Is Science Ideological?

If sociologists refer to something as being ‘ideological’, they typically mean that it supports powerful groups in society, effectively keeping the existing ruling class, or elites, in power.

Scientists generally claim that the process of conducting scientific research and constructing scientific knowledge is value-free, and thus ‘non-ideological’. In simple terms, they claim their research reveals ‘the truth’, or the underlying causal laws of nature and the universe.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that science is not also ‘ideological’. This part of the religion specification overlaps with the ‘is sociology a science’ part of Theory and Methods.

The argument that science is value free and thus non-ideological

  • The scientific method involves using controlled experiments to test a hypothesis bout how variables interact with each other
  • Because all of the steps of the experiments are carefully recorded, it allows anyone else to repeat the experiment and test the results, thus verifying the results are ‘true’.
  • It follows that scientists should strive to keep their own biases and values out of the research process, because they know anyone else can test their results.
  • This should mean the knowledge collected through scientific research is objective, value free, or non-ideological.

Three ways in which science might be said to be ‘ideological’

The research process itself may simply reflect the biases of influential scientists

  • Thomas Khun found that scientific research tends to be limited by dominant paradigms.
  • A paradigm is a set of assumptions about the way the world is, which frames scientific research.
  • Kuhn found that scientific findings which didn’t fit in with the existing, dominant paradigm, were ignored.
  • In this sense, groups of leading scientists who operate within the dominant paradigm ignored the work of younger scientists whose work may challenge their world view.

The wider field of scientific research is influenced by those who fund the research

  • Bruno Latour found that scientists would limit their research depending on where their funding came from.
  • For example, if a particular drug company was funding a lab, there would be reluctance to conduct research which found anything negative about that drug company’s products.
  • In this way, scientific research which harms powerful funding bodies is less likely to be carried out.

The dominance of the scientific world view may marginalise other non-scientific world views

  • The scientific world view is a quantitative, materialistic world view, it has worked well to bring about technological ‘progress’. Because of this it may have become oppressive to other forms of knowledge.
  • Feminists have suggested that it marginalises those who prefer to do research into the more subjective, feelingful aspects of social life.
  • Religious worldviews may also be taken less seriously because of the rise of ‘scientism’.
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