Scientists and social forces

May 5, 1995

Ron Iphofen castigates John Ashworth for his dismissive attitude towards both postmodernism and sociologists of science in his review of my book The Trouble With Science (THES, April 21). I fear he misunderstands the issues in the debate between scientists and the postmodernist fraternity.

Scientists are only too well aware of the social forces that impinge on the history of their various disciplines. What they object to is the fact that sociologists commonly use such observations to cast doubt on the validity of the scientific method. Alas, this curious inference flies in the face of even the most trivial acquaintance with how scientists arrive at their conclusions (and with the fact that scientific theories do have to work in the real world). So, far from spurning postmodernism, I am sure that most scientists would recognise it as a welcome sign that the humanities have at last learned the value of one crucial feature of the scientific method, namely the constant need to challenge one's assumptions. They merely wish that postmodernism's proponents would take the second honest step of testing between the competing views that emerge from their analyses.

ROBIN DUNBAR

University of Liverpool

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