Real Science: What It Is, and What It Means. (Book Reviews/Comptes Rendus)

By Brannigan, Augustine | Canadian Journal of Sociology, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Real Science: What It Is, and What It Means. (Book Reviews/Comptes Rendus)


Brannigan, Augustine, Canadian Journal of Sociology


John Ziman, Real Science: What It Is, and What It Means, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000, 399 pp.

Ziman is one of the most senior British contributors to science and society studies, and is well known for his earlier classics, Public Knowledge (1968) and Reliable Knowledge (1978). Real Science is a thorough and provocative treatise, arguably his most informative to date. The recent "Sokal hoax" revisited the juxtaposition of earlier generations about the rational foundations of science promoted by Nagel and Hempel versus the non-rational or constructionist foundations suggested by Kuhn and Feyerabend. Without referring to the particulars of the Sokal case, Ziman advances a more realistic characterization of the social nature of science required by the "science wars" in which he says "sociology has superseded philosophy at the theoretical core of 'science studies."' Ziman offers a naturalistic account of science. It is a set of interrelated communities governed by normative structures that check the originality and often-transient irrationality of specific innovations with sets of collective practices that subject novel claims to critical evaluation. Sound familiar? The close tie between the cognitive elements that make up the content of science and the collective process of creating and evaluating knowledge is pure Mertonian, and it is one of the core suppositions of the book.

Ziman offers a more exhaustive analysis than Merton of the kinds of knowledge produced by research and the range of work falling along a broad continuum from work based solely on curiosity, "pure science," and research mandated by R&D policies. Often the key elements of the scientific ethos -- Communalism or public knowledge, Universalism, Detachment, Originality, and Scepticism (which culminate in 'CUDOS,' i.e. the reward structure) can go off the rails under the new conditions of knowledge production. The academic mode of production which characterized the British and German universities from 1850 to 1950 -- individual male scientists pursing their own projects, working in relative isolation with little external funding, teaching in tenured academic positions to support their research -- has increasingly been replaced by "post-academic science." Here, teams of increasingly specialized experts, men and women, often work in diverse labs on renewable 5 year contracts and keep in contact with a network over the internet, pursuing research questions set by private interests and national policies, working under tightly scrutinized spending regimes, often resulting in the acquisition of proprietary knowledge, and in a constant search for further funds to support postdocs and on-going projects. The post-academic scientist becomes bureaucrat-administrator, and is increasingly liable to be working in a non-academic setting.

In Canada there is evidence from two cases that commercial interests have eroded some traditional academic values, including academic freedom. Dr. Nancy Olivieri was fired from her lab position in 1997 at the Hospital for Sick Children, a division of the University of Toronto, after blowing the whistle on potentially dangerous side effects found in preliminary tests of a drug the research on which had been funded by Apotex Ltd. Her actions were directly contrary to a contract signed by Olivieri giving the company control over release of results. Such contracts directly limit academic freedom but have become common as universities rely increasingly on the private sector to staff the universities' research capabilities. It was only after the CAUT intervened with the assistance of international medical researchers that the university supported her demands for protection of academic freedom, re-instated her and assisted in her $150,000 legal fees (see Turk 2000).

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