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THE BOOKS
Hugh Munby, Peter Chin, and Andrea Mueller, Section Editors

Postmodernism versus Science


versus Fundamentalism: An
Essay Review
Science Wars, edited by Andrew Ross, 1996. Duke University Press, Durham, NC, USA.
333 pp. ISBN 0-8223-1871-7.
The Flight from Science and Reason (Proceedings of a Conference, 1995), edited by
Paul R. Gross, Norman Levitt, & Martin W. Lewis, 1996. New York Academy of
Sciences, New York. xi 593 pp.; paperback edition, 1997, distributed by Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD, USA. ISBN 0-8018-5676-0.
The Creation Hypothesis: Scientic Evidence for an Intelligent Designer, edited by J.
P. Moreland, 1994. Foreword by Phillip E. Johnson. Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove,
IL, USA. 335 pp. ISBN 0-9308-1698-4.
There once was a time in academe when the word scientic had positive connotations
and respected scholars could talk about their faith in the value of knowledge without being
laughed at, historian Ellen Schrecker recently wrote, referring to the period from the
1930s to the 1960s (Schrecker, 1997, p. 1254). Now we have science wars. This odd
phrase alludes to a controversy within a small part of the academic world that had been
developing quietly for a couple of decades before it exploded with the publication of
Higher Superstition by biologist Paul R. Gross and mathematician Norman Levitt (Gross
& Levitt, 1994). It became known to a larger audience after the appearance of a frontpage story in The New York Times (Scott, 1996), telling how physicist Alan Sokal (Sokal,
1996a, 1996b) had published an article parodying postmodernist critics of science in the
cultural-studies journal Social Text. Detailed references for the Sokal hoax and its early
repercussions may be found in the article by Nick Jardine and Marine Frasca-Spada (Jardine & Frasca-Spada, 1997); for an STS perspective, see Hilgartner (1997).
These events occurred during a period when an exhibit on Science in American Life
at the Smithsonians Museum of American History was being subjected to intense criticism
by ofcers of major scientic societies who thought it failed to present a favorable image
of science (though their objections were less effective than the attacks of veterans groups
on the Enola Gay exhibit, which cost the director of the Smithsonians Air and Space
museum his job). This was also a time when high-energy physicists were reeling from the
cancellation of the Superconducting Supercollider an action that not only aggravated

2000 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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the already poor job market for physicists but sent the message that Congress saw little
value in the most fundamental kind of research.
From the perspective of Gross, Levitt, and the authors of articles in The Flight from
Science and Reason, there is a real threat to science from sociologists, historians, and
feminists who dominate the eld known as science and technology studies (STS). Some
of these STS scholars assert that scientists do not discover objective facts about the
world, rather they construct them in accordance with social, political, and gender interests. This goes far beyond the unexceptional claim that the development of science is
inuenced by social factors. It means that reality (if there is such a thing) has little to
do with the establishment of scientic facts and theories. A frequently quoted slogan is
the natural world has a small or non-existent role in the construction of scientic knowledge, although its author, Harry Collins (1981, p. 3), intended this statement only as a
guide for the sociological study of science. In other publications at the same time Collins
asserted that he did not advocate ontological or epistemological relativism, rather that the
sociologist should adopt a relativistic attitude to the scientic phenomenon under investigation in constructing an account of the process of scientic research. In a recent e-mail
message to me, Collins stated that he still believes that, for the purpose of pursuing methodological relativism, the natural world should be treated as if it does not determine the
outcome of the scientic debate. Social construction is part of the broader movement
known as postmodernism, which claims among other things that truth is not objective
but is relative to the individual or the culture.
Historian Paul Formans (1971) paper on the adoption of indeterminism in quantum
theory is often cited as a classic by social constructionists. Forman argued that physicists
and mathematicians were responding to widespread criticism of know-it-all scientists in
post World War I Germany, by abandoning the claim that the laws of physics precisely
determine atomic motions. Thus, Heisenbergs Uncertainty Principle is not so much a
universal truth about nature as an accommodation to the social environment of science at
a particular time and place.
Some leading STS scholars have rejected the constructionist doctrine. Two of them,
historian of science, Gerald Holton, and sociologist of science, Stephen Cole, are contributors to Flight. Holton reported that postmodernism inltrated the National Science Education Standards prepared under the auspices of the National Research Council.
Statements in early drafts of that document (ascribed to two unnamed philosophers) denigrated the objectivity of scientic knowledge; they were removed after strong protests
from scientists. Gross and Levitt (1996, p. xi) said they wanted to include Sokals article
in the reprint of their own book, but the publishers of Social Text (Duke University Press)
responded to their request with what can only be described as an exorbitant demand for
royalties. Cole concluded his caustic survey of the constructionist controversy inside the
STS community with the suggestion that it is the social sciences rather than the natural
sciences that are entirely socially constructed.
Since, according to postmodernists, every form of knowledge is constructed, none can
claim absolute validity or superiority over others, and in the particular currently established
paradigms of mainstream Western science do not deserve any more authority than biblical
creationism, alternative medicine, Eastern mysticism, astrology, and so on. Scientists see
this view as debunking science. To the extent that the construction thesis (as construed by
Gross, Levitt, and their allies) is taken seriously by those politicians and administrators
who control the funding of research, it undermines the prospects of mainstream science
for nancial support. (Why do you need expensive equipment if you are just making up
the results of your experiments?) More generally, Gross, Levitt, et al., protest the ascendancy of postmodernism and the decline of respect for science and rationality within the

