Whose social values? Evaluating Canada’s ‘death of evidence’ controversy

Canadian Journal of Philosophy 45 (3):404-424 (2015)
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With twentieth- and twenty-first-century philosophy of science’s unfolding acceptance of the nature of scientific inquiry being value-laden, the persistent worry has been that there are no means for legitimate negotiation of the social or non-epistemic values that enter into science. The rejection of the value-free ideal in science has thereby been coupled with the spectres of indiscriminate relativism and bias in scientific inquiry. I challenge this view in the context of recently expressed concerns regarding Canada's death of evidence controversy. The worry, raised by Stathis Psillos, is that as constructivist accounts of science demoted the previously secure status of evidence for drawing justified conclusions in science, we were left with no rational delineation between the right and wrong values for science. The implication for the death of evidence controversy is that we may have no rational grounds for claiming that the Canadian Government is wrong to interfere with scientific enterprise. But he does offer another avenue for reaching the conclusion that the wrong social values are directing the current stifling of some sectors of Canadian science. Psillos draws from standpoint epistemologies to devise a salient defence of ‘valuing evidence’ as a universalizable social value. That is, government bodies ought to enable scientific research via adequate funding as well as political non-interference. In this paper, I counter that non-epistemic values can be rationally evaluated and that standpoint epistemology’s universalizable standpoint provides an inadequate framework for negotiating social values in science. Regarding, I draw from the evidence-based medicine debate in philosophy of medicine and from feminist empiricist investigations into the science–values relationship in order to make the argument for empirically driven value arbitration. If social values can be rationally chosen in the context of justification, then we can have grounds for charging the Canadian leadership with being ‘at war with science’. I further argue that my recommended empiricist methodology is preferable to Psillos’s search for universalizable perspectives for negotiating social values in science because the latter method permits little more than the trivial conclusion that evidence is valuable to science.
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