In the context of social sciences, fact construction is used interchangeably with social construction of knowledge. According to Latour, the construction of any scientific fact is a collective process and must happen within a network and not by an individual. His principle of social construction of reality explains that man’s perception of what is real is determined by the subjective meaning that we attribute to an experience. This principle is also central to symbolic interaction theory (Andersen & Taylor, 2008, p 116). Therefore, the social interaction and the subjective meaning we assign to objects arising from it determine what we see as fact. It therefore holds that there is no objective reality in itself as things do not have their own intrinsic meanings (Andersen & Taylor, 2008, p 116).
From the sociology of science perceptive, claims can only become science when peers recognize and use those claims to benefit themselves (Piet, 2000, p 233). Scientists employ technologies and empirical studies, generate inscriptions, and anticipate skeptical reception as the strategies of achieving and retaining peer acceptance. This is contrary to the school science which represents facts as unproblematic proven by unambiguous evidence and frames the students as receivers of the facts (Piet, 2000 p 233).
Latour and Woolgar noted that the result of the construction of a fact is that it appears unconstructed by anyone while the result of the rhetoric persuasion is that participants are convinced not just by the circumstances but by heavy assertions (Akumar, 2002, P 336). Their study on the discovery of TRF (H) was seeking to find out the way in which the existence of the TRF (H) became established as an accepted fact. In their study they noted that their argument was not just that facts are socially constructed but also to show that the process of construction of a fact involves the use of certain devices in which all traces of production are made extremely difficult to detect (Akumar, 2002, P 337). According to these scholars the process happened through the splitting and inversion of relevant statements within the laboratory context. Such statements as whether the substance really exists once stabilized led to another level of experimentation (Akumar, 2002, P 338). This study will therefore research into the Social conception of the creation of scientific knowledge in comparison with that of the conventional and objectivists.
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Sociology of scientific knowledge
Sociology of scientific knowledge focuses on all the practices of science, the process of the construction of the scientific fact and the interaction that exist between science and society in a social context. Central to the science is the role played by the community of scientists in the creation of knowledge (Latour & Woolgar, 1996 p. 3). This view is different from that of the conventional/school science which accepts that scientific knowledge can be created by a single individual (Fredriksson et al, 2009 p 167). Sociology of scientific knowledge holds that for a scientific fact to become accepted, both the claim and the supporting research must be reviewed and criticized by one’s fellow scholars in the same field (Nico, 2006, P 225). According to social scientists Data can not speak for itself but instead it must be accepted by a scientific community who upon their acceptance would then build on the same by carrying out additional studies (McNeil, 2007. P 156).
Sociology of scientific knowledge can be traced buck to the year 1970’s when the sociologists were seeking to describe the culture of science. During this time the sociologists began to study the practice of science in the laboratory bench. These studies looked at the relationship between the scientific method and the resulting scientific knowledge. The scientific method was vied as the actual practice of science. The main aim of these studies was to find out how various existing scientific prepositions evolve from the scientific practice (Latour & Woolgar, 1996, p. 4).
Sociological laboratory studies have helped redefine the basic purpose and the activities of empirical work and the relationship that exist between the scientific writing and research. The belief by most lay people is that it is a common practice by all scientists to report their findings on any research they undertake. That the scientists observe, test and then disseminate various fact majorly through writing and publishing their work (Latour & Woogler, 1986 p. 7).
The position that writing, dissemination and acceptance of result is a separate process from the research activities is different from that of the laboratory studies as proposed by Latour and Woolgar. In their book, Latour and Woolgar demonstrate that there is interdependence between writing research and the production of knowledge (Latour & Woogler, 1986, p 7). They noted that scientific laboratory can only function as an instrument of persuasion and not as a linkage between the problem and the solution. According to them the main focus of the researchers is in persuading themselves and others to believe in the necessity perception and the validity of their interpretations of facts (Fredriksson et al, 2009 p 170).
Experimental regress in sciences.
The principle of the experimenter regress states that the result of a second experiment is can not bear on the result of the first experiment unless it is agreed that both the experiments were competently done. Collins noted that in the cases where the conclusions attract conflict then such agreements are unlikely to occur. He says that in cases where what is alleged to be the correct outcome of a given experiment is the cause of the controversy, the normal scientific criterion for competence is not met (Collins, 2004, P. 788).
The experimenters regress is easy to witness in cases where there are many competing experiments emerging from the independent laboratories. Studies have shown that social coherence on an international scale does not eliminate the possibility of disagreements (Collins, 2004, P. 788).
