A recent generation of historians of science, far from portraying accepted scientific views as objectively accurate reflections of a natural world, explain the acceptance of such views in terms of the ideological biases of certain influential scientists or the institutional and rhetorical power such scientists wield. As an example of ideological bias, it has been argued that Pasteur rejected the theory of spontaneous generation not because of experimental evidence but because he rejected the materialist ideology implicit in that doctrine. These historians seem to find allies in certain philosophers of science who argue that scientific views are not imposed by reality but are free inventions of creative minds, and that scientific claims are never more than brave conjectures, always subject to inevitable future falsification. While these philosophers of science themselves would not be likely to have much truck with the recent historians, it is an easy step from their views to the extremism of the historians.
While this rejection of the traditional belief that scientific views are objective reflections of the world may be fashionable, it is deeply implausible. We now know, for example, that water is made of hydrogen and oxygen and that parents each contribute one-half of their children’s complement of genes. I do not believe any serious-minded and informed person can claim that these statements are not factual descriptions of the world or that they will inevitably be falsified.
However, science’s accumulation of lasting truths about the world is not by any means a straightforward matter. We certainly need to get beyond the naive view that the truth will automatically reveal itself to any scientist who looks in the right direction; most often, in fact, a whole series of prior discoveries is needed to tease reality’s truths from experiment and observation. And the philosophers of science mentioned above are quite right to argue that new scientific ideas often correct old ones by indicating errors and imprecision (as, say, Newton’s ideas did to Kepler’s). Nor would I deny that there are interesting questions to be answered about the social processes in which scientific activity is embedded. The persuasive processes by which particular scientific groups establish their experimental results as authoritative are themselves social activities and can be rewardingly studied as such. Indeed, much of the new work in the history of science has been extremely revealing about the institutional interactions and rhetorical devices that help determine whose results achieve prominence.
But one can accept all this without accepting the thesis that natural reality never plays any part at all in determining what scientists believe. What the new historians ought to be showing us is how those doctrines that do in fact fit reality work their way through the complex social processes of scientific activity to eventually receive general scientific acceptance.
1) It can be inferred from the passage that the author would be most likely to agree with which one of the following characterizations of scientific truth?
(A) It is often implausible.
(B) It is subject to inevitable falsification.
(C) It is rarely obvious and transparent.
(D) It is rarely discovered by creative processes.
(E) It is less often established by experimentation than by the rhetorical power of scientists.
2) According to the passage, Kepler’s ideas provide an example of scientific ideas that were
(A) corrected by subsequent inquiries
(B) dependent on a series of prior observations
(C) originally thought to be imprecise and then later confirmed
(D) established primarily by the force of an individuals rhetorical power
(E) specifically taken up for the purpose of falsification by later scientists
3) In the third paragraph of the passage, the author is primarily concerned with
(A) presenting conflicting explanations for a phenomenon
(B) suggesting a field for possible future research
(C) qualifying a previously expressed point of view
(D) providing an answer to a theoretical question
(E) attacking the assumptions that underlie a set of beliefs
4) The use of the words “any serious-minded and informed person’ serves which one of the following functions in the context of the passage?
(A) to satirize chronologically earlier notions about the composition of water
(B) to reinforce a previously stated opinion about certain philosophers of science
(C) to suggest the author’s reservations about the “traditional belief”
(D) to anticipate objections from someone who would argue for an objectively accurate description of the world
(E) to discredit someone who would argue that certain scientific assertions do not factually describe reality
5) It can be inferred from the passage that the author would most likely agree with which one of the following statements about the relationship between the views of “certain philosophers of science” (lines l2-13) and those of the recent historians?
(A) These two views are difficult to differentiate.
(B) These two views share some similarities.
(C) The views of the philosophers ought to be seen as the source of the historians’ views.
(D) Both views emphasize the rhetorical power of scientists.
(E) The historians explicitly acknowledge that their views are indebted to those of the philosophers.
6) Which one of the following best characterizes the author’s assessment of the opinions of the new historians of science, as these opinions are presented in the passage?
(A) They lack any credibility.
(B) They themselves can be rewardingly studied as social phenomena.
(C) They are least convincing when they concern the actions of scientific groups.
(D) Although they are gross overstatements, they lead to some valuable insights.
(E) Although they are now popular, they are likely to be refused soon.
7) In concluding the passage, the author does which one of the following?
(A) offers a prescription
(B) presents a paradox
(C) makes a prediction
(D) concedes an argument
(E) anticipates objections