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academic community. Here they join forces with conservative groups like the National
Association of Scholars (NAS) who defend the primacy of canonical traditions of Western
civilization and criticize the excesses of multiculturalism, cultural relativism, and political
correctness. So one may consider science wars part of the better-known culture wars
in education.
From the perspective of editor Andrew Ross and some of the authors of Science Wars,
Gross and Levitt were leading a conservative backlash against feminist, multiculturalist,
and social critics in STS. Their scare stories about an antiscience movement were
meant to intimidate anyone who dared to scrutinize the gender-laden assumptions built
into the Western scientic method, . . . the relationship between sciences empirical
worldview and that of mercantile capitalism and the effects of technology on society and
the environment.
At the same time other STS scholars expressed amazement that natural scientists, who
still enjoy enormous prestige and material resources compared to social scientists and
humanists, could feel threatened by a handful of scholars who were not (they insisted)
antiscience but just wanted to study how science works as a social activity. Thus Steven
Shapin told a reporter that STS scholars like himself are full of admiration for science
and nd it a more ennobling human activity to describe it as a complex, situated, skilled
activity, rather than as a result of the scientic method (Monaghan, 1996, p. A18). Only
one of the Science Wars authors, literary scholar George Levine, admitted that many of
us are in the humanities because we were bad at or turned off by science; the ethos we
joined tended, conventionally toward antiscience and suggested that Andrew Rosss work
seems (to those not conversant with cultural studies) to be antiscience and . . . driven
by a political program. Other social constructionists have said their approach is deferential
to scientic authority: as sociologists they are not qualied to judge whether a fact about
nature is correct they must let scientists make that judgment, and accept the consensus.
The sociologist can only describe how the consensus is reached. This sounds perfectly
reasonable. But another version is more popular (and more offensive to scientists): rather
than say scientists believe a fact because it is true, sociologists say a fact is true because
scientists believe it.
One consequence of this position has been pointed out by sociologist Malcolm Ashmore:
the tobacco companies cannot be blamed for promoting a product they knew from their
own research decades ago to be harmful (Schwartz, 1988; Torry, 1998), because smoking
causes disease was not a fact until the scientic community later accepted it, that is, until
it was socially constructed! (Ashmore, 1996, p. 312).
The sociologists amazement at scientists reactions is itself surprising; as professional
observers of scientists and as putative scientists themselves, they should have realized that
scientists enthusiasm and ego investment in their research presuppose that they are discovering objective facts about the world. To deny that presupposition is to question the
value of doing science. The patronizing statement, Truth is whatever you say it is,
reduces science to just another ideology or belief system.
The social constructionists point to two events at the Princeton Institute for Advanced
Study (IAS) as evidence of their own powerlessness relative to natural scientists. In 1990,
the IAS School of Science wanted to appoint Bruno Latour, at that time the most inuential
advocate of social constructionism (he has since rejected its main premise). The appointment was voted down by the physicists and mathematicians who dominate the IAS, on
the grounds that Latours writings on science were inaccurate (Berreby, 1994). Last year
the proposed appointment of M. Norton Wise, a respected historian of science who had
defended STS against the attacks of scientists, was rejected (McMillen, 1997).
A recent episode shows the intensity of some scientists anger at their postmodern critics.

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The book review editor of Science, Katherine Livingston, was reprimanded by the editor
of Science and encouraged to retire, following harsh criticism of Paul Formans negative
review of The Flight from Science and Reason. Some readers, especially contributors to
Flight, objected to what Robert Park called Formans nasty diatribe against science itself
(Park, 1997; Robinson et al., 1997).
But the most damaging blow was the Sokal hoax more accurately described as the
Sokal sting (Hilgartner, 1997, p. 515; unlike a hoax, which is deception for no purpose
other than to show off the hoaxers cleverness, a sting exposes the victims propensity to
behave illegally or improperly). In an article with the catchy title, Transgressing the
Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity, Sokal carried
social construction to ridiculous extremes. For example, he asserted that the mathematicians formerly thought to be constant and universal really depends on the observer
and is thus subject to ineluctable historicity (Sokal, 1996a, p. 222). By cloaking his
absurdities in postmodernist jargon, with appropriate quotes from postmodernist authorities
such as Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, and Luce Irigary, Sokal fooled the editors of
Social Text into thinking he was on their side, and they published his article in the Science
Wars issue along with those of several legitimate STS scholars. Of course, they did not
bother to have it checked for accuracy by a scientist, since they were ideologically opposed
to the idea that scientists have the authority to say what is accurate; and their own knowledge of science was apparently minimal. (In that respect, and others, the Social Text editors
and other cultural studies scholars are not representative of STS, many of whose practitioners do have considerable expertise in science and do not regard Social Text as one of
their journals.)
Sokal revealed his sting and its motivation in the magazine Lingua Franca at the same
time. As a leftist himself, he was disturbed that the contemporary academic Left was going
astray by betraying its own heritage: previously identied with science and against obscurantism, the Left used to believe that rational thought and the fearless analysis of
objective reality (both natural and social) are incisive tools for combating the mystications
promoted by the powerful (Sokal, 1996b, p. 64). The new fashions of relativism and
social construction will not help to solve current social problems such as nding an effective treatment for AIDS and preventing global warming. Sokal wanted to persuade his
political allies that they were making a big mistake by joining the antiscience movement.
For those not familiar with the history of science, it may be worth nothing that hoaxes
and parodies (published or unpublished) have often been used to expose the frauds and
pomposity of scientists themselves (see, e.g., Delbruck, 1972).
The message many readers took from the Sokal sting was that postmodernist scholarship especially cultural studies lacks the standards needed to distinguish sense from
nonsense. According to Scott McLemee, to even the most sympathetic observer, it sometimes seems that cultural studies means never having to admit you dont know what youre
talking about (McLemee, 1997).
The greatest disappointment of the book Science Wars, which purports to be a version
of the original Social Text issue with additional essays, is the failure to include the article
that made that issue famous. Ross gives no real justication for the omission other than
his desire not to distract attention from the bona de voices in STS. As a result he does
not (as he asserts) present a broad spectrum of responses to the claims that initiated the
Science Wars. Almost all of his authors defend social constructionism, refusing to acknowledge the critiques and alternatives currently being debated within the STS community. As a member of that community, I think most (not all) claims that scientic knowledge
is socially constructed are exaggerated or unproven, and that we have lost some of our
hard-earned respect among scientists by our association with a transitory fad.

