Bruno Latour on Science

I really appreciated this article in the New York Times about Bruno Latour. I’d never heard of him before today, much to my chagrin, as I find the description of him and his work in this article fascinating.

It had long been taken for granted, for example, that scientific facts and entities, like cells and quarks and prions, existed “out there” in the world before they were discovered by scientists. Latour turned this notion on its head. In a series of controversial books in the 1970s and 1980s, he argued that scientific facts should instead be seen as a product of scientific inquiry. Facts, Latour said, were “networked”; they stood or fell not on the strength of their inherent veracity but on the strength of the institutions and practices that produced them and made them intelligible. If this network broke down, the facts would go with them.
— Bruno Latour, the Post-Truth Philosopher, Mounts a Defense of Science

The notion of networks-not-truth I think is reflected really strongly in software, in many modes: Operating system ecosystems, tool and language ecosystems lik, etc. It’s interesting to see that sort of analysis applied to Science in general.

Latour’s thoughts around climate science and how we produce knowledge seem fascinating:

Latour believes that if scientists were transparent about how science really functions — as a process in which people, politics, institutions, peer review and so forth all play their parts — they would be in a stronger position to convince people of their claims. Climatologists, he says, must recognize that, as nature’s designated representatives, they have always been political actors, and that they are now combatants in a war whose outcome will have planetary ramifications. We would be in a much better situation, he has told scientists, if they stopped pretending that “the others” — the climate-change deniers — “are the ones engaged in politics and that you are engaged ‘only in science.’ ”

A great read, worth your time!