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THE AIMS OF SCIENCE AND CRITICAL INQUIRY

Much has been made, so far, of the notion of critical inquiry and its links, or
lack of them, to belief, learning and education. But what is critical inquiry? It
is a many-splendoured thing. In Chapters 2 and 3 we considered the role of
critical inquiry in relation to knowledge, and its connection to the Socratic
model of inquiry. In Part II we will consider more specific forms of critical
inquiry that give rise to the idea of scientific method and its norms. The very
idea of scientific method is something that has come under heavy attack by
postmodernists, sceptics and other anti-rationalists. And their views have
come to infect much theory within science education, and in particular the
idea of a multicultural science (see Part IV). We wish to challenge these
prevailing views. We place considerable emphasis on the idea that even if
there is no such thing as the scientific method, there are at least methods to be
used in science in testing between rival hypotheses.1 And we say much the
same for the adjudication of rival hypotheses and theories in areas outside
science (such as in law courts, everyday life, special commissions of inquiry,
and the like). In our view there is a theory of rationality, and of critical
inquiry, that should play a central role in any account of science and
knowledge, and in any account of education, particularly science education.

As a preliminary to later chapters, in this chapter we will consider the


connection between critical inquiry and the aims and methods of science. The
first three sections deal with the distinction between extrinsic and intrinsic
aims for science. Section 6.4 sets out our idea of what are the values, rules
and methodological principles of science, the core of the idea of what
by hypothesis, law, theory and model. In the final section we give our
definition of what science is.

AIMS OF SCIENCE, OR SCIENTISTS?

The sub-heading is deliberately plural; that there is one unique aim for science
is a strong claim in need of proof. But does it make sense to ask if science
itself has aims? It might be more appropriate to ask what aim(s) (or goal(s))
particular scientists have rather than to ask whether an abstract thing such as
science has an aim (or aims). A satisfactory survey of the aims of scientists
has not, to our knowledge, been carried out. But most likely a wide range of
aims would be uncovered, including some that are not scientific aims, such as
personal goals like getting a job with good pay, or having a secure position.
Here we need to distinguish between the aim a person can have in doing
something, including some particular science, and the certain, or probable,
consequences which follow from what they do even if they do not aim for this
and it is an unintended consequence. This distinction is important when
considering the activities of research scientists.
The example we will use as an illustration concerns those scientists
involved in the invention, production and use of chlorinated fluorocarbons
(CFCs) in refrigeration. These became widely used in all forms of
refrigeration as the refrigerant, the cooling agent; they made possible the wide
availability of refrigeration in the second half of the 20th century. However, a
few scientists were concerned on theoretical grounds that a release of CFCs
into the atmosphere might damage the ozone layer above the Earth. Such
release would occur either accidentally or, more likely, when the refrigerator
had passed its useful life, was dumped with the refrigerant still in it so that it
slowly leaked into the environment. One of the first warnings came in a 1974
paper in Nature on the ability of CFCs to catalytically destroyed ozone. The
authors, Rowland and Molina, received a Nobel Prize in 1995, the Nobel
Committee citing them for saving the Earth from a potential disaster.

From the start, Molina and Rowland had taken seriously the socio-political
implications of their work. Perhaps not unpredictably, companies such as
DuPont which produced refrigerants and which would stand to lose from the
banning of these products, mounted a campaign against attempts to limit or
ban their production. Here we cannot go into the very interesting details of the
reactions of vested interests at that time (for more details, see Christie 2001,
pp. 35-6, and other literature on the politics of this episode cited there).

There was initially little direct evidence for the effects of CFCs, until
ozone depletion was observed in the mid-1980s in Antarctica (an outline of
the depletion was due to the presence of CFCs that slowly rose from the
Earths surface into the upper atmosphere.2 Scientists might have the aim of
working for the production of CFCs in refrigeration; but none, unless they
were excessively evil, would have as their aim the depletion of the ozone
layer. However, they can come to realise that such depletion is an undesirable,
and unintended consequence of their actions. What ought the scientists do
once they realise the initially unintended consequences of their actions?

Each could give up their work on the refrigerant and investigate other
alternative refrigerants that do not have this effect. Or they could take the
strong view that no one ought to work on such refrigerants and advise all to
abandon such research, or more extremely to leave their job altogether. But
scientific activity rarely exists in isolation from the industries in which it is
produced and their commercial aims. Here the focus shifts from the aims of
individual scientists to the aims of industries that use science. And the focus
shifts from the aims of pure cognitive inquiry to a means-ends inquiry
concerning the technological applications of science by industries and the
risks involved, where their primary aim has little to do with science and much
to do with running a successful economic enterprise. And this in turn leads to
a focus on public interests and political and legislative interests in commercial
enterprises using science. Given the problem that has emerged with the use of
CFCs as a refrigerant, what are the alternatives that face the industries and
their research scientists?

One response might be to require the collection of all used refrigerators


and remove the refrigerant. This is a policy that could be backed by
legislation (but sometimes resisted in part because of who might bear the
burden of the cost of collection if not governments). The second would be to
use even more science to find an alterative, less damaging refrigerant. To a
large extent this has been successfully done. Once the companies that initially
criticised the work of Molina and Rowland, and others, accepted the evidence
of ozone depletion, then the search was on for less destructive refrigerants.
But then there is the matter of getting other manufacturers to use new
refrigerants, especially if they are more costly.

