Speaking Precision to Power: Commensuration and Social Policy in the Modern World
SpeakersProf. Theodor Porter, University of California at Los Angeles
VenueSydney Smith Lecture Theatre, Medical School Buildings, Teviot Place (enterby door 1)
The modern compact between science and the state allows the flow of public money to support scientific research and forbids political meddling with the results, on condition that the science (reciprocally) should stay clear of politics. This means, in effect, giving science complete control over what is technical and at the same to time confining it to this domain. Yet the boundaries of the technical are far from clear in a world in which the dynamics of ocean currents or methods of pre-natal screening bear directly on publicly-charged issues. The ascetic ideal in science, to speak precision as if this were synonymous with truth and to emphasize formal methods rather than craft, grew up as part of an endeavor to maintain the image of science as free of politics. Currently that ideal is threatened, and with it our modern definitions of the public role—and even the character—of the scientist.