Organise!? An Institutional Approach to Values in Science on the Example of Biodiversity Research

Tobias Schönwitz (doctoral project, ongoing)

What is the role of science in society, how can it best fulfil it? What should be the aims of the scientific enterprise and how should science be embedded in society? The need for addressing such questions is increasingly recognised, as exemplified by the theme of the 2017 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS): Serving Society Through Science Policy. Philosophers of science too have more and more engaged with the science-society-relationship, particularly notable Philip Kitcher who conceptualised science in democracy as a system of public knowledge established by a division of epistemic labour. What has emerged as crucial for the science-society-relationship might tentatively be called the problem of the (science-specific) division of normative labour, or simply the political dimension of science: By whom and how should non-epistemic judgements such as value judgements in scientific research be made?

An influential line of reasoning holds it desirable for science to be independent from the political realm to prevent non-epistemic values from corrupting its integrity. Furthermore, making normative decisions of societal range as can be the case in science is usually considered a task for political actors rather than scientists. Both these lines of reasoning result in an ideal of value-free science. But when the AAAS urges science policy to engage with “advancing the practice of science [by improving] scientific methods, mechanisms and outputs to increase the value of science to society” (AAAS 2017), such advancing requires a deeper integration of values and value judgements in the scientific process and thus a more integrative conception of distributing epistemic and normative labour in science and society. Furthermore, since having a clear conception of an ideal state does not help without any clue of how to approximate it in the real world, there is an additional need for analysis of and proposals for implementing such a conception in the actual world in terms of the social organisation of science and science governance.

My proposed research is intended to combine both of these issues: First, on a conceptual level, I am interested in how value judgements can be incorporated in scientific research without compromising science’s integrity. Second, I am interested in how results obtained on such a level can be implemented in actual scientific practice. In exploring these questions, I intend to use a perspective on the social organisation of science and its establishment through institutions as a structuring (and constraining) device for my research and investigate the extent to which the aforementioned conceptual integration and practical implementation can be improved by setting-up or utilising institutional structures. My research will focus on the field of biodiversity research, which exhibits many value-related aspects and in which a variety of new institutional structures have been established over recent years.