Subjective Science, Objective Facts: How Values Lead to Truth



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Many believe that science is objective and values can only contaminate scientific experiments and conclusions. This does not mean that researcher bias is unheard of. In fact the scientific community does acknowledge that experimenter bias exists, and it is thought that these biases are best controlled through elimination of values from experimental design and interpretation. In contrast with this, I argue that eliminating values entirely is probably impossible given their centrality to our world views. As a result of their centrality, we are unlikely to notice how our own values affect our judgment. It is also difficult for peers with shared values to see how such values affect experiments they review. In the case where certain values are widespread, or dominant amongst the experimenters, there is a high probability that they will remain undetected. For these reasons, assuming they can be eliminated is dangerous. Thus, rather than asking how values can be eliminated from science, I ask how they can be used to make science more objective. The subtlety of values is evident in my comparison of two experiments conducted to test to same phenomenon. Two experiments conducted by Moss and Robson and Connellan et al. compare the staring behavior of male and female infants. Both experiments have similar methods and data, yet their conclusions are opposites. The most notable difference between the two is the words they chose to characterize the observed phenomenon of viewing time. Moss and Robson use the word “fixation” and Connellan et al. use “preference”. The interpretive difference embedded in one word indicates the divergent values with which each experimenter approaches his/her research. However, rather than conclude that the best way to ensure the objectivity of science is through eliminating values, I assert that multiple values must be incorporated into scientific experiments. At first this seems counterintuitive. After all, if one set of values can contaminate science, how can two value sets make it objective? I argue that values do not necessarily contaminate science; instead their presence in well conducted experiments can lead to truth by guiding the researcher’s work. Individuals with different values view the same phenomenon differently and may be more inclined to focus on specific aspects of the phenomenon s/he studies. Each aspect is part of the truth. By incorporating multiple values we can find more truth about a phenomenon than if we assume science is objective, which allows a partial truth to be taken as the whole truth.



Philosophy, Science, Truth, Reality