Sunday, February 24, 2013

Weinberger on Science

Weinberger claims on p. 136 of Too Big to Know that while getting "an article accepted in Nature still carries more weight than posting it on your personal blog," its "impact on scientific thought now is inextricably from the waves it makes in the social networks—formal and informal—of scientists, amateurs, and citizens."

This is false. While I am only a philosopher, I have served on Tenure and Promotion Committees where the work of scientists is evaluated. I can assure you that any "waves" an article may have made "in the social networks" has been almost entirely irrelevant to the evaluation of the work of a scientist—so irrelevant that it is usually not even mentioned. Attempts to popularize science may count as part of "service" to the profession, but they are irrelevant for the evaluation of the research. It is the judgment of her/his peers that counts; and that is how it should be.

The claim that peer review does "not scale" and that "no commercial journal could afford to put most submissions through peer review" is no argument against peer review, but just serves to call attention to the fundamental difference between basic science and commerce.

Weinberger thinks that knowledge has to do with "experts" and "expertise." But his attempt to show that experts and expertise have become questionable notions or are "moving from being a property of individual experts to becoming a property of the Net" (p. 67) is just as questionable as the rest of his book. Experts never were the ones that "produced" knowledge. Indeed, "an expert is someone that has special knowledge or is skilled in a special science," but I would never call Albert Einstein or any other scientist I respect an expert. In the same way, I doubt that the Internet will ever become scientific in the relevant sense.[1]

This will be the last post on this book. It does not mean that there is not be much more to criticize. It's just that I am getting tired of engaging with the pseudo-claims of the book. I am sorry that the author chose to publish it. His early Everything is Miscellaneous was problematic, but it was much more subtle. I once even used it for a critical discussion in class. This book is a non-starter.

1. This is not just due to the fact that I disagree with Weinberger on who is important in the philosophy of science. Thomas Kuhn, Michel Foucault and Richard Rorty (let alone Martin Heidegger) are for me not the experts (pun intended) that Weinberger takes them to be.


Pierre said...

As a scientist, I can only second what you wrote! Great post and ideas, thanks.

Michael Leddy said...

Your posts on this book confirm what I’ve thought for a long time — that most non-fiction about culture and technology is better borrowed from the library.