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This one-sided character is also a defect of The Flight from Science and Reason. The
editors did not nd anyone willing to defend social construction against the attacks of
scientists. Not only has the issue become polarized, but also one cannot even have an
interesting debate in which each side seriously engages the opposing position. (A significant exception to that statement is the illuminating exchange between physicist N. David
Mermin and social constructionists Harry Collins and Trevor Pinch in several issues of
Physics Today during 1995 1996.)
Physicists and sociologists might nd common ground in the philosophy of quantum
mechanics. Physics has its own, strictly circumscribed, version of social construction for
experiments in the atomic realm: an electron does not have an objectively real position or
speed, but you can construct either property by choosing to measure it. Wave or particle?
It depends on what experiment you choose to perform. In defending the Social Text editors
after the Sokal sting, English professor Stanley Fish (Fish, 1996) used what has apparently
become a standard postmodern metaphor from baseball (Dionne, 1998), in an effort to
show that socially constructed does not mean not real:

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Are there balls and strikes in the world? Yes.


Are there balls and strikes in nature (if by nature you understand physical reality independent of human actors)? No.
Are balls and strikes socially constructed? Yes.
Are balls and strikes real? Yes.
Do some people get $3.5 million either for producing balls and strikes or for preventing
their production? Yes.

Curiously, I have heard exactly the same metaphor used by physicist John Archibald
Wheeler in explaining the relation between observation and reality in quantum mechanics:
a baseball pitch is neither a ball nor a strike until the umpire calls it. Thus, physicists
who accept the dominant (Copenhagen) interpretation of atomic physics should be able
to appreciate the worldview of postmodernism.
Of course, pop quantum mechanics (uncertainty principle, Schrodingers cat, etc.) has
been grossly abused by writers who could not recognize a wave function if it bit them.
But rather than reject out of hand all attempts to apply quantum ideas outside the world
of atoms, physicists might better exploit such attempts to open a discussion about how
scientic facts are and are not socially constructed.
Part of the problem is the tendency to see the controversy as a battle between only two
sides. This means that constructionists and postmodernists are identied as leftist,
whereas their scientist opponents are called right wing. Liberals blame science for its
harmful applications (the atomic bomb, environmental pollution) and for asking questions
the answers to which we would be better off not knowing (genetic basis of race differences
in IQ, evolutionary origins of social behavior). Yet, as Sokal pointed out, science has
traditionally been allied with liberation and social progress; liberals should consider it a
potential resource rather than writing it off as a servant of the conservative establishment.
The real right wing is not science but religious fundamentalism. Science may be under
attack by left-wing postmodernists in the academy, but it faces a much more powerful
challenge in the wider society from fundamentalism. Creationists have the political power
(at least in the U.S.) to force many public schools to abandon the teaching of evolutionary

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biology; they command the allegiance of millions of people who have never heard of
postmodernism or social construction. Public opinion polls consistently show that about
half of the population rejects evolution or does not want it to be taught in public schools
without giving equal time to creationism.
So science, in the middle, is being attacked by postmodernism on the left and fundamentalism on the right. This is the trichotomy proposed by philosopher-sociologist Earnest
Gellner. He saw the contemporary battle between postmodernism and science as a kind
of replay of the battle between classicism and romanticism the difference being that
where the romantics wrote poetry, the postmodernist write academese prose, intended for
publication in learned journals, a means of securing promotion by impressing the appropriate committees. Sturm und Drang und Tenure might well be their slogan (Gellner,
1992, pp. 26 27).
One advantage of conceptualizing the science wars this way is to force the recognition
that, as Hilary Rose titles her essay in Rosss book, My Enemys Enemy Is Only
Perhaps My Friend. If postmodernism and fundamentalism both oppose science, what
is their relation to each other? There is no easy answer. On one hand, as relativists, postmodernists say that science has no more cognitive authority than religion; hence, the late
anything goes postmodern philosopher Paul Feyerabend argued that in a democracy
creationism has as much right to be taught in public schools as evolution. Others, such as
Taner Edis (Edis, 1997), suggested that Protestant fundamentalists have a natural afnity
with relativists and may join forces in the future.
According to anthropologist Matt Cartmill, this is already happening: biologists now
have to defend the teaching of evolution against attacks from the academic Left as well
as the religious Right. He reported that, in North Carolina, a creationist-inspired bill requiring that evolution shall be taught as a scientic theory, not a fact was supported by
a prominent humanist at the University of North Carolina in the name of multiculturalism.
Cartmill said the crusaders against science, on both the left and the right . . . believe
passionately that the big truths about the world are moral truths . . . their notions of good
and evil are different, but both see the commonplace surface of the world as a veil of
illusion, obscuring the deeper moral truths behind everything that gives life its meaning
(Cartmill, 1998, p. 82). While postmodernists may be willing to accept fundamentalism
as just another equally valid worldview, fundamentalists do not usually return the compliment: they reject postmodernism because it does not accept the unique superiority of
their particular religious creed. (Obviously unless ones religion enjoys a strong majority
in a country, fundamentalism will not be a unied cultural movement but will break into
bitterly opposed factions, as we know from religious wars past and present.)
Many postmodernist and fundamentalists maintain they do not oppose science. What
they mean is that they would like to acquire the prestigious label scientist for themselves
rather than cede a monopoly on that label to those who follow the mainstream paradigm.
Thus, we have the claim that STS is the science of science and that creation science
should be given equal status with evolution science. This situation of course reects the
enormous success of science in Western civilization: very few people will admit to being
antiscience. Even Stanley Aronowitz, one of the Science Wars authors who is outspokenly critical of scientists, lamented in an earlier book that the critical intention of the
present work is undermined by the ubiquity of scientic discourse (Aronowitz, 1988, p.
ix). Conversely, as sociologist Daniel Chirot warns, both fundamentalism and postmodernism make it less likely that people will be educated enough to understand the differences between falsiable science and doctrines that masquerade as science (Chirot, 1995,
p. 163).