The third would be to get international agreements about the use of CFCs
in refrigeration around the world. There are now the Montreal Protocols in
force from 1987, with four amendments in the early 1990s to phase out even
more quickly the production of CFCs. Despite these, international agreement
has not been easy to achieve given the assistance many third-world countries
feel they need to take the quickest route to industrialisation and economic
growth. They tend to resist having restrictions placed on their growth through
requirements such as the kind of refrigerant that is to be used. Once the
problem became known, many western commercial enterprises were placed
under legislative restrictions on the use of CFCs in their own countries. At
one point this led to large stockpiles of CFC that could not be used or sold
internally. But there were other countries (usually third-world where there
were no such restrictions on use or sale) to whom they could, and did, sell
their stockpile.

The rate at which CFCs eat up the ozone has not declined as fast as it
might have. Some decline in CFCs has been noted in the Antarctic
stratosphere accompanied by less severe ozone depletion; however in 2003
the ozone hole was larger than it has ever been. But now there are few ozonedepleting
substances in use and it is hoped that by about 2050 the ozone
hole phenomenon will have disappeared.

In cases such as these, the aims of scientists must also be considered in the
social context in which their science is practiced. One needs to take into
consideration not just the aims of scientists, but also the aims of the
technological use of science in industry by manufacturers, businessmen,
shareholders, and other stakeholders. The unintended consequences of the
actions of scientists might not be entirely due to their actions alone and may
be in large part due to the commercial situation in which they also act.
Whatever the case, these are all effects that pervade and surround science,
whether aimed for or not. As can be seen from the case of ozone depletion,
science can be a force that produces substances which can have lethal effects
on our environment; but science can also be used to uncover such lethal
effects and eliminate or replace these substances. But all of this takes place in
a socio-political and commercial context which can promote or hinder the
action of science and scientists.

EXTRINSIC AIMS OF SCIENCE

All of the above aims are extrinsic to science in the sense that science is not
done for its own sake but as a means of realising some other aim. Extrinsic
aims, which are often motivational, are of several sorts. On the part of nonscientists
(and many scientists) their aims are to use science as a means to
increased wealth. On the part of scientists, some aims are personal in that they
use science as a means for, say, securing a well-paying job. Other aims might
be professional, e.g., to form a successful research team, to edit the leading
journal in the field, to obtain all the funding a research project requires, to be
an influential adviser to the government on scientific and technological
developments, to be the first to make an important research breakthrough, to
patent technological applications of science, and so on. Scientists might also
have specific political, religious, financial, humanitarian or social aims in
doing their particular science that go beyond the personal and the
professional. Thus there are strong moves by governments to develop the
knowledge economy in which science would play a large role in enhancing
economic performance and profit while offering at the same time the hope of
a trickle down to greater job opportunities and employment in society as a
whole. Yet other aims of scientists, and those who employ them, might be
quite general, e.g., to enhance human power through prediction and control.
All of these extrinsic aims are an important part of the social context of
science.

What of the science that realises such extrinsic aims? Apart from a few
lucky frauds, the science had better be good or satisfactory if the extrinsic aim
is to be achieved. This suggests that, whatever extrinsic aims scientists might
have, if they are to be realised the scientists also ought to have the main aim
of doing good or satisfactory science. To see that this is so we need only
compare the value of the following two relative probabilities:
(a) what is the probability that a person will realise their extrinsic aims
given that they are employing good or satisfactory science?
(b) what is the probability that a person will realise their extrinsic aims
given that they are employing bad or unsatisfactory science?
Most would agree that, the case of the lucky fraud aside, on the whole the
probability of (a) is much greater than the probability of (b). The person who
does not employ science that is warranted by the goals of pure inquiry is
unlikely to realise his or her extrinsic ends, or the extrinsic ends that society
might have in using science.
It remains to say what is good or satisfactory science. This brings us nearer
to what can be called the aims of science. We need to ask: are there aims
that are not extrinsic to science but which are proper to, or intrinsic to, all
science that any scientist ought to have regardless of their extrinsic aims? To
produce good or satisfactory science is an answer, but hardly an informative
one.

Should one include the following amongst the intrinsic, or the extrinsic,
aims for doing science? For example: satisfaction of ones curiosity about
something; the need to know why something happens in order to solve some
problem; an interest in what will happen in the future (i.e., in developing a
predictive science); the desire to understand how the world works. Scientists
can often be caught up in enthralling intellectual passions of research and
discovery in the attempt to realise aims such as these, thereby belying the
common belief that scientists are cold and unemotional people. But are such
aims directed upon the very content of science itself? Or do they rather
concern the satisfaction of desires, wants, and curiosities of individual
scientists? The latter seems to be the case and not the former. So while, say,
shear curiosity might be a drive for many scientists, curiosity satisfaction is
hardly a cognitive aim of science itself.

Consider, in contrast, how ones curiosity is to be satisfied. This is usually


done by: getting to know the truth about what is going on; finding an adequate
explanation; increasing ones understanding; being able to predict what will
happen; finding hypotheses with strong evidential support; and so on.
Fleshing out these answers by, for example, discovering an adequate
explanation or developing a theory and testing it, takes us to the heart of
scientific activity. One might then go on to ask even more general questions
such as the following. How should one best go about achieving these
answers? What are the proper methods of inquiry? What counts as an
adequate explanation? What counts as increasing ones understanding? What
is a theory? and so on. Answering these questions has become part of the
province of philosophers; however scientists working either at the beginning
of their science, or during a period of revolution in their science or digging
down to the foundations of their science, are often moved by such questions
as well as questions specific to their particular science. Such has been the case
with revolutionary scientists such as Galileo, Newton, Einstein and Bohr, but
not most working scientists.