Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Other GM Debate

When reading the piece on "‘The Scientists Think and the Public Feels’: Expert Perceptions of the Discourse of GM Food," the piece was actually more interesting than what I originally thought it would be about. This piece interestingly took a controversial debate and focused on the relation between both sides and how they interact and communicate. The fact that the subject is controversial is evident, however the subject of how these types of controversies are interpreted by the public and the affects in which the public view the organization responsible for controversial aspect is what intrigues me the most.

In this case genetically modified foods become a talk of concern, especially for those who have adopted the idea that natural means good--this reminds me of what John Harris said in "Enhancing Evolution" about just because something being natural does not mean it is good for you, as an example that natural rat poison is meant to still meant to kill-- and the companies and agencies that are pushing for GM foods are being interpreted poorly to the public. This makes it very difficult for communication to occur between "experts" and "non-experts" which creates a divide leading to mistrust.

This form of debate between GM scientists and the public is great for science and the advancement of GM foods. With the debate so encroached in people's mind as food is a subject of topic on a day to day basis, it is possible that scientists would find the need to take GM further and discover a method of modifying food that not only saves money but is healthy too. This sort of open discussion between the public and the experts helps hold them accountable for the affects the foods they create have on the public by giving constant feedback in the debate, and as they become more and more aware of the outcomes and concerns they would be very hard pressed to ignore it.

The Black Box

In Bruno Latour's first chapter he introduces the idea of the black box, being something, whether it be an idea, claim, or theory, that is too complex to explain. This means that the parts that make it work are much too difficult to spend time trying to understand for the average person and in most cases even the experts.. The black box encompasses a system that all that can truly observed is the information that is inputted and outputted. Such a scientific black box would be that of, how the Universe works or what is actually going on inside of a black hole. However, even with the complexities in place experts seem to always be driven to these black boxes.

Much like scientific black boxes, philosophical, or religious black boxes such as proving the existence of a god, also have people driven to them. Some experts in the field of physics and philosophy are taking on the daunting task of combining the physical world to that of the metaphysical one. This idea is currently upstream in the scientific community and may remain there for quite some time. Whether substantial enough evidence that a god exists would ever come about is left to be seen but what we should make note of when it happens is who chooses to accept it and who will continue to deny the evidence.

This specific black box may be so far upstream for some and the arguments that have come from people trying to push it downstream may have caused too much strife. Some black boxes become so emotional to some that it is likely never to be excepted by those who have fought so adamantly for so long to destroy. Even if some sort of scientific evidence (yes once that can be tested) does appear it is likely to late for some and will remain, for many, a black box unsettled.

Truth?

It is one word that is a question in and of itself. In class the concept of truth came up so many times over the weeks that even its validity became questioned. The questions that I heard my pears discussing were "What is truth... does truth even exist... and is anything really true?" It boggles my mind to think that we have become so entrenched in semantics that we would find ourselves chasing our tails in circles questioning existence of truth and reality. Where really does that get us? I feel that this is simply a way for people (philosophers, students, etc..) to flex their intellectual muscles at the world in an attempt to show-off their mastery of language and understanding of logic.

It seems irrational to question truth as I believe truth and reality are synonymous. To question truth it to question one's existence which then leads to questioning the act of one's self questioning. I believe Descartes said it simply, "Cogito ergo sum." which to me is a philosopher on the side of truth and reality. The idea of believing in truth seems so intuitive that it makes you wonder why its even evver questioned to begin with.

The concept of truth ties in with Peter Kosso's chapter on "Coherence and Truth." He asks the question, "Why believe that what science says of the world is true?" I say, that it is important for us to come to a consensus with science regarding truth to allow society to further advance. This does not mean to never question or challenge science but to reach a point after challenging it to close the box and move forward. We are where we are as a society not because we don't believe in truths but because we do, and because we accept that science's goal is the pursuit of truth and that science is justified do so.

Networking and Rationality

I was reading Chapter 5 in Science in Action by Bruno Latour and the picture he was creating about the world of scientists and experts and then everyone else stood out to me. The notion that "so few people cover the world" in what he describes as a network of knots and nodes while everyone else simply falls through the mesh. To me it is the idea that so few truly know what is going on, or even try to at least understand it, and yet so many of us seem to "know" with almost undeniable certainty how the world works.

We as a society are advancing at an undeniably rapid rate as breakthroughs in medicine, electronics, and exploration are hitting us nearly every day, yet I would claim that for those who fall through the mesh and especially those who do not even attempt to grab onto it are stuck back in time. What I see are people who use sophisticated technologies such as computers, automobiles, and cell phones and also who make substantial claims of reality and the world and yet truly have little to no understanding of what is actually going on.


I will not claim myself to be any part of the network but I do see myself as someone trying to grab on to it. I feel there are very few experts in relation to the rest of the world and society has greatly advanced because of them, but for most of us we are really only along for the ride. Only these few can really take responsibility for our advancements, as most of us are but work-horses learning what we need to in order to perform our duties, only to revert to an automated state of repetition in which we loose focus on the how something works and focus on the why and in most cases it just comes back to just getting through the day.

When the things around us work, and only simply because they do, we loose the necessity to challenge and test the world ourselves. We loose the need to be rational for a car works simply because I turn it on and push the gas pedal and not because a combustion engine is burning fuel to generate energy that can be used to turn the wheels that propel you forward. People begin to doubt the experts being experts when they claim the world to be thousands of years old while physicists and geologist say billions and yet we benefit from the work they do when it comes to creating the power we use and the stability of the buildings we work and live in. We should all attempt to become a part of the network, to help build the framework of knowledge in our society, and questions claims with rational and well tested arguments instead of with our made up thoughts and beliefs that have no justification.