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Creation science is now being replaced by Intelligent Design Theory (IDT) according to Eugenie Scotts chapter in Flight. The new version of creationism is more sophisticated and less crudely antiscientic than the old, hence more appealing to students. The
Creation Hypothesis is a good example.
The old creation science rejected not only modern biology but also much of modern
physical science; it asserted that the earth and the rest of the universe were created less
than 10,000 years ago, contrary to all the evidence from radiometric dating, nuclear physics, plate tectonics, and cosmology. Challenged to explain how we can see stars that are
millions of light years away if they did not even exist millions of years ago, creation
scientists airily asserted that God fooled us by creating starlight in space to make the stars
appear to have existed then!
There is none of that nonsense in The Creation Hypothesis edited by philosopher-theologian J. P. Moreland. Instead, IDT creationist Hugh Ross (who boasts a Ph.D. in astronomy) presents the scientic evidence for the inationary Big Bang cosmology, which
destroys [the] scientic foundation of Hinduism, Buddhism and their New Age derivatives. Time began approximately 3 billion years ago; he considers this proposition consistent with biblical statements implying that God existed and acted before the beginning
of time.
Hugh Ross nds more direct evidence for IDT in the ne-tuning of physical parameters such as the strength of nuclear and electromagnetic forces and the ration of proton
to electron mass. If these parameters were much larger or much smaller than they actually
are, the physical conditions needed for the evolution of life could not exist and we would
not be here to discuss the subject. Some cosmologists attribute this curious situation to a
mysterious Anthropic Principle: the universe (or at least our universe) must have the
properties needed to allow the existence of conscious life. In the absence of a generally
accepted naturalist justication for such a principle, it is difcult to exclude intelligent
design by God.
Moreland and his fellow contributors have raised the level of discourse between creationists and scientists, although they have done nothing to alleviate or justify the aggressive
efforts of other fundamentalists to banish evolution from public schools. (Biblical creationists, in turn, criticize IDT spokesmen like Phillip Johnson for downplaying theological
issues; see Morris [1998].) They know enough science to understand some of the reasons
why mainstream scientists will not accept IDT: in the past, phenomena once attributed to
design, such as the structure of a snowake, were eventually explained by natural causes,
hence scientists expect that other such phenomena will also be explained naturalistically
in the future. The maxim of Charles Coulson was quoted by W. A. Dempski: When we
come to the scientically unknown, our correct policy is not to rejoice because we have
found God; it is to become better scientists (Coulson, 1995, p. 2). Dempski rejected this
view without recognizing that Coulson, a prominent theoretical chemist who wrote and
lectured extensively on the relations of science and religion, was exactly the kind of scientist who would make an effort to be sympathetic to the design argument if it had any
scientic merit. Yet Moreland himself admitted that creationists prefer theories that solve
theological or philosophical . . . conceptual problems to those that offer solutions
yielding empirically fruitful lines of new research.
Like Science Wars and Flight, Creation Hypothesis presents only one side of the controversy. It disputes the assumption of mainstream science that supernatural causes are
unacceptable as scientic explanations, but ignores postmodernism as a possible ally in
its ght for intellectual respectability. (A possible exception is Morelands citation of
philosopher Larry Laudans critique of attempts to draw a line of demarcation between

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science and pseudoscience, in order, for example, to stigmatize creationism as pseudoscience. But one could not follow Laudans writings very far without discovering that he is
also a strong critic of both creationism and social constructionism.)
As Aronowitz noted, the ubiquity of scientic discourse puts critics of science at a
disadvantage. When fundamentalists use the phrase creation science or start talking about
the creation hypothesis, they imply that their beliefs are subject to empirical test and
possible refutation, even though it is obvious that no such test would cause them to give
up their beliefs. The only purpose of the scientic evidence is to support Biblical creationism (Morris, 1998). Similarly, sociologists who propose social construction as a major
factor in the acceptance of scientic facts and theories are obliged to test this proposal by
using the methods of sociological research an obligation they have failed to meet, according to sociologist Stephen Cole (1992).
In response to Coles demand in Flight for one example in which social forces inuenced
the cognitive content [of science] (as it was accepted by the scientic community), David
Bloor (Bloor, 1997), one of the founders of social constructionism, cited Andrew Warwicks study (Warwick, 1992, 1993) of the reception of Einsteins relativity in Cambridge.
The reader can decide whether Warwicks work vindicates social constructionism. Warwick did indeed demonstrate that mathematicians and physicists read Einsteins 1905 paper
very differently, in accord with their own traditional concerns. But he extended his study
only up to 1911, before relativity theory was accepted by most of the scientic community,
and he did not claim that Cambridge mathematicians and physicists later meant, or now
mean, different things by the phrase, theory of relativity.
But scientists, in defending themselves, cannot simply assert that their work must be
judged only by its success in the disinterested pursuit of objective knowledge. Now that
science depends so heavily on public funding and approval, they must learn to deal with
other criteria they have traditionally considered irrelevant, such as respect for moral values
and religious beliefs, and the social effects and environmental impact of the applications
of scientic discoveries. Otherwise they will lose the science wars, despite all the blunders
and absurdities of their critics.

