The theory is often, by lay people, looked

The main inspiration for this topic came from
a tweet that recently surfaced that had a picture of a college anthropology lecture
with a presentation title that read, “Scientific Facts are Social Constructs,”
This tweet gained the attention of a famous astrophysicist named Neil DeGrass
Tyson, who replied to it by saying, “The professor’s Smart Phone is based on a
thousand facts of science. The only social construct is the social media
enabled by it.”

This tweet provoked an enormous argument
between those who are scientifically literate and lay people. People who are
led by the philosophy that science is socially constructed often cause other
misinformed and misguided people to believe in their preaching’s and to claim
that other science is false. An example of how many people are scientifically
illiterate is a study done by Jon Miller, a researcher at the University of
Michigan Institute for Social Research in which he said, in 1988, only 10
percent of U.S. adults had a decent understanding of basic scientific ideas and
were able to read the Tuesday Science section of The New York Times. This
Statistic has now risen to 28 percent by 2008 1. While an improvement, the
American public still has a long way to go. If the majority of people don’t
understand basic scientific ideas, how are they going to be able to make
accurate assumptions about the world around them? They can’t. This is a huge
problem because it leads to people believing in pseudoscience like astrology,
vaccines cause autism and the flat-out rejection of science. In this paper, I’m
going to be addressing pseudoscience, the dismissal of regular science, the
claim that scientific facts are social constructs and unraveling the various
meanings associated with this proposition, and the solutions to this epidemic.

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            Before
entering the depth of this topic, we’re going to need some definitions. A
scientific fact is a proposition about nature, that has been repeatedly
confirmed and accepted as true, with the aim of describing a particular
phenomenon 2. An example of this is that living organisms pass on their genes
to their offspring. A theory is often, by lay people, looked at as just a mere
hypothesis. While true in the social world, it is not the case in science. In
science, a theory is a network of facts that collectively produce a description
of reality that has stood up to many experiments. Scientists only call it a
theory if the basic picture is correct. A theory may still have parts that
aren’t so well established, but such uncertainties don’t invalidate the overall
picture 3. An example of a theory is the theory of Evolution. The above
scientific fact, living organisms pass on their genes to their offspring,
belongs to a network of other facts including, a greater diversity of fossils
is found in younger layers of sediment than in older layers, and homologous
anatomical structures are ubiquitous throughout the animal kingdom.

                  If one were merely to say that scientific
models are social constructs because they wouldn’t exist absent to society, one
would be stating a truism. A model by definition is a description of reality
and a description requires social actors. To say that science is a social
construct is to say that the conclusions reached by a scientific model are not
just shaped by facts, but are also shaped by values that are particular to the
social situation of whoever is doing the research. Scientific facts are not
just theory-laden but are also value-laden. According to the social
constructionist, whether it’s because of differences in epistemic privilege by
virtue of different social situations, differences in the psychologies of
different groups due to differences in upbringing, or the unique historical and
cultural contexts that shape every discourse, every scientist will construct
scientific knowledge in a manner that reflects their place in society. What
this implies is the existence of a plurality of sciences. Each particular to
the demographic that partakes in the scientific activity. Because the science
that has been given institutional legitimacy was historically developed by
straight white men, the values that have shaped scientific conclusions has
reflected that, producing a science with is legitimated practices that benefit
straight white men at the expense of everybody else. Therefore, allowing for a
plurality of culturally specific sciences will permit not only an expansion of
scientific knowledge but the legitimation of truths which serve the group
interests of other demographics. Science, according to social constructionists,
is ultimately politics by other means. They do not see science as our best
means of approximating the truth, but merely as a means of legitimating those
practices that serve the class interests of whoever partakes in the activity.