Theory Confirmation

The reason I chose to write about Peter Kosso's fourth chapter of confirmation is that as someone is looking at becoming a scientist himself I feel that this perspective on confirmation of theories through testing and deductive reasoning will be an important mind set for me to take with me through my career. My main focus as a professional will hopefully be finding new forms of energy, preferably renewable, and focused on the continuous production of heat and energy from the earth itself.

If ever I were to make a claim myself, one that may require a "hypothetico-deductive method of confirmation," suggested by Peter Kosso, then I would have to confirm myself by holding it to these standards of logical confirmations. This shows that in order to make a claim of any sort I would have to rigorously scrutinize it myself before ever presenting it to the world.

This chapter also gives me great insight as to approaching other claims that either have already been made or will be made in the future, and how I will go about confirming the validity of the claim myself. I agree with Peter Kosso that a theory can not be accepted for absolute truth based on confirmation of one argument or claim because the theory may only hold partial truths and may give only a reasonable explanation of the event but not an accurate one. It is how he Kosso says it, "[this is] the same fallacious argument used to reason that if it's summertime it must be the fourth of July." It may be "the fourth of July" the day you test your claim and so you may claim the theory to be true based on this confirmation of truth but the theory will not hold true the next day even if it is still summertime.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Let Theories Unfold

            I took well to Peter Kosso's representation of theories and their importance to our understanding in science and our desire to explain the phenomena that we experience each day. Kosso speaks highly about the importance of theories and their pursuit to gaining a better understanding of the things we are unsure of and the things we seek to explain. Our very success as a species, to have come so far with technology and understanding of our universe, can be fully attributed to science's innate desire to put in theory and conceptualize the process, structure, and habits of the all things that surround us. This desire is fueled by man's curiosity that is imbedded in our instinct, which allows us to organize and destroy with absolute precision and determination such that we often find ourselves building things to have them destroyed thereafter. 

            This idea of "building" and "destroying", as inefficient as it may seam, is a process that inevitably leads to progression as thoughts and objects are recycled and reorganized allowing us to build off the mistakes of the past and ultimately leading to a better more evolved resolution. Such a process is unfolds as theories of religion, philosophy, and science are created with immense opposition in which only the most convincing, whether it be more logically sound or emotionally stimulating, may survive long enough only to be challenged again and again. This opposition is what truly builds science and our understanding of our surroundings which is what is necessary for our society to progress in a constructive manner. 

So it is important for us to accept the existence of any range of theories and beliefs no matter what we may find true ourselves. This tolerance for different ideas aught to go both ways allowing for truth to be told no matter what the presumed consensus may be.  As Kosso put it, "When you stop talking about theories, you stop talking about science," and theories are as important to science as they are to humanity. This claim is based off the idea that what is good for science is good for all of us because science is but our pursuit of understanding the reality and truths of the universe that we live in.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Why Argue With Science?

In class we've been recently discussing the concept of arguing different sides and the upstream/downstream dualism of arguing for or against the suggestive norm in science. Many of the counter arguments are a result of politicians and corporations that are driven by either personal or financial agendas or both.  As I am a firm believer that politics should remain outside the influence of the direction science is taking, I feel that in this case no argument is entirely a bad one. 

If we look at the arguments involved in global warming we see that even with a majority in favor that those that are opposed, whether due to economical gain or for just being highly skeptical, actually do a lot of good. It is true that arguments that tend to push against the mainstream slow the over all progress, but if something is truly fact then in time slow and steady will win over fast and reckless. 

While corportations, scientists and politicians argue for and against controversial issues the truth becomes fine tuned as long as resistence is met with a greater persistence. A great example of this comes from stem cell research and more specifically IPS cells. These IPS cells, derived from adult fibroblast, are a great alternative to the highly controversial use of embryonic stem cells. As they may not completely replace the use of embryonic stem cells they have given biogeneticists a new avenue to explore as diseases are being cured today using this method. 

When science is left unchallenged you run the risk of going in the wrong direction. We used to believe the world was flat, the earth was the center of the universe, and that the earth was only  thousands of years old. If we never challenged science we may still be living in the bronze age.n class we've been recently discussing the concept of arguing different sides and the upstream/downstream dualism of arguing for or against the suggestive norm in science. Many of the counter arguments are a result of politicians and corporations that are driven by either personal or financial agendas or both.  As I am a firm believer that politics should remain outside the influence of the direction science is taking, I feel that in this case no argument is entirely a bad onet. 


If we look at the arguments involved in global warming we see that even with a majority in favor that those that are opposed, whether due to economical gain or for just being highly skeptical, actually do a lot of good. It is true that arguments that tend to push against the mainstream slow the over all progress, but if something is truly fact then in time slow and steady will win over fast and reckless. 

While corportations, scientists and politicians argue for and against controversial issues the truth becomes fine tuned as long as resistence is met with a greater persistence. A great example of this comes from stem cell research and more specifically IPS cells. These IPS cells, derived from adult fibroblast, are a great alternative to the highly controversial use of embryonic stem cells. As they may not completely replace the use of embryonic stem cells they have given biogeneticists a new avenue to explore as diseases are being cured today using this method. 

When science is left unchallenged you run the risk of going in the wrong direction. We used to believe the world was flat, the earth was the center of the universe, and that the earth was only  thousands of years old. If we never challenged science we may still be living in the bronze age.