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