Sociology of Scientific Knowledge and Science Education Part 2

  • Uncategorized


Sociology of Scientific Knowledge and Science Education


In “Sociology of scientific knowledge and science education part2: Laboratory life under the microscope”, Slezak (1994) isconcerned with the conclusions made by Latour and Woolgar in“Laboratory Life”. The authors refer to scientific facts associal constructions arrived at through negotiation. Slezak explainshow, according to Laboratory Life, the daily works ofscientists in laboratories merely result in the construction offacts. The author notes that, the problem with Latour and Woolgar’sfindings is that they rule out the significance of practicallaboratory work.

According to Latour and Woolgar, the utilization of ananthropological strategy is the sole way of detailing the work doneby scientists. As a result, the authors undermine the differentapproaches that have been used by researchers in their social studiesof science. They believe that strategies, which concentrate onsupporting the large-scale impacts of science, have resulted inenhanced knowhow on the external impacts of science. However, sciencecontinues to be a mystery under such approaches. Hence, Latour andWoolgar resort to constructing their account of science, which isfounded on close observations of the activities of laboratoryscientists for a period of two years.

The strategy, regarded as anthropological provides insight on whatscientists do when in laboratories, resulting in the notion thatscientific facts derive from the social constructions made byscientists. This production of facts becomes possible through theemployment of inscription devices. The device refers to any kind ofapparatus that can be used to alter a material substance into adiagram that is usable by a scientist. Latour and Wooglar, throughtheir laboratory experiment, conclude that scientists spend most oftheir time using inscription devices to come up with inscriptions.

As a result, graphs, figures and diagrams among other types ofinscriptions become the main focus of discussion among participants.In the process, the intermediary steps applied in making theproduction of inscriptions possible are not considered as important,and are only regarded to as technical issues. As such, scientificfacts are created through the affirmation of some facts and therejection of others. Hence, Latour and Woolgar argue that thelaboratory is just a system employed by scientists to create facts.

Laboratory Life disregards the significance of scientificlaboratory work as an approach used by scientists to create facts byarguing that, non-scientists are able to research and comprehendscientific activity. This results in the suggestion that, scientificactivity similar to other social activities ought to be researched bysociologists. This is because, through the use of an anthropologicalapproach, sociologists are capable of assisting us to have anenhanced comprehension of science. In addition, Latour and Woolgarsuppose that scientific discipline does not seem to differ from othersubjects. The argument is that laboratory work leads to the creationof facts that scientists aim at convincing readers to be true, in thesame way that non-scientists work towards convincing readers thattheir writing is truthful.

The author argues against the sociological constructivism presentedby the authors of Laboratory Life, because it fails toquestion the truthfulness or dishonesty of facts prior to theirpresentation. Slezak (1994) notes that, it is impossible to rule out“the importance of practical laboratory work for a scienceeducation”. It is only through experimenting in the laboratory thatnew scientific insights are achieved. As such, it is not possible toconclude that scientific facts are constructed by negotiation.

Relation to the Overarching Theme

The goals and values informing education, specifically in arts andsocial sciences, involves the stirring of creative as well asimaginative moral senses. It is important that people are impactedwith knowledge that enhances their creativity, and makes it possiblefor them to question facts presented. Hence, individuals or studentsdo not merely accept the information that is presented before themrather, they are able to question whether the facts presented aretrue. In the same way, the article presents a critique of LaboratoryLife. It is apparent that Slezak has a differing view of sciencefrom that presented by Latour and Woolgar. By reading Slezak’sargument, the author manages to analyze each of the points madeconcerning science as fiction due to the fact that laboratory workleads to the social construction of facts.

This relates to the overarching theme of the course, in that Slezak’sanalysis of the problem informs on how doctrines such as thosepresented in Laboratory Life are having a direct impact inscience classrooms. When such problematic declarations are made byscholars, and they progress to become popular, they result in acorruption of thoughts. Scholars might be misguided into makingscientific conclusions that are not based on experimentation. Thisleads to the loss of credibility in science, yet scientific factsmust be credible and hence it is not possible for any laboratory workto become a generalization.

Author’s Answer

According to Slezak (1994), it is normal for people to question thescientific evidence presented. This is because, many are unaware ofthe processes employed in coming up with scientific findings. This isperfectly illustrated in the findings of Laboratory Life,where the authors compare science to any other subject hence,resulting to the conclusion of science as the social construction offacts. This is because “according to the sociology of scientificknowledge, if not actually legislated, the claims of science arenonetheless, social conventions constituted by the negotiations andconsensus of the community” (Slezak, 1994). Such ideas are as aresult of sociological constructivism. This causes individuals toreject the intrinsic existence of precise scientific findingsresulting in judgment. Hence, the author argues that the problem canbe solved through acceptance of “the intrinsic existence ofaccurate and fictitious accounts per se” (Slezak, 1994).

Support for Answer

The author supports her answer by explaining that when people reject“intrinsic qualities of theories which might warrant judgments oftruth or falsity, they erase the distinction between integrity andcharlatanism or honesty and dishonesty” (Slezak, 1994). BecauseLatour and Wooglar reject such intrinsic existence, they concludethat science is just a construction of fictions. As a result, theymake a generalization about any scientific findings that are made byscientists following laboratory work as fiction. In the process, itbecomes impossible for them to differentiate truth from fiction asthey have already made a sociological construction of sciencefictions.

According to the authors, the success of a new finding derives fromthe ability of the scientist or non-scientists to garner as muchsupport as possible from individuals who comply with the ideaspresented. As a result, intrinsic factors are not put intoconsideration when coming up with new theories that can either bescientific or non-scientific. This is perfectly illustrated inLaboratory Life, where the authors simply assume that byobserving the works of scientists while in laboratories, it ispossible for them to conclude that the scientists socially constructthe scientific facts they present after their experiments. Slezakargues that such a conclusion is merely based on the observationsthat have been made by the authors. Assuming that the authors were toquestion the level of honesty or dishonesty in their observations, itis possible that they may have resulted in a different account ofscientific findings.

The author further supports the answer by arguing against theconstruction of ideas. This is because, it rules out the possibilitythat science is based on truthful scientific findings. The absence ofintrinsic questioning of theories eradicates the application oftruthfulness in the presentation of facts. Hence, people make theirown generalizations, which they believe to be true and progress topublish the same. This results in the acceptance of falsified factsas acceptable. This is perfectly illustrated in how LaboratoryLife has been successful in influencing the disregard forlaboratory work in the classroom.

The answer and support provided by Slezak are effective in solvingthe issue of sociological constructivism. The author makes it clearthat when ideas are arrived at without a proper analysis of theintrinsic qualities that are effective in differentiating truth fromfalse, people merely make generalizations about scientific findings.Hence, it is necessary to question the facts that one intends topresent to others prior to constructing and publishing ideas that onebelieves to be true.


Slezak, P. (1994). Sociology of scientific knowledge and scienceeducation part 2: Laboratory life under the microscope. Scienceand Education, 3, 329-355.

Close Menu