Collins Pickering and others raised objections to the view that the experimental results are accepted on the basis of epistemological arguments. Mackenzie quoted by Collins remarked that recent sociology of science has proved that there is no single experiment or sets of experiments however large or small that can either compel resolution of a set of controversy or a general acceptance of a particular fact on its own (Kuipers, 2007, P 228). Mackenzie noted that such cases can successfully be criticized by any sufficient determine scientist(s) because of the ease in finding a reason to dispute any alleged result. He thus raised doubts whether the experimental results are valid and whether or not they can be used in the testing of both hypothesis and the theories (Kuipers, 2007, P 227).
Collins and other proponents of this view have posed an argument that because the experimental evidence or methodological rules have failed to resolve various controversial points, other reasons must therefore be found to explain the resolution and such reasons must therefore be social (Kuipers, 2007, P 227). Collins developed the experimenter regress argument in 1985 in which he stated that what is taken by the scientists to be a correct result is the one obtained a good/properly functioning, experimental apparatus (Kuipers, 2007, P 228).
According to him the complication here is that a good apparatus is simply the apparatus that gives the correct result. He therefore argued that there are no formal criteria that one can apply to decide the proper functioning of an apparatus. In his opinion this regress can be broken by negotiation which takes place within the appropriate scientific community. The negotiation process is driven by the factors such as career, social and cognitive interests of the scientists and the perceived utility of for future work (Kuipers, 2007, P 228).
Latour and Woogler described the scientific laboratory from the point of view of the ethnographers as a long and gradual process of working to create order from disorder (Latour & Woogler, 1986, p 11). They noted that the review of the existing information is necessary to remove in accurate data from the past scientific works. They see the initial scientific works as instruments that are men to initiate a new conversation with other scientists.
They claim that the successive removal of uncertainty results in to the rise in the status of a claim, modalities and leads to the disappearance of any references to social, social historical or personal contexts (Latour & Woogler, 1986, p 13). They noted that on securing consensus by collaborating researchers, every scientist must expose his or her ideas for a review by the larger community. According to them the review of a claim by the larger community is necessary both for the advancement of the status of the claim and in the maintenance of the scientific objective.
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Role of core sets and negotiating in sciences
The sociology of the scientific knowledge has tried to explore the important role of social negotiation in the process of scientific research intended to produce facts. The scientist who proposes the need for negotiation insists that all claims whether true or false require a sociological explanation (Latour & Wooglar, 1986, p. 15). The proponents of the approach therefore insists that for any scientific claim to be accepted as valid, its must go past the empirical evidence into seeking the consensus of other scholars. Such a sociological explanation is required for the justification of any scientific claim. They noted that the social construction is necessary in moving any empirical data to an established fact. According to them truth is relocated in both the usage and the enduring character of the social practice (Latour & Wooglar, 1986 p. 15).
In his first principle, Latour stated that the solution to under determination lies neither with the Nature nor with the individual scientist but with others. According to him the fate of researchers’ findings is in the hands of the later users (Nico, 2006, P 225). The quality of every finding is thus a consequence and not a cause of collective action (Latour and Wooglar, 1986, p.21). In his experiments, he tries to demonstrate that the social construction can reverse any conventional wisdom. Latour also noted that all claims get their meaning from their use by the community and not from their definition.
Inductivism Verses hypothetical Deductivism is sciences
An empirical program of Relativism was developed by Collins in collaboration with other researchers to help operationalize the study of social construction is science. In their first stage, a researcher is involved in the illustration of interpretive flexibility of his or her observations (Kuipers, 2007, P 227). The interpretive flexibility here allows for the possibility of multiple explanations for his or her collected empirical data. This requirement is intended to produce the sociological evidence to the under-determination of the scientific fact.
Their second stage seeks to describe and explain the means by which the enclosure is achieved in the first stage. It connects the finding of the first two stages to achieve the social structure. The review process by the scientific community is also meant to uphold the scientific objective. Sociologists have noted that the best scientific methodology is that which seeks to neutralize the subjective factors by bringing different observers together and letting them agree before any report is made (Kuipers, 2007, P 229). The concepts underlines that in science what matters is not the characteristic of an individual scientist but instead it is that of the community of scientists. It also seeks the truth and the objectivity of the scientific knowledge as derived from the community of scientists and not the experience of any single person (Kuipers, 2007, P 227).
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The language game in science
The game of language in science is demonstrated by Lyotard accusation of Harberma for delegitimizing other language games by defining truth in terms of timeless universal pragmatics. According to him truth should be based on the consensus of a collected universal subject (White, 2002, P. 161). The notion of ideal truth therefore devalues the actual truth of expression of a particular historic subject, based on their own creative activity. Lyotard, by requiring a consensus a consensus of a statement to count as truth, universal pragmatics stifles the new expressions for the voiceless. The post-modern thought rejects the meta-narrative of emancipation, and sees a continuous conceptual revolution as the only way to give voice to all human expressions (White, 2002, P. 161).
