Reasons for science studies scholars to use critical judgement in engaging with the content of science

As I brushed off a 2011 talk “What to do if we think that researchers have overlooked a significant issue for 100 years?” to give again to philosophers of science and biologists together, a colleague mentioned the work of philosopher-historian of science, Hasok Chang, on complementary science.  So I watched his 2013 Presidential Address to the British Society for History of Science.  In this post I note that his list of reasons for science studies scholars to use critical judgement in engaging with the content of science could be expanded.  In making sense of what gets established as knowledge, an approach I have employed for many years as someone who straddles science and science studies in my teaching and writing is what I call “reciprocal animation” (borrowing here from philosopher Max Black’s account of metaphor): “close examination of concepts and methods within any given natural or social science can raise questions about the diverse social influences shaping that science. Analysis of social context can, in turn, suggest alternative lines of scientific investigation. This two-way interaction between science and the social contextualization of science significantly enlarges the sources of ideas about what else could be or could have been in science and in society.”  The passage comes from the somewhat programmatic essay, “Infrastructure and Scaffolding: Interpretation and Change of Research Involving Human Genetic Information,” Science as Culture, 18(4):435-459, 2009.
Another reason for science studies scholars to use critical judgement in engaging with the content of science is indicated in the introduction to the paper above when I gesture to complexity that elsewhere I call “heterogeneous construction.” That term refers to attempts to explain episodes in construction of knowledge in ways that expose diverse sites of potential influence in the further development and change of that knowledge.  That kind of engagement unavoidably draws on critical judgements about scientific content.
Perhaps the reason your list omitted such reasons is that you conceded that “there are other functions of history of science that do not revolve around scientific content.”  In contrast, I believe that even social, cultural, economic, and material interpretations of science can benefit from exploring how things could have been otherwise in the content of science.

Chang, H. (2013) “Putting science back into the history of science, Professor Hasok Chang,” Presidential address to the British Society for History of Science (22 July 2013),


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