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Warwick, A. (1993). Cambridge mathematics and Cavendish physics: Cunningham, Campbell and
Einsteins relativity 1905 1911. Part II: Comparing traditions in Cambridge physics. Studies in
History and Philosophy of Science, 24, 1 25.

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STEPHEN BRUSH
Department of History and Institute for Physical Science and Technology
University of Maryland

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Achieving Scientic Literacy: From Purposes to Practices, by Rodger W. Bybee, 1997.


Heinemann, Portsmouth, NH, USA. xvi 265 pp. ISBN 0-435-07134-3.
This book is American through and through, rst because Bybee explains events and
subsequently suggests actions that are unique to the science education context of the United
States, and second because he issues a very ambitious call to arms for American science
educators. In the explanatory part (the rst four chapters), he makes an argument for
understanding past reform efforts in American science education in terms of some basic
analytical tools and fundamental assumptions. This makes a case for the remaining six
chapters, which are an implementation guide for making signicant reform more likely to
happen in the current American situation.
The potential value of the book will differ for American readers and those from other
countries; the latter might nd two aspects of it engaging. The concept of scientic literacy
itself continues to attract signicant attention, as can be seen, for example, in several papers
in the proceedings of a conference at the University of Kiel (Graber & Bolte, 1997) and,
I understand, in the discussions at a more recent conference at Kiel on the same topic. In
addition, this work might be analyzed as one large case study with implications for science
education reform in any democratically governed educational system, making due allowances for history and for how ones own educational jurisdiction functions. Such an analysis is worth doing, in my view. Bybees is the rst science education effort with this kind
of scope since Joseph Schwabs (1978) account of the consistently disappointing results
of curriculum reform efforts in the United States (including, but not limited to, science
education), in his series of essays on The Practical. Schwabs explanation for what
commonly happens in reform and his prescription for changing how curriculum should be
done are markedly different from Bybees, and I found myself making the comparison
even though Bybee does not. This in itself is signicant material for doctoral seminars on
curriculum theory in virtually any country.
For American science educators, though, the potential signicance of the book is more
than either or both of these possibilities. It is an interpretation of their recent history and
a proposal for success with their current collective agenda. Anyone familiar with Rodger
Bybees work for the past two decades knows that the themes of this book are much on
his mind and dear to his heart: science for all students, the personal and societal relevance
of science, and science education as general education for citizenship. I doubt that anyone
in the United States is his equal when it comes to sharing rst-hand, insider knowledge
about the matters discussed in this book. Nevertheless, in what follows, I raise three points
that I believe need serious discussion:
1.

2.

3.

It is difcult to imagine that every educational decision maker in the country is


automatically going to embrace the overall goal of scientic literacy as Bybee interprets it.
Closely related to the rst point, the argument in favor of the selected denition of
scientic literacy is confusing and unconvincing as presented, which invites dissent
from the outset.
The book is not sufciently clear on some essential considerations about constructing science curriculum in a manner that would fulll the requirements of the reform
as described.

To the book itself, then. One of its cornerstones, apparent also in Bybees work on the
U.S. National Science Education Standards (National Research Council, 1996), is the

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fundamental assumption that reform in education has to be tackled as a systemic problem.


He takes this assumption forward by introducing four basic analytical tools for explaining
past efforts at science education reform (his four Ps): Purpose, Policy, Program, and
Practice. In chapters 1 and 2, he illustrates very nicely how a preoccupation with one or
some of these without paying attention to all of them can account for the less than satisfying
results experienced by American science education since World War II, despite the monumental efforts and unprecedented expenditures.
So Bybee presents solid analytical support for this rst fundamental assumption, which
can be expressed as: We are all in this together. It says, essentially, that the various groups
making decisions and taking actions about those four Ps have to function as a community.
Common Purpose has to permeate their Policies, Programs, and Practices, according to
his explanation but, for example, declarations of Purpose or development of Policy without
careful attention to Programs and Practices, or vice-versa, are simply not going to work.
Bybee sees the community as a very broad range of stakeholders, all acting in concert
toward a common purpose: teachers, students, parents, researchers, school administrators,
teacher educators, scientists, and legislators. The call to arms has been issued to all of them.
The second fundamental assumption I would express as: The community needs an
agreed-upon purpose for school science education if it is to act in concert, and that purpose
has to accommodate the entire range of students served by American schools. Bybee argues
convincingly that a signicant factor in the failure of earlier reform efforts was the lack
of just such a purpose. There is a third fundamental assumption, and the argument in
support of this one is not very sure-footed. It can be captured in this way: Over the past
40 years especially, a subset of the community has written much about the idea of scientic
literacy, and there is enough clarication and agreement in what they say that we can
now dene our common purpose. The support for this assumption, developed in chapters
3 and 4, is based in part on a richly documented examination of the literature, yet normative
rhetoric creeps in about what the community should adopt as the overall purpose for
every students science education. Chapter 5 is foreshadowed also, because the interpretation of scientic literacy that is nally selected and approved is the one that already
forms the basis for the U.S. National Science Education Standards. The argument is not
very satisfying, because the reader is tugged back and forth between description and persuasion.
What I see Bybee doing primarily is informing the community about a particular interpretation of scientic literacy that has been incorporated into the Standards and also into
the Benchmarks for Science Literacy (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993) developed as part of Project 2061. Taken together, especially given their
similar substance, these are two documents that American science educators really must
take seriously. They have the backing, respectively, of the U.S. National Research Council
and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and they represent the
consultative work of an immense number of intelligent, well-informed, and well-intentioned professionals. But what does it mean to take them seriously? For Bybee, the two
documents seem to have settled the question of Purpose for American science education.
On this view, all that would be required of the community is to understand the Standards
and Benchmarks and make intelligent use of them in planning Policy, Programs, and
Practices, and indeed this view gives point and substance to the entire second part of
Bybees book. Yet neither the NRC nor the AAAS has the authority to make decisions
about educational Purpose in the United States. The ultimate authority for those matters
rests with state departments of education, individual school districts, and individual
schools. (Canada, among other jurisdictions, has a parallel structure.)

