting data. As such, scientists should not be expected to question their every move, to determine if the data they acquire could one day be used for nefarious purposes.

dfishervan's picture

Science, Objectivity, Existence

Normal
0
0
1
283
1617
13
3
1985
11.1282

0

0
0

         When we began transitioning our discussion to science and objectivity, the question was raised as to why science is commonly viewed as objective. I feel that people think of science as a discipline devoted to understanding how things work. People believe that regardless of whether or not we discover the “answer” through science, the thing scientists are examining will still continue working in the same manner and existing. Just because we do not understand the process does not mean that it doesn’t happen.  Scientific discoveries help define something concrete and something that already exists.  For this reason, people believe that science is objective and teleological as each inquiry brings us closer to understanding what is.
            In class, we completely disapproved this reasoning and argued for the subjective nature of science. During this discussion, it was suggested that gravity did not exist before Newton and that a tree does not make a sound if no one can hear it. For the reasons I mentioned above, I have to disagree with this assessment. Things exist regardless of whether we are there to understand them. For example, I do not completely understand how my body fights disease and yet, that does not mean that my immune system isn’t currently working. This brings me to another question concerning our definition of objectivity as “what you aspire for when you look for the commonalities among subjectivity.” If there does exist some fairly objective explanation of how the body fights disease, does that mean that my body abides by that objective explanation even though I personally am unfamiliar with the explanation?
Also, in class it was mentioned that a fact (or possibly idea…I can’t remember the wording) unique to one person is not likely to be objective. However, isn’t a fact that will ultimately end up being contextually right always going to start out as a fact unique for one person? When does something start being objective?

 

adowton's picture

The crack

  So perhaps we should trust scientists less because of training/expertise/membership and more for their skepticism, their ability to entertain the possibility of thinking about things in a variety of different ways, includincieg ways quite different from the norm? “ (Prof Grobstein) 

I think this is an interesting question to think about. If someone were to ask me why I am going to a doctor’s appointment when I have a cold, my answer would probably be “to get medicine” or more simply “to make me better”. So, for more simple medical matters, it seems entirely appropriate that we rely on the expertise of medical professionals that they have acquired through training and regular practice. However, through a few summer internships I have had that involved shadowing physicians, it became apparent that medicine is often about thinking outside of the box and getting creative with things. Sure, patients sometimes present with a “textbook” example of disease X, but more often than not, there might be something that makes the disease a little more complicated, therefore rendering the need for a more specialized, less “run-of-the mill” treatment plan. Without skepticism, adaptability and creativity, doctors would not be able to handle such situations adeptly and return the most favorable results.

I think it is interesting to relate this back to our discussion of “scientific method and the crack”. We established in class that there can never be any definitive conclusion in science because of the cyclic nature of scientific inquiry (at least…that’s how I understood that part of the discussion: feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). The “crack” allows for infinite solutions to the same question. I think this translates up to the field of medicine with regards to the skepticism, adaptability and creativity mentioned before that I believe is so crucial to being a good physician. So, I think that the crack is one of the most important components of science. Without it, we might struggle to be innovative and unable to present new understandings of the same old situation. Even though i find it frustrating that answers are infinite, it is clearly helpful to the development of science and medicine. 

 

Paul Grobstein's picture

from medicine through science to ... co-constructive inquiry?

Interesting Thursday conversation (following up on our Monday one), from several perspectives.  I, for one, found it useful to have started with the question of doctors and then to treat the more general question of whether science is "objective," value-free, culture-independent, universal.  Among other things, it helped to focus attention on problem-solving (one goes to a doctor for help with a problem) and on social validation (one trusts, or doesn't trust, a particular doctor based in large part on one's trust in the wisdom of a larger community, eg western medicine, of whom the particular doctor is expected to be a loyal member).  So, a doctor isn't actually expected to be "objective" etc; s(he) is expected to be helpful in a particular context because of training/expertise/membership in a particular community.

So, empirical science is also not fully "objective" nor value-free, culture-independent, universal.  Indeed, that it isn't, by its very nature, capable of those things is actually part of its power.  Science can explore more possible understandings/futures by virtue of the legitimate different understandings of the present that result from the "crack" and the role for subjectivity it creates.  But then the question becomes what makes one trust (or not trust) a scientist?  science?  What's the context within which science is useful?  What problems is it good at solving and why?  And what role does training/expertise/membership in a particular community play in that?

The little boy from The Emperor's New Clothes seems to me relevant here.  In science, one wants/needs at least some people who see/make claims about things that are markedly different from those of others in the surrounding community.  Without them, there is a tendency to persist in making sense of things in particular ways and little ability/inclination to entertain alternative ways that might prove more useful in the longer run.  This is probably true, at least to some extent, of medicine as well.  So perhaps we should trust scientists less because of training/expertise/membership and more for their skepticism, their ability to entertain the possibility of thinking about things in a variety of different ways, including ways quite different from the norm?  