Another example of the demonstration of the application of language game in science is in the discussion of objectivity by various scientists. They argue among themselves that anyone practicing science should distinguish and know the different between the objectivity as a characteristic, the objectivity as a characteristic of scientific methods and the objectivity as a characteristic of an individual scientific practitioner or their attitudes and practices (Geisler, 2006 P 233). The level observation of objectivity therefore determines the level of the individualism in the resulting knowledge. Longino stated that however how plausible an individual’s discovery may be, knowledge can not be produced by one single individual. To him the community band not the individual is the agent of knowledge (Geisler, 2006 P 233).
Longino noted that before a given claim can be accepted by a community, it will be evaluated on the basis of the existing values and assumptions (Geisler, 2006, P 233). This focus is not concerned with the descriptive context of discovery focusing on the on the process of generating hypothesis but with the prescriptive context of justification which focuses ion the criteria used in determining the acceptability of the hypothesis. To her scientific change is affected by both the social and political factors and therefore one expecting to initiate a scientific change must focus not only in changing his own personal philosophy but that of the larger community (Geisler, 2006 P 233).
Social construction of technology
In exploring the genesis and the on-going process of technology design and its function the social scientist have noted that the process is entirely dependant on the changes of demand by the users of such technologies (Latour and Wooglar, 1986 p. 28). According to various scholars in this field, the structure of technology both in its initial stage of development and that and that after its production is determined by the users of the particular technology. Such scholars argue that any description on the change in technology should focus on describing the interaction that exists between different social groups and technology instead of the liner model for creation of the technology (Latour and Wooglar, 1986, p. 31).
Mertonian norms in science
According to Jonathan Popper, Mertonian studied the way in which particular social conditions contributed to the emergence of modern science (Potter 2007, p. 18). He suggested that an ethos which was characterized by utility, rationality, empiricisms and individualism values was generated by the rise of Puritanism. According to him these values were ideally suited for science. He sees people’s conformation to these values as a great boost to modern science as it greatly enabled the production of the objective facts (Potter 2007, p. 18).
According to Merton, modern science is sustained by the norms of science which he describes as a more developed set of puritan values. He identified four institutional imperatives as constraint to the development of the modern science. These include; universalism, communism, disinterestedness, and organized scepticism. He explained that the imperatives work to generate the conditions necessary for the production of reliable facts. Communism requires that any generated knowledge must be shared both freely and openly (Jonathan Potter p. 18).
On the other hand, the organized scepticism requires the assessment of all knowledge claims to ascertain that all the knowledge claims are accessed for their theoretical coherence and the empirical adequacy. Disinterestedness and universalism hold that any knowledge claims must be assessed using impersonal criteria to allow it gain the scientific status through merit and not patronage or social positioning (Potter 2007, p. 18).
Karl Poppers falsification
Popper is seen as a precursor of social epistemology because he emphasized the necessity of criticism in the process of the development of scientific knowledge. His logical sense of falsification presents a case where a hypothesis if falsified by demonstrating that one of its logical consequences is false (Longino, 2011 p 1). His practical sense of falsification on the other hand refers to the efforts of scientists to demonstrate the inadequacies of one another’s theories by identifying the observational shortcomings or conceptual inconsistencies. To him this is a sociological activity. For popper, any methodological science is falsifications and for science to progress there must be a demonstration of untainability of theories and hypothesis (Longino, 2011, p 1).
Inductivism vs. hypothetical deductivism in science
Logical positivism stressed on the provisional and the hypothetical nature of all scientific knowledge and the consequent need for empirical confirmation of all theories. Scientists have remarked that the only true scientific knowledge was evidential and empirical and the only true science was empirical science with propositions that are only true in certain circumstances (White, 2002, p. 161).
From the study, it is widely accepted among different scientists from various fields that the role of the community in neutralizing subjective factors through negotiations that legitimize scientific knowledge can not be overlooked. There is a wide agreement that no one individual, experiment or set of experiments can generate a scientific knowledge on its own. As demonstrated by Popper in his concept of falsification, such disagreements resulting from various positions taken on claims from scientists is what causes advancement that makes science to be more objective and be widely accepted. This argument is also supported by Frederickson who noted the importance of persuasion in the generation of any scientific knowledge. McNeil stressing on the social influence on the process of generation of knowledge, also noted that laboratory science can not be successful if it is studied in isolation.