Review: Science in the real world | New ScientistScientific progress without discouraging setbacks and ego-driven disputes would be dull stuff — endlessly gratifying, perhaps, for earnest participants, but awfully ho-hum for curious onlookers. And for science historians like Trevor Pinch. Science, they say, is a golem:. It is a humanoid made by man from clay and water, with incantations and spells. It is powerful. It grows a little more powerful everyday. It will follow orders, do your work, and protect you from the ever-threatening enemy.
ΦBK Visiting Scholar Trevor Pinch at Oberlin College on "The Golem of Science and Technology"
The Golem: What You Should Know about Science
He is the recipient of the J. Harry Collins , Trevor Pinch. In the widely discussed first volume in the Golem series, The Golem: What You Should Know About Science, Harry Colllins and Trevor Pinch likened science to the Golem, a creature from Jewish mythology, a powerful creature which, while not evil, can be dangerous because it is clumsy. In this second volume, the authors now consider the Golem of technology. In a series of case studies they demonstrate that the imperfections in technology are related to the uncertainties in science. The case studies cover the role of the Patriot anti-missile missile in the Gulf War, the Challenger space shuttle explosion, tests of nuclear fuel flasks and of anti-misting kerosene as a fuel for airplanes, economic modeling, the question of the origins of oil, analysis of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and the contribution of lay expertise to the analysis of treatments for AIDS. Anyone who views technology with a wary eye will love The Golem at Large.
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A scientist’s perspective
Sociology of science is to science as pornography is to sex. The put down, with its implications that the intrusions of sociologists into the lab are little better than voyeurism, appeals strongly to some scientists. The social scientists, with their irritating air of demystification, and their obsession with text and rhetoric, can only ever write about science, and so always miss something essential which is given only to those who are actually doing it. The tensions this attitude embodies follow the rise of a generation of social researchers influenced by Thomas Kuhn, who wanted to probe exactly how scientific facts are established. It was either as irrelevant to real scientists, as pornography is to lovers. Or it was part of the general antirationalist turn in intellectual life, promoted by a legion of relativists, postmodernists, deconstructionists, neoromantics and other epistemological anarchists, which natural scientists must repudiate whenever possible. All of which makes the appearance of a book by two of the leading British contributors to the new sociology of science, written to bring their work to a wider audience, something of an event.
Ten years later, I still find myself revisiting it. Read on to find out why…. In their introduction, the authors say that portraying science as either necessarily virtuous or intrinsically malevolent is misleading. They suggest the most appropriate metaphor for science is a golem, a lumbering anthropomorphic clay creature from Jewish folklore. A golem is intrinsically neither good nor bad. A golem does as it is told and is extremely strong, if perhaps a little clumsy. Whilst it is potentially very useful, it is only as good as the human direction it receives.