Along these lines, I'm looking forward to future conversations in which we think more about the meaning and significance of "norms" and "normal."  And pleased by the evidence from our last conversation that "co-constructive inquiry" actually works, that we can in fact hear/learn from/be changed by sharing quite different initial understandings.   Maybe what's most important in science (and .... ?) isn't objectivity or truth or facts or normalcy but rather the use of both subjectivity and shared subjectivity to generate, individually and perhaps collectively, new ways of understanding?          

Riki's picture

mysteries of the [human] universe

I don't think that the purpose of science is to discover the inherent qualities of the universe, because this implies that there is one objective and truthful answer to everything. Scientists only seek to answer the questions posed by humans, not by some cosmic truth.

Regarding the question of whether scientists should abide by an ethical code: Even if scientists are held to an ethical code, it's likely that they themselves created the code. Culture obviously influences ethical beliefs, so there can't be one universal code.

mlhodges's picture

I know I may be backtracking

I know I may be backtracking a bit with this post, but I feel it is an essential point. 

I understand the confusion that arises when trying to define fact versus opinion outside of the science realm, however, within the study of science, I believe a fact is clearly defined as a PROVABLE hypothesis. If a researcher or scientist can prove his or her belief (with concrete evidence that can be replicated by others), it is a fact.  If not, it is not a fact and perhaps only an individual’s temporary opinion until new research is uncovered.  I recognize that this is an obvious addition to our conversation, however, I believe it is important to clarify in exactly what content we are discussing the definition of a “fact”.  A well-trained, professional, competent doctor in North America is taught by the American Medical Association to repeat the facts (that have been previously PROVEN) to a patient without bias.  Again, as I mentioned in class, I have had my fair share of poor health, and with each return to the hospital, I accepted the doctor’s knowledge. Now, I am not necessarily saying I went ahead with a certain procedure, but I certainly listened to their set of facts. After having time to digest their knowledge, I approached another physician and listened to their set of facts. Although society considers this to be “getting a second opinion”, I do not. This is a misuse of the second term “opinion”. The second doctor is repeating the knowledge that they were exposed to in their particular medical texts.  Much of the time the information between the physicians overlapped. After contemplating both approaches, I finally chose the method I saw fit to treat my problem, and this, at last, was my opinion on which treatment was better for my specific case. 

Colette's picture

I have found that it is

I have found that it is incredibly difficult not to be constantly influenced by personally acquired opinions. Although one may try to remain neutral when making or helping others to make decisions, it is absolutely impossible to do. In class, we initially defined a fact to be concrete points whereas opinions were biases based on facts. One could very well formulate hypothesis based on these definitions however, when considering these terms in different contexts, a fact may be more like an opinion and an opinion may be more like a fact! For instance, when a doctor is advising a cancer patient as to alternative types of treatments, he will subconsciously emphasize those he thinks are best suitable. In this situation, he is clearly stating facts about the different types of treatment; however, his opinion is affecting his presentation of the types of treatment a patient may receive and how emphasis is imparted may make his opinion seem to be a fact. It is irrational to think that individual’s facts are not being altered by opinion. One must be careful to keep facts from opinions and opinions from facts

dfishervan's picture

Accepting Truth and Doctors

Throughout our discussion, I was constantly reminded of a concept that has plagued me for a while now: the existence and nature of knowledge. I used to attempt to define knowledge and our limited affinity for it and I initially grew frustrated with scientists who took for granted every piece of information they were fed. Take the Pythagorean Theorem for example. Since its derivation in antiquity, we have been taught to regard this theorem as true. For this reason, we have used the theorem as the foundation for more complex mathematical and scientific concepts. However, what would happen if this theorem which we have been taught to blindly accept as true, was incorrect? All of the advances built atop this mathematical foundation would crumble. Terrified by this thought, I believed that it was necessary for society to become more critical of everything it deemed true. Yet, I eventually realized that such skepticism was impractical and would impede societal progress.

            Likewise, it is impractical for a doctor to list every remedy ever theorized in an attempt to achieve neutrality (which may very well be unobtainable). While it is risky to accept something as fact, it is a risk we must take in order to function. Ultimately the goal is to treat the patient and in order to do that, we must accept certain things as fact and assume that the doctor is acting in the interest of the patient. As patients, it is our responsibility to realize that we are asking the doctor for a professional opinion, not neutrality. 

 

lbonnell's picture

Objectivity and co-constructive inquiry

I'm not sure if true objectivity exists in science. Every individual has a unique set of experiences, outlook, or culture that shapes the way he/she thinks and perceives the world. As a result, I think it is impossible to totally remove aspects of "self" from science. However, I don't think this is a problem. I think differences between people can actually contribute to science. Because each individual has a unique perspective and a unique way of thinking we can have different methods of solving the same problem. This in turn allows for co-constructive inquiry between scientists and most likely a deeper understanding of the topic in question.

knorrell's picture

Trust in Doctors?

The discussion in class made me consider my own relations with doctors and how I typically just accept what they tell me with out question.  I realized that I typically will trust my doctor to make the best decision for me because of their western medical knowledge.  Am I allowing the doctor's beliefs to affect my health because of this?  I don't know, but I feel that even without the ability of a doctor to remain neutral, they, for the most part, do not try to prescribe something to their patient that will hurt them or make them sicker.  I don't know what a doctor has to go through to remain neutral, but I think that going to a doctor means that you are putting your health in the hands of someone else.  Is it wrong to just trust that your doctor has your best interest in mind? 

