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[Xmca-l] Re: in the eye of the beholder

There is such a thing as objective truth, David. The claim that asbestos kills, once established, is extremely robust. And it is not just a statistical correlation, microscopic examination of lung tissue can prove it. I sort of agree with what you say, David, but relativism is also relative. The test of objectivity is the "robustness" of the claim, its capacity to withstand sceptical criticism. Up to a point, the asbestos companies were able to use the tactics - just like the tobacco industry and the climate deniers - such as putting contrary information, supported by those posing as scientists, into the public domain to create the illusion of a "debate", and buying off or intimidating those who spoke the truth. But in the end the case against them became so strong that the only way the truth that asbestos kills can now be undermined is by some kind of "higher truth" which sublates the irrefutable truth of medical science. Andy
*Andy Blunden*

David H Kirshner wrote:
Let's not write-off relativism too quickly. Asbestos "ACTUALLY KILLS," not because asbestos actually kills, but because we are entrenched in a scientific ideology that maintains asbestos kills. Perhaps others on this list are more sophisticated in their scientific knowledge than me, but I have no personal knowledge of how or why asbestos kills, and I could easily be persuaded otherwise (for example, it took about 30 seconds for me to come to firmly believe that Pluto is not a planet, after all). My belief that it does kill is mediated by social institutions that institute a regime of truth to which I am subject.

The climate change debate highlights the political nature of our knowledge. What is such a travesty in the oil industry-funded reports that call into question the human contribution to global warming is not that scientific knowledge is completely homogeneous, and that alternative perspectives are illegitimate. Indeed, there may well be some legitimate disagreement among scientists on this question. However, the scientist is obligated not only to practice good science, but also to support the regime of truth within which the scientific perspective remains dominant in our culture. Within the institutions of science, there are established mechanisms for achieving consensus on scientific matters. The obligation of scientists is to operate within that system of dispute resolution. Going "above the heads" of the scientific community to communicate their non-normative scientific perspectives directly to the public does not advance their work as scientists (i.e., does not advance a goal of establishing a new scientific consensus on climate change), but it does erode the regime of truth within which institutions of science have been empowered. It provides sustenance and support to a wide range of discourse communities (conspiracy theorists; religious fundamentalists) that operate in ways that are antithetical to the rational processes of decision making that science champions.