Changing Debates and Shifting Landscapes in Science Studies: Exploring How Graduate Students with Varied Backgrounds Think About the Role of Value-Judgments in Science

  • Aishwarya Ramachandran University of British Columbia
  • Jerry Achar University of British Columbia
  • Georgia Green University of British Columbia
  • Brynley Hanson-Wright University of British Columbia
  • Sophie Leiter Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique
  • Gunilla Öberg University of British Columbia


Few studies consider how changes in science studies education might reduce barriers to fruitful engagement with scientific practices. This paper is co-authored by the participants and instructor of a small interdisciplinary graduate seminar at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada. The seminar reflected on the role of value-judgments in science, considering the learning experiences of a science studies student (AR, first author) and four students (of a total of six students registered in the seminar) who have backgrounds in the sciences (JA, GG, BHW, SL), their responses to course materials, and outlines lessons learned with respect to interdisciplinary communication. AR was surprised to find that the science students enjoyed reading and engaging with science studies texts as she thought they would be apprehensive about the epistemic content, but they thought the texts effectively illustrated that science is influenced by social factors. Instead of expressing concerns about epistemic issues, the science students’ critiques pertained to the length of texts and writing style. They also felt that some texts “unfairly” attacked scientists, and could be “dry,” “abstract,” and overly “problem-focused” without offering concrete solutions. This study suggests that interventions which explicitly encourage conversation and collaboration between students in science studies and the sciences more broadly can play a crucial role in dismantling unknowingly held simplistic views of other disciplines. It also speaks to the critical necessity of broad interdisciplinary scholarship which explicitly includes both the natural sciences and humanities. AR noted she initially believed that science students would react negatively to outsiders’ critiques of the sciences and concluded that science studies education ought to include meaningful engagement with practicing scientists, which is rarely the case. This study illustrates the importance of using texts which have a style and vocabulary not felt as disparaging towards scientists when introducing science students or researchers to concepts in science studies. It also points to the need for studies investigating how students from different research backgrounds may learn to “see” their use of jargon and the implicit assumptions they make about their listeners’ familiarity or understanding of a specific idea.


Bernstein, Michael J., Kiera Reifschneider, Ira Bennett, and Jameson M. Wetmore. 2017. “Science Outside the Lab: Helping Graduate Students in Science and Engineering Understand the Complexities of Science Policy.” Science and Engineering Ethics 23(3): 861–882.

Borrego, Maura, Daniel Boden, David Pietrocola, Carol F. Stoel, et al. 2014. “Institutionalizing Interdisciplinary Graduate Education.” In Enhancing Communication & Collaboration in Interdisciplinary Research, edited by Michael O’Rourke, Stephen Crowley, Sanford Eigenbrode, and J. Wulfhorst, 335–355. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Braun, Virginia, and Victoria Clarke. 2006. “Using Thematic Analysis in Psychology.” Qualitative Research in Psychology 3(2): 77–101.

Cobern, William W., and Cathleen C. Loving. 1998. “The Card Exchange: Introducing the Philosophy of Science.” In The Nature of Science in Science Education, edited by William F. McComas, 73–82. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.

Collins, Harry M., and Robert Evans. 2002. “The Third Wave of Science Studies: Studies of Expertise and Experience.” Social Studies of Science 32(2): 235–296.

Collins, Harry M., Robert Evans, Darrin Durant, and Martin Weinel. 2020. Experts and the Will of the People: Society, Populism and Science. Cham: Springer.

Collins, Harry M., and Trevor Pinch. 2012. The Golem: What You Should Know About Science. Second Edition. Canto Classics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Creswell, John W. 2013. Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches. Third Edition. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications.

de Melo-Martín, Inmaculada, and Kristen Intemann. 2018. The Fight Against Doubt: How to Bridge the Gap Between Scientists and the Public. The Fight Against Doubt. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Doody, Sara. 2021. “Interdisciplinary Writing Should be Simple, but It Isn’t: A Study of Meta-Genres in Interdisciplinary Life Sciences Doctoral Programs.” Ph.D. dissertation. McGill University (Canada): ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.

Douglas, Heather E. 2009. Science, Policy, and the Value-Free Ideal. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Elliott, Kevin C. 2017. A Tapestry of Values: An Introduction to Values in Science. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Fehr, Carla, and Kathryn S. Plaisance. 2010. “Socially Relevant Philosophy of Science: An Introduction.” Synthese 177(3): 301–316.

Fisher, Erik. 2019. “Governing with Ambivalence: The Tentative Origins of Socio-Technical Integration.” Research Policy 48(5): 1138–1149.

