Re: Patriarchy: Re: What Matriarchy?

Stephen Barnard (
Mon, 05 Aug 1996 16:37:04 -0800

Susan wrote:
> 1. There is a prevailing assumption that the notion of everything having
> a set of culutral assumptions underlying it it somehow "bad." I never
> meant to imply that. It just "is" because of the nature of humanity. As
> someone already pointed out, all of the stated conclusions are based on
> the basic assumptions of science, like there being an independant,
> physical world that can eventually be measured. It isn't "bad" to think
> that, but it is an assumption, i.e. something that cannot be proven. I
> happen to agree with this particular assumption. But I suspect that many
> scientists run afoul of other ideas about the world because they often
> have an arrogance about their idea being "facts" while other peoples'
> ideas are not. I'm not pointing any fingers here, because so far this
> discussion seems to have been fairly calm. But I certainly know many
> scientists who are insufferable about their particular world view being
> "right", when in fact it is also based on a set of unprovable
> assumptions.

There's no question that scientists bring cultural assumptions to
their work. I can't think of anything less controversial than that.
The crucial point that sets science apart is that it is
self-correcting because scientific theories are subject to objective
testing and falsification. Also, that there are unprovable
assumptions at the core of the scientific method is indisputable, but
these assumptions are acknowledged by the scientific community (if not
always by individual scientists), and their effectiveness is so clear
that they are accepted. To do less less would be to condemn science
to helpless, ineffectual, endless philosophysing.

> 2. Science explicitly controls the kinds of questions that can be asked
> in a scientific framework, so in that sense all of your examples show
> that particular slant. They must be in the form of hypotheses, they must
> be provable, falsifiable, etc. "Is there a god" is not a scientific
> question, because the whole nature of god as generally understood is not
> amenable to physical law, and is therefore outside of science. It is not
> always to conclusions that are biased, it is usually farther back than
> that in the process-- what questions can we explore scientifically to
> begin with.

There are well-posed questions that are refractive to the scientific
method. Two of the most "notorious" (is my cultural bias showing?)
are (1) the nature of consciousness and the problem of other minds,
and (2) the ultimate origins of the universe. The experimental
scientific method will probably never be able to answer these
completely, either for philosophical or practical reasons.

> 3. On a related subject, your example of Watson and Crick is an
> interesting one, only because of the unsavory aspects of sexism which
> permeate it. The story is a long one, and unfortunately I can never
> remember whether it was Watson or Crick who was involved, but historians
> seem to agree that one of them got a crucial piece of information
> regarding the structure of DNA from a female scientist (Rosalind
> Franklin) and never bothered to acknowledge her contributions until years
> after winning the Nobel prize. To this day her contribution is not
> acknowledged in standard textbooks. There are lots of variations on the
> story (though all agree on her unacknowledged contribution), but for
> references check Anne Sayre's biography of Franklin, Freeland Judson's
> book "The Eighth Day of Creation", and the quick retelling of the story
> by Judith Lorber in Paradoxes of Gender (a book which has a number of
> problems, in my opinion, but this particular story checks out). This of
> course doesn't invalidate their conclusions, but it is ironic that their
> work would be cited in the context of "objective" scientific research.

Rosalind Franklin's contribution was restricted to gathering good
X-ray diffraction data on DNA crystals, which she was reportedly
reluctant to share with Watson and Crick. There is no indication that
she understood the implications of the data with respect to the
structure of DNA. There can be honest disagreement about whether she
was jobbed out of a Nobel Prize (in particular, becaause she was a
woman), but my interpretation is that she wasn't. Watson and Crick
may have been less than generous in giving her the credit she was due.
There have been far worse abuses perpetrated on male graduate students
whose advisors took full credit, including Nobel Prizes, for their

Steve Barnard