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It is often claimed that scientific decisions should not be influenced by scientists’ value-judgments. This claim is motivated by the fear that a substantial role for values in science would threaten the objectivity of scientific outcomes. Very simply put, the idea is that scientific representations should be based on evidence, and not on subjective judgments of what one wants the world to be like. Doing the latter would amount to wishful thinking and be incompatible with the empirical rigor that characterizes science. Historical cases such as the ideology-driven biological research of soviet scientist Lysenko seem to justify this position. His state-backed attempt to align scientific theories with communist ideology led to ill-supported scientific theories that are now widely rejected.

Despite the popularity and plausibility of this value-free ideal, philosophers of science have convincingly shown that it is not a suitable guide for scientific decision-making. […]


1. Which of the following is/are true concerning the Lysenko-case?

 

A) The author uses this case primarily to argue that values should not influence science.

 

B) The author uses this case primarily as an example to clarify his/her argument that values should not influence science.

 

C) The author uses this case primarily to illustrate the danger values pose for objectivity.

 

D) The author uses this case primarily to explain and illustrate why the value-free ideal is desirable.

 

Let’s first understand the structure of the passage by breaking it up into digestible bits and annotating it.


It is often claimed that scientific decisions should not be influenced by scientists’ value-judgments. [WHY?]

This claim is motivated by the fear that a substantial role for values in science would threaten the objectivity of scientific outcomes. [HOW SO?]

Very simply put, the idea is that scientific representations should be based on evidence, and not on subjective judgments of what one wants the world to be like. [WHY NOT?]

Doing the latter would amount to wishful thinking and be incompatible with the empirical rigor that characterizes science. [ARE THERE EXAMPLES TO SUPPORT THIS?]

Historical cases such as the ideology-driven biological research of soviet scientist Lysenko seem to justify this position. His state-backed attempt to align scientific theories with communist ideology led to ill-supported scientific theories that are now widely rejected.

[IT SEEMS WE CAN CONCLUDE THAT SCIENCE WOULD BE BETTER OFF VALUE-FREE, SINCE VALUES LIKE WISHFUL THINKING THREATEN ITS OBJECTIVITY. HOWEVER,…]

Despite the popularity and plausibility of this value-free ideal, philosophers of science have convincingly shown that it is not a suitable guide for scientific decision-making. […]


Breaking down the passage like this allows us to answer the question quite easily now. The Lysenko case simply enters to 1) support the claim that values such as wishful thinking are incompatible with the empirical rigor that characterizes science and 2) support the conclusion at the end of the first paragraph that the value-free ideal of science is desirable.

Now going back to the options:

A) The author uses this case primarily to argue that values should not influence science.

Explanation: FALSE. The author does not give any opinion on whether values should or should not influence science. S/he only uses the case as an example of a kind of value that usually supports the argument that values should not influence science.

B) The author uses this case primarily as an example to clarify his/her argument that values should not influence science.

Explanation: FALSE. The author uses the case as an example to support the position that value should not influence science; s/he does not use it to clarify the argument.

C) The author uses this case primarily to illustrate the danger that values pose for objectivity.

Explanation: FALSE. That certain values pose a danger to the objectivity of science is part of the argument given by proponents of the value-free ideal, but this is not the primary function of using the Lysenko case in this passage.

D) The author uses this case primarily to explain and illustrate why the value-free ideal is desirable.

Explanation: TRUE. The author uses the Lysenko case to support the temporary conclusion held at the end of the first paragraph that the value-free ideal is desirable because certain values have been shown to threaten the objectivity of scientific outcomes.

Answer: D only.

Now that you have a good understanding of the exposition of this paragraph, read on to the next blog post to tackle the full passage and an additional two difficult RC questions.

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