Fjelland, Ragnar. 2021. “Teaching Philosophy of Science to Science Students: An Alternative Approach.” Studies in Philosophy and Education 41: 243-258.

Fleck, Ludwik. 1979. Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Flyvbjerg, Bent. 2006. “Five Misunderstandings About Case-Study Research.” Qualitative Inquiry 12(2): 219–245.

Gamito-Marques, Daniel. 2020. “In Praise of a Historical Storytelling Approach in Science Education.” Isis 111(3): 582–587.

Graybill, Jessica K., Sarah Dooling, Vivek Shandas, John Withey, et al. 2006. “A Rough Guide to Interdisciplinarity: Graduate Student Perspectives.” BioScience 56(9): 757–763.[757:ARGTIG]2.0.CO;2.

Gross, Paul R., and Norman Levitt. 1997. Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.

Hamilton, Vivien, and Daniel M. Stoebel. 2020. “History in the Education of Scientists: Encouraging Judgment and Social Action.” Isis 111(3): 623–630.

Hodson, Derek, and Siu Ling Wong. 2014. “From the Horse’s Mouth: Why Scientists’ Views Are Crucial to Nature of Science Understanding.” International Journal of Science Education 36(16): 2639–2665.

Huot, Suzanne, Jocelyn McKay, Skye Barbic, Alison Wylie, et al. 2020. “Tackling Complex Social Challenges within Neoliberal Constraints: The Context Shaping ‘Intellectual Quality of Life’ (IQoL) in a Canadian University Context.” Societies 10(1): 26.

Jasanoff, Sheila. 2003. “Technologies of Humility: Citizen Participation in Governing Science.” Minerva 41(3): 223–244.

⸻. 2019. “Sheila Jasanoff—What is Uncertainty, and Why Does It Matter?” Filmed July 2019 at the Harvard Kennedy School, USA. Video, 13:18. Accessed November 6, 2020.

Jones, Leslie. 2015. “What Should Undergraduates Learn about the Nature of Science?” Interdisciplinary STEM Teaching & Learning Conference (2012–2019).

Katic, Gordon. 2020. The Science Wars. Cited. Podcast and blog, produced by Gordon Katic, season 1,

episode 1.

Labinger, Jay A. 1995. “Science as Culture: A View from the Petri Dish.” Social Studies of Science 25(2): 285–306.

Labinger, Jay A., and Harry Collins. 2010. The One Culture? A Conversation about Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lancet, The. 2020. “Reviving the US CDC.” The Lancet 395(10236): 1521.

Laplane, Lucie, Paolo Mantovani, Ralph Adolphs, Hasok Chang, et al. 2019. “Opinion: Why Science Needs Philosophy.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 116(10): 3948–3952.

Lasnier, Guy. 2013. “Science and Justice Training Program Explores Ethics of Scientific Research. Founders and Participants Outline Program in ‘PLOS Biology.’” UC Santa Cruz News posted August 13, 2013. Accessed August 28, 2022.

Levinson, Meira, and Mildred Z. Solomon. 2021. “Can Our Schools Help Us Preserve Democracy? Special Challenges at a Time of Shifting Norms.” Hastings Center Report 51(1): 15–22.

Marsh, Allison, and Bethany Johnson. 2020. “Crash Course History of Science: Popular Science for General Education?” Isis 111(3): 588–594.

Mary, Catherine. 2016. “Jenny Reardon, Sociologue entre Science et Justice [Jenny Reardon, Sociologist between Science and Justice].” Le Accessed January 26, 2021.

Montgomery, Beronda L. 2021. Make Equity Essential to Expedite Change in Academia. Nature Microbiology 6(1): 7–8.

Mouat, Isobel, Alice Campbell, Alison Wylie, and Gunilla Öberg. 2018. “Card Exchange Game for SCIE 113—UBCs First Year Seminar in Science.” University of British Columbia.

Nature. 2020. “Why Nature Supports Joe Biden for US President.” Nature 586(7829): 335.

Nieusma, Dean. 2015. “Analyzing Context by Design: Engineering Education Reform via Social-Technical Integration.” In International Perspectives on Engineering Education: Engineering Education and Practice in Context, Volume 1, edited by Steen H. Christensen, Christelle Didier, Andrew Jamison, Martin Meganck, et al., 415–434. Philosophy of Engineering and Technology Series, vol. 20. Cham: Springer International Publishing.

Öberg, Gunilla. 2009. “Facilitating Interdisciplinary Work: Using Quality Assessment to Create Common Ground.” Higher Education 57(4): 405–415.

⸻. 2011. Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies: A Primer. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell.