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So here we have the makings of a familiar tension in American science education reform.
The Standards and Benchmarks have enormous prestige and persuasive potential, but they
are not binding on the states. This is not a comment on the quality of either document, but
rather it is a logical point: the documents have the status of advice to be considered by
the states, and any state department can use them as it sees t. To be sure, they are being
used very widely and very actively as the basis for states to reexamine their curriculum
frameworks in science (see, e.g., Blank et al., 1997). This is not surprising, since the
governors of all 50 states endorsed reform in science education when the Bush Administration proclaimed, in 1990, that By the year 2000, US students will be rst in the world
in mathematics and science achievement (Bybee, p. 20). But the tension is there. The
Purpose of science education as eventually embraced by any of the 50 state departments
of education is not necessarily going to be imported directly from the Standards and
Benchmarks.
Schwab struggled with this tension and, like Bybee, he saw its resolution in the intelligent actions of schoolpeople. He, too, acknowledged the cardinal importance of community and common purpose, but he was especially wary about having Purpose settled
once and for all at the national level, then telegraphing it (the term was used scornfully)
to the states and school districts for implementation. Schwabs point was that Purpose,
Policy, Programs, and Practices inevitably are all on the agenda at the state/district/school
level for prolonged and serious deliberation. The reason is more than just protecting turf.
It has to do with the dialectic, recursive interaction between Purpose and Policy (ends)
and Programs and Practices (means). That is, seeing the former as settled, without considering the implications for the latter, is simply not going to work, in Schwabs view. But
here we have one group of people settling Purpose in Washington, and other groups, all
over the country, dealing with the rest. Schwab would have seen this as part of the problem
of reform, not part of the solution.
I know from personal communication with Bybee that he, too, understands the signicance of deliberation about Purpose and he respects the need for it, but unfortunately that
point does not come through in this book. What is missing is a discussion of the concept
of deliberation itself, including some sense of how it works. Such a discussion is available
in Schwabs (1978) work, of course, but it is also available in the context of science
education. Deliberative conferences were held, with salient results, in all provinces and
territories in Canada about 15 years ago, as an integral part of a nationwide study of
Canadian science education undertaken by the Science Council of Canada (Orpwood,
1985). In my view, systematic attention to deliberation in the current American reform
movement will increase the chances of its success.
The importance of deliberation is heightened by the confusing manner in which Bybee
established the selected view of scientic literacy presented in chapters 3 and 4 and established the further point that it should apply to all students. Chapter 3 follows the general
outline of a historical analysis of the concept of scientic literacy that I prepared for the
Science Council of Canada (Roberts, 1983) as part of the study mentioned earlier. Bybees
version is much enriched and, of course, updated from my 1980s attempt. However, he
put a particular interpretive spin on the history, to the effect that there has been a continuing
development in the United States of this goal called scientic literacy in fact, from
earliest colonial times (p. 46) and that writers have more or less been pressing forward
in concert searching for its denition. What Bybee plays down, which was prominent
in my analysis, is that writers have been interpreting the phrase and justifying its appropriateness for particular groups of students and that, inevitably, such activity expresses a
writers values. This collection of writing has not been a linear, logical process advanced

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by a search in which everyone was trying to attach a denition to a common idea. Both
of these matters are still contentious the meaning of scientic literacy, and the students
for whom its different interpretations are appropriate as an educational goal. In the end,
Bybee settles the matter with a bold move, simply announcing that the preferred denition
is a programmatic one (p. 70), to emphasize that a moral stance is being expressed in
the selection. Among the implications of this move is the point that there is to be no
differentiation between programs for future scientists and programs for other students (pp.
74 75), a matter over which there is likely to be heated debate in the U.S. science education community.
The matters just raised need to be considered through deliberation as matters of Purpose
and Policy. In the remainder of my comments, I raise a nal issue that has to do with
Programs and Practices, even though the separation from Purpose and Policy is articial.
Bybee shows convincingly that discussions of scientic literacy have been focused increasingly (although not solely) on a sense of the term that looks both inward and outward
from the raw science subject matter itself to capture several areas of relevance: inward to
the unifying concepts and processes of science, the history and nature of science, and the
characteristics of scientic inquiry; and outward to the relationships of science and technology and to the personal and societal relevance of science. (We can lump all of these
together and call them companion meanings that go along with the scientic meanings
stman [1998].) In the Standards the ve inwardof the subject matter. See Roberts and O
looking and outward-looking areas are developed into ve content standards that are added
to three content standards for science subject matter (physical science, life science, and
earth and space science). These eight appear to be on an equal footing, creating an initial
impression that a curriculum is being proposed that is three parts science and ve parts
other stuff. I think this is a real danger signal.
I understand from personal discussion with Bybee that the intention for implementation
goes somewhat as follows. The inward-looking and outward-looking components (the
sources of companion meanings) are intended to be contexts for the science subject matter
(the sources of scientic meaning). That is, a bit of scientic meaning (say, kinetic-molecular theory) could be blended with the context of understanding one or another of the
companion meanings say, some aspect of the theorys development, drawing on the
history and nature of science. Thus, two kinds of objectives are pursued simultaneously
in science teaching: one concerning subject matter and one concerning a selected aspect
of the companion meanings (each of which is a source of purpose for learning the science
itself). Also, those blends can be brought under the control of curriculum developers and
teachers, rather than being left to chance. Bybee shows several examples (e.g., p. 148),
and he mentions this point in a number of places. Also, from talking with him I know that
he envisions exactly this kind of systematic blending, if the task of implementing all eight
content standards is going to be manageable in the time frame available to schools. Nevertheless, the point needs to be made that such blending is a necessity, not an option.
All in all, Achieving Scientic Literacy is one powerful, thought-provoking, and informative book. As the American science education community takes up Bybees call to arms,
it is attempting to operationalize a noble aim and a breathtaking challenge, one that deserves the attention and best wishes of onlookers from elsewhere.