Paul Grobstein's picture

objectivity in medical practice .... and science?

Interesting to have the general question about "objectivity" in science so crisply posed in relation to medical practice.  For another take on this, see the beginning of Evolution/science: inverting the relationship between randomness and meaning.  Interesting too how quickly the nitty-gritty of "co-constructive inquiry" is being explored.

smaley's picture

Reality v. Ideality

As I go back, and reflect on the discussion that we had in class, one thing that I have been thinking a lot about is the difference between reality and ideality. Ideally, all doctors should be able to objectively present their patients with all the pertinent facts, while refraining from making any visible judgment with regards to their patient’s decisions. In such a world, patients would never have to ask a doctor for their opinion, because everyone, even the most uneducated of patients, will be able to take the facts presented to them about their condition, and make an educated decision as to the proper course of treatment for them. However, realistically, this is not the case. No matter how well trained a doctor may be, it often impossible to remain objective, and not give any indication as to their opinions when it comes to a patient’s treatment. To make matters worse, many patients will specifically ask the doctor for their opinions, often due to the fact that the patient does not completely understand the facts presented to them, and they are afraid to make what may turn out to be the wrong decision. How can doctors be expected to present the facts impartially, and value-free, when they are constantly being asked for their opinions, in order to soothe the nerves of the patients, and reassure them that they are making the correct decision? While, in a perfect world, science should be an objective, value-free, and culture-independent method of investigation, in reality this is not possible. Whenever humans are involved, it is close to impossible for facts to be presented impartially, and once even a hint of personal opinion enters the equation, there is no longer any hope that a doctor or scientist can remain impartial. Thus, instead of asking ourselves whether doctors should remain impartial when it comes to presenting facts to their patients, we must ask whether doctors can.
 

adowton's picture

Values

 I found yesterday’s class both very interesting but also a bit frustrating as well. I say that I also found it a frustrating class because of the nature of our debate. I admitted in class that I am quick to judge and form opinions, and that is exactly what happened when the following question was posed: Is biology/science "objective", value-free, culture-independent, universal? Should it be?

I immediately answered that “yes” it is and “yes” it should be. However, as the discussion evolved, I realized just how unclear the answer to this question really is. An example was made of a patient refusing treatment for fear of upsetting their gods. The notion of the gods being a “fact” in this person’s life as opposed to an opinion is an interesting one. If it is a “fact” for the patient that their god would disapprove of the treatment, what/who is to say that that “fact” is not as relevant as any of the medical facts presented by the physician?

Another question that someone asked yesterday was: "should there be transparency on the part of the doctor concerning things like religious/non-religious beliefs?". I think this is a tricky question because on the one hand, it might seem like a great idea because then at least all players have a full understanding of where other involved individuals stand with regard to certain things. On the other hand, I think a physician bluntly stating that he is an atheist and that he will disregard any religious concerns of the patient is not exactly conducive to a healthy and respectful doctor/patient relationship. 

 

Crystal Leonard's picture

My opinions on scientific neutrality

I believe that it is unreasonable to expect complete neutrality from anyone, including physicians and scientists. The way our brains perceive anything is completely affected by assumptions we make about the world, which are based on the experiences of our past and on our culture. While it is noble to strive for neutrality, it is an impossible goal. In my opinion, society should accept this idea and find ways to work within this mindset. In the context of physician-patient interactions, I believe that physicians should determine which beliefs and opinions have been approved by whatever licensing body they belong to. The physician should then present as many of those beliefs and opinions as possible to the patient in a straightforward manner. In turn, the patient must realize that the views presented by the physician are not the only ones out there and that the physician is biased by their own opinions. It is the responsibility of the patient to decide, based on their own biases, whether they will accept the opinions presented by the physician. This argument also applies to science. The way that a scientist interprets their data will be affected by their own subconscious beliefs. It is not uncommon for two scientists to interpret the same data in completely different, but plausible, ways. So which one is correct? Generally the individual who's interpretation is supported by the experiments of other people is deemed to be "correct". However, the interpretation of data from the follow-up experiments is also subconsciously biased. Since there is no way to prove truth, anything that a scientist states as "fact" must be understood to be a belief that is accepted by the majority of scientists in that field based on their own values and biases. No matter how hard we, as scientists, try to objectively investigate the world around us, there will always be a subtle subjectivity.

Riki's picture

I have been thinking about

I have been thinking about our confusing conversation surrounding the difference between facts and opinions. What I have determined is that facts are objectively true or false, depending on empirical evidence. Opinions are subjectively true or false, depending on personal experience. I think one of the places where we became confused yesterday is how to draw the line between subjectivity and objectivity. And I'm sure this will continue to confuse us. Realistically speaking, objectivity is not attainable and never will be, as is truth. Having said this, I realize I must now change my definitions of "facts" and "opinions", so I suppose that facts are less subjective than opinions. Perhaps facts are the most agreed upon subjective opinions?

 

 

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
randomness