The Impossibility of Objectivity

Nov 1, 2011 by Daniel

One of the main problems I have had with the material from the very beginning of this course is wrestling with the idea of a truly “objective” science—as an extension of there existing a truly “objective” anything. I am not well versed in philosophy so I am coming at this from what is essentially a layman’s perspective; I am sure there are just as many arguments refuting my basic beliefs as there are supporting them. But I do (currently, at least—I’m open to discourse) believe that it is categorically impossible for an emotional individual to truly set aside all personal beliefs, preconceptions, personal experiences, etc., in anything he or she does: there may be objective truths out there, but we are unable as humans to deal with them objectively. This does not change the facts gleaned by science; the earth will continue to perform the functions it has generally performed, whether we believe that it rotates around the sun or whether we come to find in future centuries that it time-shifts through the ether, or what have you. In the instance of the previous week’s reading, then, I tend to side with the radical feminist view that everything scientists do, consciously or (much more likely) unconsciously and from nascent idea to carrying out the experiment to analyzing the data, is affected by the subjective mind. And since I do lean toward this notion, I can understand some of the obviously also subjective interpretations of radical feminist theorists, in this more general sense. In other words, whether the examples feminist analysts in particular provide for their cause truly reflect male bias is irrelevant; the larger point means that not only is the concept of the value-free ideal impossible to achieve in real life, but so is the overarching notion of objective science at all.

Obviously this presents problems, for example, the potential for discrediting all science advancement due to personal bias. What is accepted scientific fact has changed frequently through the ages, and this has yet in recent memory to stop us from accepting science as essentially “the best we have.” Ultimately, I think the safeguards for subjective interpretation are already present, in the form of peer review, publishing of data and experimental procedure, and discussion among the scientific community. The altering of public perception in terms of objective science should (not that it necessarily would) only encourage a ramping-up of those same practices, to enable more open-book policies on the nature and procedure of experiments and data accumulation and, therefore, a more agreed-upon consensus of the interpretation of that data that would hold even greater potential of being free from bias.

To sum up: I do not believe in complete and utter objectivity in any realm, including science. I therefore worry about the discussion that has been created around objectivity in science and the value-free ideal, as it seems to be centered on an unrealistic application of objectivity. I do think we can approach something objective that works in society, which the current system of checks and balances helps us to achieve–but I also think there should be constant reevaluation of that system as new ideas emerge, such as the improvement and increase of female/feminine voices in the science community.