Paul Grobstein Department of Biology and Center for Science in Society, Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, USA
Both science itself, and the human culture of which it is a part, would benefit from a story of science that encourages wider engagement with and participation in the processes of scientific exploration. Such a story, based on a close analysis of scientific method, is presented here. It is the story of science as story telling and story revising. The story of science as story suggests that science can and should serve three distinctive functions for humanity: providing stories that may increase (but never guarantee) human well-being, serving as a supportive nexus for human exploration and story telling in general, and exemplifying a commitment to skepticism and a resulting open-ended and continuing exploration of what might yet be. Some practical considerations that would further the development and acceptance of such a story of science as a widely shared nexus of human activity are described.
Keywords: scientific method; culture; truth; skepticism; story
Suggested Citation: Grobstein, P. (2005). Revisiting science in culture: Science as story telling and story revising. Journal of Research Practice, 1(1), Article M1. Retrieved [Date of Access], from http://jrp.icaap.org/index.php/jrp/article/view/9/18
Both “scientists” and “non-scientists” have a tendency to regard science and culture as different and parallel (if not competing) things, between which one can (or must) choose. In the story I will offer here, science is not conceived of as an alternative (either neutral or competitive) to culture but rather as a central component of a human culture more broadly understood--a component that existed long before the term ‘science’ was coined and will long outlast current understandings of science as a specialized or privileged activity that can be engaged in only by members of a self-perpetuating professional community.
My objective in developing a story of science as story is not to attack science but rather to encourage the same kind of critical examination of our understandings of science that science itself promotes in its examination of other phenomena. A critical perspective associated with the practice of science as story telling is, I will argue, the source of science’s demonstrable power. That perspective, turned on science itself, is needed for the continuing productive evolution of the distinctive and valued role science plays in human culture.
The needed critique of science is necessarily also a rethinking of the role of science in culture and hence of culture itself. It cannot be achieved without a very substantial blurring of the borders between those who think of themselves as scientists and those who think of themselves as something else. And the rethinking will, I believe, result in a further blurring of those borders in a way needed to make science an even more important contributor to the human culture, of which it is a part.
1. The Need for a Story
More than 50 years ago, the British scientist and novelist C. P. Snow, called attention to what he referred to as a “two cultures” divide:
I believe the intellectual life of the whole of western society is increasingly being split into two groups. When I say the intellectual life, I mean to include also a large part of our practical life, because I should be the last person to suggest the two can at the deepest level be distinguished... Between the two a gulf of mutual incomprehension--sometimes (particularly among the young) hostility and dislike, but most of all lack of understanding... This polarisation is sheer loss to us all. To us as people, and to our society. It is at the same time practical and intellectual and creative loss, and I repeat that it is false to imagine that those three considerations are clearly separable (Snow, 1963).