April 24, 1997 Contact: Robert Irion (408) 459-2495; firstname.lastname@example.org
UC SANTA CRUZ TO HOST WEEKEND CONFERENCE ON "SCIENCE, SCIENCE STUDIES, AND THEIR CRITICS"
Author of famous 1996 hoax in journal Social Text is part of a distinguished group that will debate recent social and historical interpretations of science May 10-11
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SANTA CRUZ, CA--Leading researchers from the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities will convene at UC Santa Cruz for a weekend conference on one of the hottest topics in higher education today: Is science just another cultural and political construct?
The conference, "Science, Science Studies, and Their Critics," runs from 8:50 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 10, and from 9 a.m. to noon on Sunday, May 11, in Classroom Unit 2 on the UCSC campus. Although primarily intended for the university community, the conference will be open to the public if space permits. Admission is free.
Co-organizers Michael Nauenberg, a physicist at UC Santa Cruz, and Theodore Porter, a historian at UCLA, hope to foster reasoned debate among researchers on both sides of what has become a profound--and very public--intellectual divide. In one camp are scientists defending the objectivity of their work and nature's absolute truths. In the other are those who claim that critical investigations of science and technology, and the role society plays in shaping scientific pursuits, reveal that science and culture are inextricably linked.
"It is our goal," Nauenberg and Porter state, "to bring together scientists and those who write about the history and sociology of science to build the groundwork for intellectually productive discussion around issues of current interest."
Vitriolic exchanges in the press and at meetings last year built no such foundation. The catalyst was a now-famous hoax published in the postmodern journal Social Text by New York University physicist Alan Sokal, who will speak at the conference. The article, titled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity," was (in the words of an article in New Republic) a "random assortment of arcane, jargon-infested abstractions . . . devoid of both evidence and reasoned argument." Indeed, Sokal says that any knowledgeable physicist would have dismissed the manuscript summarily had the editors of Social Text bothered to seek such a review.
"What does it say about the state of academic life that leading scholars were unable to distinguish serious argument from utter nonsense?" asked Peter Berkowitz in his New Republic story.
In recent months, the debate has become more circumspect. An editorial in the leading journal Nature called for "respect and rigour" and urged its readers not to reject "science studies" out of hand. Newsweek devoted four pages of its April 21 issue to the topic, concluding that recognizing and neutralizing biases in science is a "war worth fighting."
"We need to bridge the gap between these sharply opposed points of view," said Nauenberg. "These issues all touch on sensitive territories, but it's the very nature of the university that we should debate them in the open."
Three sessions are scheduled for the conference: "Perspectives on Science and its Sociology," "Postmodernism, Cultural Studies, and the Philosophy of Science," and "Cultural History and History of Science." Each session will feature two speakers and a panel of five or six researchers for discussion. There will be time for the audience to participate as well. (See below for a roster of panelists and a complete schedule.)
Sponsors of the conference are UCSC's Natural Sciences Division, Social Sciences Division, and Office of Research; the UC Humanities Research Institute; and the Center for Cultural Studies of Science, Technology, and Medicine at UCLA.
For more information, call the UCSC Physics Department at (408) 459-2329.
Editor's note: You may reach Michael Nauenberg at email@example.com or (408) 459-2736 and Theodore Porter at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 206-2352.
Current Debates on Science, Science Studies, and Their Critics
Classroom Unit 2, University of California, Santa Cruz May 10-11, 1997
Panelists and speakers
Charles Bazerman, History of Science, UC Santa Barbara Cathryn Carson, History of Science, UC Berkeley Harry Collins, Sociology, University of Southampton, UK John Ellis, German Literature, UCSC (Emeritus) Barbara Epstein, History of Consciousness, UCSC Sandra Faber, Astronomy and Astrophysics, UCSC Paula Findlen, History, Stanford University Catharine Gill, Principal, Kirby Preparatory High School, Santa Cruz Ernest Hook, School of Public Health, UC Berkeley Timothy Lenoir, History of Science, Stanford University David Mermin, Physics, Cornell University Michael Nauenberg, Physics, UCSC (Emeritus) Arkady Plotnitsky, Literature, Duke University Theodore Porter, History of Science, UCLA Alan Shapiro, History of Science, University of Minnesota Brewster Smith, Psychology, UCSC (Emeritus) Alan Sokal, Physics, New York University Sharon Traweek, History of Science, UCLA Donald Walter, Cardiology, UCLA
Saturday, May 10
Session I: "Perspectives on Science and its Sociology" Morning Chair: Sharon Traweek
9 a.m.--Harry Collins: "A Martian Writes a Letter Home" 9:45 a.m.--David Mermin: "Reflections of an Earthling" 10:30 a.m.--Coffee break 11:15 a.m.--Panel discussion 12:45 p.m.--End of morning session
Session II: "Postmodernism, Cultural Studies, and the Philosophy of Science" Afternoon Chair: Michael Nauenberg
2 p.m.--Alan Sokal: "What the Social Text Affair Does and Does Not Prove" 2:45 p.m.--Arkady Plotnitsky: "But it is Above All Not True: Derrida, Relativity, and the Science Wars" 3:30 p.m.--Coffee break 4 p.m.--Panel discussion 5 p.m.--End of afternoon session
Sunday, May 11
Session III: "Cultural History and the History of Science" Morning Chair: Theodore Porter
9 a.m.--Alan Shapiro: "Whither the History of Science?" 9:30 a.m.--Paula Findlen: "What Does it Mean to Think About Culture?" 10 a.m.--Coffee break 10:30 a.m.--Panel discussion Noon--End of program