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The Social Fabric of Scientific Trust: A Review of Naomi Oreskes' Why Trust Science?

 


 The Social Fabric of Scientific Trust: 

A Review of Naomi Oreskes' Why Trust Science?

 

Reviewed by

Geoffrey W. Sutton


 Recently, I have reconsidered a problem that emerged early in my career as a psychologist. By the time I was in graduate school, I began to hear clergy and other evangelicals attacking my profession. My graduate work was at the University of Missouri, was during the 1970s. The issue of psychology and Christianity was not discussed in my classes. Psychology is a science. We learned how to conduct experiments before we learned how to apply principles to the assessment and treatment of people struggling with various problems in living.  I soon learned from clergy and church friends of the low esteem they accorded my profession. Oreskes’ book offers some helpful thoughts on the general issue of trusting science and scientists. Her examples include psychology so, I found her ideas particularly helpful and think others interested in the cultural rejection of science in general, and psychology in particular, will too. Here’s a summary of the book.

 

In the contemporary landscape where the veracity of science is often contested, Naomi Oreskes' Why Trust Science? emerges as a seminal work that delves into the heart of scientific reliability. Oreskes, an authoritative voice in the history of science, presents a compelling narrative that challenges the conventional wisdom surrounding the scientific method and its perceived objectivity.

 

The book, stemming from the Tanner Lectures on Human Values at Princeton University, is not merely an exposition but a dialogue, featuring critical responses from experts across various disciplines, thereby embodying the very essence of scientific discourse it seeks to defend. Oreskes' central thesis posits that the trustworthiness of scientific claims does not derive from a monolithic scientific method but rather from the collective and social processes that rigorously vet these claims.

 

Oreskes meticulously traces the evolution of scientific thought from the late nineteenth century to the present day, debunking the myth of a singular scientific method. Instead, she argues that the social character of scientific knowledge—peer review, criticism, and correction—is what lends science its strength and trustworthiness. This process, while not infallible, is shown to be robust through the lessons learned from historical instances where science has erred.

 

The book's strength lies in its ability to articulate the nuanced relationship between science and society. Oreskes does not shy away from addressing the contentious issues of our time, such as vaccine safety, climate change, and evolution, demonstrating how scientific consensus is often met with cultural resistance. She astutely observes that the lack of cultural acceptance is not a reflection of the science itself but rather the clash with economic interests or deeply held beliefs.

 

Oreskes' argument is both timely and timeless, as it resonates with the ongoing debates about the role of science in policymaking and public perception. Her assertion that good science is a collective enterprise is a powerful reminder of the collaborative nature of scientific endeavor. The book is a clarion call for a more informed understanding of how scientific knowledge is produced and why it deserves our trust.

 

However, Why Trust Science? is not without its complexities. The book is dense with philosophical examination and scholarly evaluation, which may not cater to the general reader but rather to those with a predilection for the intricacies of scientific philosophy. Despite this, Oreskes' work is a crucial addition to the literature on science and society, providing a well-reasoned argument for why we should place our trust in the collective enterprise of science.

 In conclusion, Naomi Oreskes' Why Trust Science? is a thought-provoking exploration of the social mechanisms that underpin scientific trustworthiness. It is a book that challenges readers to reconsider their perceptions of science and its role in society. Oreskes' persuasive narrative and the inclusion of diverse critical perspectives make this work an essential read for anyone interested in the intersection of science, philosophy, and society.

About Naomi Oreskes

Naomi Oreskes is a renowned historian of science, with a prolific career that includes her role as Professor of the History of Science and Affiliated Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University since 2013. Prior to this, she spent 15 years as Professor of History and Science Studies at the University of California, San Diego. Oreskes has contributed significantly to the discourse on scientific methodology and the societal implications of scientific knowledge.

 Afterword

Although the tension between psychology and Christianity has eased since the 1970s thanks to many scholars suggesting ways to integrate aspects of the two worldviews, I think I see a widening of the gap between American Evangelicals and mainstream science, including both the science of psychology and the applied field of psychotherapy. I have begun to explore the differences and the potential for at least a friendly relationship in a series on Irreconcilable Differences?


 

References

Oreskes, N. (2019). Why trust science? Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 

Available On AMAZON

 

Sutton, G. W. (2024, April 14). The social fabric of scientific trust: A review of Naomi Oreskes' Why Trust Science? Interdisciplinary Book and Film Reviews. Retrieved from https://suttonreviews.suttong.com/2024/04/the-social-fabric-of-scientific-trust.html



Geoffrey W. Sutton, PhD is Emeritus Professor of Psychology. He retired from a clinical practice and was credentialed in clinical neuropsychology and psychopharmacology. His website is  www.suttong.com

 

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