The goal is to ultimately create a set of emancipatory sciences, which by
representing the interests of those who are not in power, will serve to
legitimate those practices that result in a more equal and fair society. The
contents and application of science depend on whoever’s doing it. So, by making
science more democratic in terms of what counts as knowledge, the interests of the
people may be served by a plurality of sciences that each caters to a
particular demographic. At the very least, scientific models must be altered or
ruled out entirely so as to produce a set of conclusions which yield
emancipatory outcomes. This is what it really means to say that science is socially
constructed.

            To start off this next section, I’ll
present a short story. School just got out and my friend Salik and I went to
the coffee shop across the street to hang out before heading home. While there
we were talking and it turned into a bit of a religious debate. In this debate,
he said something along the lines of “how can I criticize religion for
constantly changing when science changes all the time.” So before explaining to
him what I’m about to explain in this next paragraph, I asked him where he was
told that. To which he replied, “My priest talks about it all the time as an
argument against the science that conflicts with our faith.” I was unaware that
this was a problem to some people and it took me back that people actually make
that connection. So, to put that idea to rest, I will explain paradigm shifts.

            It frequently happens that a theory
will apply just fine within a certain domain as classical physics does with
systems whose energies are neither too low nor too high, but outside of that
domain fails to produce accurate predictions. Normal Science involves the
application of an existing model in order to discover new propositions about
nature. However once a scientific theory reaches the border of the domain in
which it is applicable, anomalies begin to accumulate, culminating in a crisis,
the model stops working.

Walsh,
C. (2017). Paradigm shift photograph. On slideplayer.com

            The most dramatic examples of this
come from physics. Where classical mechanic, despite enormous success and playing
the central role in the Industrial Revolution, it proved insufficient when
addressing certain anomalies. Most famously were the perturbations (In
astronomy, a perturbation is
the complex motion of a massive body subject to forces other than the
gravitational attraction of a single other massive body 4) in Mercury’s
orbit, which was initially postulated to have been caused by a tiny planet
between Mercury and the Sun. Under the Newtonian model, it made perfect sense.

Similar perturbations in the orbit of Uranus were what allowed for the
discovery of Neptune in 1846. However, no planet between Mercury and the Sun
was ever discovered. This was the crisis phase. The mystery of Mercury’s
anomalous orbital perturbations wouldn’t be solved until the introduction of
Einstein’s general relativity in 1916, which required the elimination of such
background assumptions as the constancy of space and time. Even though general
relativity required the introduction of new esoteric concepts that contradicted
the old Newtonian paradigm, it nevertheless became widely accepted after it
successfully predicted the bending of starlight during the Eclipse of 1919 5.

We refer to such events in science as paradigm shifts. Wherein models will have
their background propositions reoriented in order to produce brand new models
with superior predictive power. The old paradigm of Newtonian mechanics relied
upon a certain set of background propositions which were amended with new
background propositions, the most important of which was the invariance of
light speed. These, in turn, reorganized the facts that constituted the old
paradigm, producing the new paradigm of general relativity. It is important to
note that general relativity did not replace Newtonian physics. It merely
generalized mechanics to be able to describe systems that previously could not
be dealt with by the old paradigm. The mathematics surrounding general
relativity are very tedious and produce results that are far more exact than
are usually needed at classical scales; which is why the Newtonian framework is
still used for such systems. However, while it’s true that general relativity
can be used to describe classical systems, Newtonian physics cannot be used to
describe relativistic systems. This pattern
tends to hold true for most paradigm shits in science; the concepts dealt with
by the new paradigm cannot be understood in terms of the old one, even though
it does tend to work the other way around. In the process of this paradigm
shift, our understanding of the world became even more powerful and efficient.

All that one needs is a single tensor equation, plus the equivalence principle,
and now not only can one explain everything that classical
physics could, but you can now predict gravitational lensing, black holes,
gravitational waves, the expansion of the cosmos, gravitational time dilation,
and the shape of the entire universe. None of these things were even remotely
accessible by classical physics. The takeaway here is that paradigm shifts will
not transpire unless there is going to be a net gain in predictive power. 

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