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REFERENCES
American Association for the Advancement of Science (1993). Benchmarks for science literacy.
New York: Oxford University Press.

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Blank, R. K., Langesen, D., Bush, M., Sardina, S., Pechman, E., & Goldstein, D. (1997). Mathematics and science content standards and curriculum frameworks: States progress on development
and implementation. Washington, DC: Council of Chief State School Ofcers.
Graber, W., & Bolte, C. (Eds.) (1997). Scientic literacy: An international symposium. Kiel, Germany: Institut fur die Padagogik der Naturwissenschaften (IPN) an der Universitat Kiel.
National Research Council (1996). National science education standards. Washington, DC: National
Academy Press.
Orpwood, G. W. F. (1985). Toward the renewal of Canadian science education. I. Deliberative
inquiry model. Science Education, 69, 477489.
Roberts, D. A. (1983). Scientic literacy: Towards balance in setting goals for school science programs. Ottawa, ON, Canada: Science Council of Canada.
stman, L. (Eds.) (1998). Problems of meaning in science curriculum. New York:
Roberts, D. A., & O
Teachers College Press.
Schwab, J. J. (1978). The practical: A language for curriculum; The practical: Arts of eclectic; The
practical: Translation into curriculum. In I. Westbury & N. J. Wilkof (Eds.), Joseph J. Schwab:
Science, curriculum, and liberal education: Selected essays (pp. 287383). Chicago: University
of Chicago Press.

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DOUGLAS A. ROBERTS
Faculty of Education
The University of Calgary

The Biotech Century: Harnessing the Gene and Remaking the World, by Jeremy
Rifkin, 1998. Tarcher/Putnam, New York, USA. xviii 259 pp. ISBN 0-87477909-X.
Frankensteins Footsteps: Science, Genetics and Popular Culture, by Jon Turney,
1998. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, USA. x 276 pp. ISBN 0-30007417-4.
The impacts of molecular biology in so many areas are daily more evident, and these
two books provide very different perspectives on these impacts. Jeremy Rifkin is a wellknown futurologist, president of the Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington, DC,
and loud, persistent, and successful critic of the scientic establishment. The Biotech Century is a new treatment of a topic on which he coauthored a work two decades ago, and
he is quick to assure us of its accuracy. He provides a brief overview of some of the
outstanding features of the biotechnical revolution (such as gene patenting, indoor
agriculture, cloning, and selected offspring), an historical setting with the end of the industrial era, and the elements of a new operational matrix (as he sees it) involving biotechnology, global commerce, sociobiology, computers, and an accompanying cosmology.
These elements provide the structure for the book, with three chapters devoted to biotechnology.
There is a fascinating review of developments in a diversity of topics including tissue
culture and reproductive technologies, with concurrent discussion of possible benets and
risks, and consequent legal, commercial, and social implications. The new view of organisms, not as indivisible entities but as packages of dissociable genes, is well highlighted.

