On culture, values, quantum mechanics and other good things.

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Tue, 3 Oct 1995 13:07:09 +0900

Ruby Rohrlich asks why I "avoid" talking about the culture and
values of science, which I take to mean, knowing Ruby, why I
don't go on about the obvious fact that science has been and
continues in large part to be a highly sexist institution.

I don't go on about it because (1) the fact that science is sexist is
so obvious to me I take it for granted; (2) I have heard the claim
that sexism has important epistemological consequences, but I
fail to be convinced; and (3) repeated attempts to ask for
examples to the contrary have yielded only references to
materials to which I don't have easy access.

I concede for openers that sexism has influenced the choice of
subjects to which scientists address themselves, and no where
more than in anthropology where, until recently, the concerns
and activities of women were neglected by male researchers
focused on the usually male-dominated public realm to which
they had easier access. When, for example, Annette Weiner
corrects Malinowski by pointing to a major domain of women's
exchanges that Malinowski neglected, we all gain by a fuller
understanding of the Trobriands. I note, too, that judging from
the Guide to Departments and the authors listed in the anthro-
related publications I receive, there are far more women active
now than there used to be. To me, that's a good thing; one I

Does all this have anything to do with the epistemological issue
of how we judge one theory superior to another in light of the
evidence which both purport to explain? Not as far as I can see.
To argue that women are ipso facto better explainers of women's
issues is, to me, precisely on the same plane as arguing that only
members of X (where X is any group or category you care to label)
are ipso facto better explainers of the culture, behavior, etc. of X.
Both are dangerous nonsense. The members of X may have a beef
if something they consider important is being neglected
or misrepresented. Whether or not a member of X has a better
explanation for what is going on than a member of Y is moot.

Shifting now to another subject that effects me in similar ways, I
note several recent invocations of "quantum mechanics" as, what
comes across to me as a justification for fuzzy thinking. That
really pushes my buttons. That we live in a quantum universe is,
once again, something I so take for granted that it hardly seems
worth mentioning. It doesn't change the fact that Quantum
Electrodynamics, for example, is a massively demonstrated
theory that approximates reality so closely that the computer and
communications gear I use to write and send this note operate,
for all practical purposes, flawlessly, while notable efforts to
describe, for example, Balinese cockfights remain, at best, highly
tendentious. To fail to observe this kind of difference isn't "post-
modern," it's pure, pig-headed ignorance.

Another pint of bitter please.

John McCreery