Sunday, April 11, 2010

Reading Latour

During both this week's readings and last weeks, I was interested to learn about the concept of "blackboxing" in Sciece in Action, as a way to describe the process by which certain technologies, ideas, or methods, are eventually cited as fact. Furthermore, it was interesting to learn about how the citation of supposed facts beget such black boxes, and how difficult it can be for a dissenter to "move upstream" from the semi-solidified and much safer positions which are constantly argued in the socio-political arena. Just as with politics, many scientists have the need to support their positions via consensus gaining techniques, which would consist of persuading the widest audience possible in order to establish a credible standing in their field of study.

Another interesting point that Latour makes, is that scientists need to be better at selling their findings, and in some way make people interested in what is being discussed, however, through the process of claims-making, they tend to make inroads towards alienating dissenters by making it extremely difficult to refute or participate in any kind of dialogue, as their findings are communicated as already settled disputes. The ensuing battle to take arguements upstream is seen as both difficult and daunting, which makes the critical inquirer much less likely to continue on the path of uncovering real truths devoid of human interference.

Near the end of the chapter, Latour figuratively takes us into a laboratory, where he outlines a situation where the dissenter must eventually see the facts for himself, instead of blindly accepting papers and following citations which can both be so easily crafted with regard to political bent or social leanings, or in one particular case, the need to derive the "N ray" (which was later proven to be a fabrication unbeknownst to the researcher)--the dissenter has to question each and every individual process or "instrument" which supposedly make measurements accurate, but themselves represent black boxes.

Latour seems to show that refuting scientific claims can either be extremely difficult, or made very easy, depending on which "black boxes" in the chain of logic are found to be innaccurate.


  1. Lots of good stuff in this reflection...and only so much time to devote to each weblog entry from those in the class. So I begin with this from you: "which makes the critical inquirer much less likely to continue on the path of uncovering real truths devoid of human interference." Given where the class discussion moved on Tuesday the 13th, do you still want to stick to this phrasing of "real truths devoid of human interference"? How would you square that way of putting it with Latour's "two-faced Janus" and its diametrically opposed ways of talking about truth, what's real, and what's Nature? How much useful "work" does the idea of "interference" do when considering Latour's interwoven image of science in the making comes into play? On another matter...I have to think more about what one might say about the ease (or difficulty) of refutation. Where one "strikes" in the chain of argumentation DOES make a difference, as you suggest.

  2. Absolutely not Re: "devoid of human interference"--especially because in the readings of Kosso, we learn that how we observe and theorize completely depends on how we've been culturally conditioned to percieve and inquire. --so, I'd have to adjust my thinking there to include the idea that theories are socially constructed and maleable (sp?).