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Rifkin gives a stirring critique of patenting life whose enclosure is compared to earlier
territorial ones. Biopiracy is exemplied with cases such as the neem tree. The argument
that life is not an invention is promoted, and compromising links between industry and
governmental advisors are stressed. Crucial matters such as humans and their cell lines as
intellectual property, and comparisons with usury and slavery, are acutely described. Rifkin
argues that the economic concentration achieved by huge transnational corporations can
remake biodiversity through biotechnology, with attendant risks of superviruses and the
unwanted diffusion of genetically engineered organisms. He points out the difculties of
ecological predictions and adequate eld trials, and the hazards of increased pesticide
resistance and of unintended transgenic organisms. The possibilites for biological warfare
are particularly chilling. Rifkin draws out further implications for animal suffering, human
health (e.g., transspecic pathogens and allergies to bioengineered foods), and depletion
of gene pools.
Eugenics, sociobiology, and bioinformatics each receive a chapter. Rifkin summarizes
the sad history of eugenics in the United States in the twentieth century, recent user
friendly developments such as fetal testing and screening of implants, and legal and moral
problems. The scrutiny of the shortfalls of gene therapy to date and of cavalier use of
drugs is incisive. The thickly layered critique of sociobiology brusquely covers many
research studies and accompanying shifts in the emphasis of nature over nurture, political
and racial impacts, and consequences for such realms as insurance policy. While Rifkin
sees problems in this area as the legacy of the Enlightenment, those more appreciative of
the progress of the past two centuries will strongly refute this charge. Within a historical
framework of the interactions between communications and technology, the presentation
on bioinformatics nicely ties the molecular and computing revolutions within the theme
of information. The isomorphism is well seen with computers databasing genomes while
DNA is used as a computing mechanism.
Finally, Rifkin descries a new cosmology for the biotechnical world, paralleling Darwins for the industrial, but his vision here is most problematical and opaque. At most it
could be asserted that a new framework is extending, but certainly not replacing, Darwinism. Darwin had no genetics; his theory of natural selection was not, contra Rifkin, just a
projection of Victorian England on to nature; and concepts such as punctuated equilibria
rene evolutionary theory rather than refute it, as both their supporters and detractors agree.
Despite Rifkins claims, the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, complexity
theory, and Star Treks transporter room do not a new cosmology make.
Throughout the narrative there is an energetic shuttling among science, technology,
commerce, and politics, with ad-lib criticism. Rifkin is correct to point out the complexities
of the issues, with mixtures of benets and risks, but he is not correct in saying that
scientists and the media have not been critical of events. The harping tone belies the claim
of a balanced and open account, and there is the danger that books such as this can lead
to antiscience. Most seriously, while Rifkin appropriately stresses the need for wise
choices, he offers no constructive guidelines in order to improve the situation. Nevertheless, even if his case is overstated and unresolved, the issues raised are real and merit
serious attention, and hence the book is useful.
Jon Turney, a former science editor of the Times Higher Education Supplement, is senior
lecturer in science communication at University College London. In Frankensteins
Footsteps, he examines public perceptions of biology, and the consequent reactions of
biologists, over the past two centuries. Toward the beginning of this time, Mary
Wollstonecraft Shelley incorporated into her novel lasting insights into the social issues
implicit in the emerging mechanistic discipline. Setting his material in the context of

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modernity and change, Turney produces a welcome contribution to the cultural history of
images.
Turney begins by exposing the background mythologies and philosophies of life, including Prometheus, Faust, and vitalism. When Mary agreed to a literary competition with
her husband and Byron on a theme of horror, her resulting novel was a response to the
scientic climate generated by such leaders as Erasmus Darwin. That the tale has now
become a myth through its prolic diffusion on stage and screen is well documented by
Turney. While extremely adaptable, the story retains basic elements that precisely tap
concerns on the science and humanity of our bodies and aspects such as alienation.
Turney then considers the rise of experimental biology in which practitioners were seen
as increasingly abstract manipulators, and controversies such as vivisection and eugenics
became strong. The detailed reviews of Robert Louis Stevensons Dr. Jekyll and H. G.
Wellss Dr. Moreau appropriately elaborate the argument. Turney well illustrates the
growth of scientic materialism by emphasizing two of its champions, Jacques Loeb and
his articial parthenogenesis and Alexis Carrel and his transplant surgery and tissue culture. He demonstrates how this growth elicited much professional attention as well as
public enthusiasm and concern, highlighting profound issues that are still with us. The
increasing momentum of biology between the world wars is shown to be matched in the
literary world by the appearance of industrial dystopias, mass-market pulp ction such as
Amazing Stories, and notable books by J. B. S. Haldane, Bertrand Russell, Julian Huxley,
and most particularly Aldous Huxleys Brave New World, with its huge impact. There is
merited attention to public understanding of the impacts of atomic radiation on life forms,
especially as discussed by the geneticist Hermann Muller, and of cybernetics.
The most recent stages of the biological revolution in its intellectual, technological, and
political senses are well presented. There is good analysis of the public accounts of molecular biology as it unfolded, including the writings of Jean Rostand and Gordon Rattray
Taylor, and coverage by the media, notably The New York Times. The attention elicited,
like that in earlier decades, reected a mix of excitement and apprehension. The development of oral contraceptives and in vitro fertilization, the birth of Louise Brown, and
public commentaries on such topics as designer babies and surrogate mothers elucidate
the basis for events such as the moratorium on research on human embryos in the United
States. It is clear how slippery indeed are these bioethical slopes. Turney nely investigates
how the erce controversies over work with recombinant DNA and clones are implicitly,
and often explicitly, viewed in the shadow of Frankensteins legacy.
The concluding discussion nicely draws together the large role of the popular media in
debates, recent Hollywood themes, and charges and countercharges of antiscience. Turney
points out that both ethicists and science-ction writers must imagine possible scenarios.
He also indicates how and why interpretations on crucial matters differ and why pessimism
is unwarranted.
Turney writes in a clear and direct style to produce a narrative that ows smoothly
among the scientic, literary, and social strands of his theme without bogging down in
any one domain. He adheres to his topic by, for instance, explicitly ignoring cyborgs and
robots, but does bring in collateral material, such as developments in the physical sciences,
as needed. His account of controversial issues is very balanced and his Anglo-American
orientation is justied since that is where almost all of the action has been.
In each book the text is well referenced (reecting good research) and indexed, and, in
the case of Turney, usefully amplied with 16 pages of excellent illustrations. Taken
together, they make distinct contributions while differing in temporal direction, tone, and
critical stance. Rifkin looks forward to provide a loud wake-up call at major impending

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events, while Turney gives valuable understanding of the historical links between biology
and each of social concerns, literature and movies, the media, and political actions. In a
few cases, the differences between the authors are sharp. For instance, the 1975 Asilomar
Conference in which scientists self-regulated their work is well set in a balanced context
by Turney but dismissed as a sell-out to nancial interests by Rifkin. Despite, or perhaps on account of, such differences, each book should prove useful to readers of this
journal.

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PATRICK COLGAN
Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

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