Öberg, Gunilla, and Alice Campbell. 2019. “Navigating the Divide between Scientific Practice and Science Studies to Support Undergraduate Teaching of Epistemic Knowledge.” International Journal of Science Education 41(2): 230–247.

Öberg, Gunilla, Alice Campbell, Joanne Fox, Marcia Graves, et al. 2022. “Teaching Science as a Process, Not a Set of Facts.” Science & Education 31: 787-817.

Plaisance, Kathryn S. 2020. “The Benefits of Acquiring Interactional Expertise: Why (Some) Philosophers of Science Should Engage Scientific Communities.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 83: 53–62.

Plaisance, Kathryn S., and Kevin C. Elliott. 2021. “A Framework for Analyzing Broadly Engaged Philosophy of Science.” Philosophy of Science 88(4):594-615.

Plaisance, Kathryn S., Alexander V. Graham, John McLevey, and Jay Michaud. 2019. “Show Me the Numbers: A Quantitative Portrait of the Attitudes, Experiences, and Values of Philosophers of Science Regarding Broadly Engaged Work.” Synthese 198: 4603-4633.

Plaisance, Kathryn S., Jay Michaud, and John McLevey. 2021. “Pathways of Influence: Understanding the Impact of Philosophy of Science in Scientific Domains.” Synthese 199: 4865-4896.

Ramachandran, Aishwarya, Jerry Achar, Georgia Green, Brynley Hanson-Wright, et al. 2022a. “Appendix A. Course Outline and Readings.” Text. Engaging Science, Technology, and Society. STS Infrastructures (Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography), last modified July 28, 2022. Accessed August 28, 2022.

⸻. 2022b. “Appendix B. Interview Schedule.” Text. Engaging Science, Technology, and Society. STS Infrastructures (Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography), last modified July 28, 2022. Accessed August 28, 2022.

⸻. 2022c. “Appendix C. Additional Tables.” Text. Engaging Science, Technology, and Society. STS Infrastructures (Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography), last modified July 28, 2022. Accessed August 28, 2022.

⸻. 2022d. “Appendix D. Participants Experiences Coming into the Course.” Text. Engaging Science, Technology, and Society. STS Infrastructures (Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography), last modified July 28, 2022. Accessed August 28, 2022.

Reardon, Jenny, Jacob Metcalf, Martha Kenney, and Karen Barad. 2015. “Science and Justice: The Trouble and the Promise.” Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience 1(1): 1–49.

Ruzycki, Shannon M., and Sofia B. Ahmed. 2022. “Equity, Diversity and Inclusion are Foundational Research Skills.” Nature Human Behaviour 6(7): 910–912.

Schön, Donald A. 1993. “Generative Metaphor: A Perspective on Problem-Setting in Social Policy.” In Metaphor and Thought, edited by Andrew Ortony, Second Edition, 137–163. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Scientific American. 2020. “Scientific American Endorses Joe Biden.” Scientific American, October 1, 2020. Accessed February 13, 2021.

Seale, Clive. 2009. Researching Society and Culture. Third Edition. London and Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.

Simons, Helen. 2009. Case Study Research in Practice. London: SAGE Publications.

Sokal, Alan, and Jean Bricmont. 1997. Impostures Intellectuelles [Intellectual Impostures]. Paris: Odile Jacob.

Tomblin, David, and Nicole Mogul. 2020. “STS Postures: Responsible Innovation and Research in Undergraduate STEM Education.” Journal of Responsible Innovation 7(sup1): 117–127.

Tuana, Nancy. 2013. “Embedding Philosophers in the Practices of Science: Bringing Humanities to the Sciences.” Synthese 190(11): 1955–1973.

Wallner, Friedrich, and Fritz G. Wallner. 2002. Culture and Science: A New Constructivistic Approach to Philosophy of Science. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press.

Weinberg, Steven. 1994. “Response to Steve Fuller.” Social Studies of Science 24(4): 748–751.

Wolpert, Lewis. 1994. “Response to Steve Fuller.” Social Studies of Science 24(4): 745–747.

Wong, Siu Ling, and Derek Hodson. 2009. “From the Horse’s Mouth: What Scientists Say about Scientific Investigation and Scientific Knowledge.” Science Education 93(1): 109–130.

⸻. 2010. “More from the Horse’s Mouth: What Scientists Say about Science as a Social Practice.” International Journal of Science Education 32(11): 1431–1463.

Yancy, Clyde W. 2020. “Academic Medicine and Black Lives Matter: Time for Deep Listening.” Journal of the American Medical Association 324(5): 435–436.

York, Emily. 2018. “Doing STS in STEM Spaces: Experiments in Critical Participation.” Engineering Studies 10(1): 66-84.

14 Sep 2022
Original Research Articles