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Scientific Research

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Science and its connection to the outside world- that is, the social and political spheres -has several important implications. The values that society places upon various issues is one of the biggest factors in deciding what scientific research will pursue. Some, like Thomas Kuhn, have argued for the value-free ideal within science, and promoted the function of autonomous science. Others, such as Heather Douglas, put forth that science can (and should) be directly influenced by the values society while still maintaining its status as a source of new, reliable knowledge. These two approaches to science are at complete odds with each other, and so they both cannot be absolutely correct. This paper will analyze these two approaches to the value-free ideal for science and the necessity of science to function autonomously.
According to Thomas Kuhn, after an issue is selected to be pursued by scientific research, the role of values (given by society) should diminish greatly if not completely. If the values of society come into play during this stage of scientific research, the outcome of that research could potentially be skewed or misinterpreted. As such, science performs its function best when isolated from outside influences such as social and/or political values.
For the most part, science functioning as an autonomous entity is science functioning correctly. If science were to operate within the same sphere of influence as society and politics, then the process of scientific research would inevitably be influenced in one way or the other to some extent. Even minor influences have the potential to impact and distort the results of scientific research. This is hugely problematic because anything from the testing of medical treatme...

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...nce’s function in policy making and bolsters the integrity of science, since the direct involvement of values in making a scientific assessment is one of the primary indicators of junk science or pseudoscience.
Overall, I think Douglas’ claim to the ‘value-laden’ ideal is more precise and effective than Thomas Kuhn’s argument for the value-free ideal. Kuhn’s ideal seems to be far more sweeping and general than Douglas’, whose seems to be more precise. Douglas’ ideal also attempts to compensate for things Kuhn’s theory is unable to do, such as the admittance that even the scientific researchers themselves will inevitably impart small biases of their own during research. Even the smallest, simplest decisions within science are affected directly or indirectly by outside values. The relationship between science and societal values is reciprocal and impossible to sever.
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