Abstract of a manuscript (updated 3 Dec 18). Comments welcome—email me for the full draft.
Participants in debates about developments in science and technology point to issues overlooked or downplayed by scientists—or, if the debate is among scientists themselves, by other scientists. Sometimes included among participants in debates are interpreters of science—sociologists, historians, philosophers, and scholars from other fields of Science and Technology Studies. Taking these scholars as the audience, this article asks what should we do if we identify a significant issue not yet subject to debate?
Taylor, P. J. “Critical Epidemiological Literacy: Understanding Ideas Better When Placed in Relation to Alternatives,” Synthese, in press, DOI: 10.1007/s11229-018-01960-6.
Levins’ career was a series of explorations of complexity in many and diverse settings. One aspect of complexity, heterogeneity, is explored through two vignettes (about heritability and differences among means), a taxonomy of eleven kinds of heterogeneity, and a contention connecting heterogeneity, control of populations, and possibilities for participation.
“Changing Science in Heterogeneous Environments,” pp. 87-101 in T. Awerbuch, M. Clark, P. Taylor (eds.), The Truth is the Whole: Essays in Honor of Richard Levins, Arlington MA: The Pumping Station, 2018.
Can ecological theory generate principles that could be usefully generalized across ecological situations? Particularism has been a perennial attraction in ecology, but a new source of doubt gained momentum by the end of the 1980s after theorists started looking at “indirect interactions”—effects mediated through the populations not immediately in focus, or, more generally, through “hidden variables” that have their own dynamics. How much do indirect effects confound principles derived on the basis of observing the direct interactions among populations? My exploration of this question should challenge not only ecologists, but theorists in all fields that make use of models of any kind of sub-system elevated from the complexity in which the sub-system is actually embedded.
Although stable systems may be extremely rare as a fraction of the complex ecological systems being sampled (as shown in the 1970s theoretical work of Robert May), they can be readily constructed over time by the addition of populations from a pool of populations or by elimination of populations from
systems not at a steady state. The implications identified in this paper of such a constructionist perspective could challenge not only ecologists, but also theorists in all fields that make use of models without a process of construction over time of the complexity of the situation studied. This paper centers not so much on advancing this perspective, but on two consequent puzzles: Why does the constructionist view seem difficult for theorists to take up? What social implications should be drawn from the resulting view of complexity, especially to the extent that critical events cannot be predicted?
The Truth is the Whole: Essays in Honor of Richard Levins is now available as a 300-page paperback through online retailers in North America, Europe, and Australia.
A session at August 2018 Social Studies of Science meetings making sense of the biographical changes in changing contexts of radical scientists and of critics of science since the 1970s, as well as of STS interpreters of science influenced by them.
Session recordings, single page summaries, and full papers