Monthly Archives: June 2011

An evolutionary biologist’s take on objectivity

Objectivity is the cobblestone road of the sciences. Allied with positivism, objectivity is tradition, held dear, worn but worthwhile, and for good reason. It is the pursuit of truths of the natural world, allowing them to become known. Like the paleontologist unearthing calcified life, or the archeologist deciphering shards of teeth and earth, objectivity allows for the uncovering of facts, truths of being that exist in reality, a solid reality, separate from constructions of philosophies, ideologies, social world-makings. Psychologists, economists, and quantitative sociologists—not to mention the biological anthropologists—follow in the same footsteps. To believe in objectivity is to believe we can truly observe and deduce something real about the world. However, if one looks at cobblestone as artifact, as the literary theorists and cultural anthropologists do, then the tools of post-modernism would seem well equipped to demonstrate, as Ian Hacking has titled an essay, “the social construction of what.” Sometimes the deconstruction/illustration of social construction takes place over issues of method, while others—and the majority of which—affirm that any claim of truth must be situated in its social, political context. And so the scientific method is reduced to embeddedness within its cultural system of knowledge acquisition, with scientists, data, and conclusions subject to be actors vying for power and place within the overall logic. Claims to what is objective, what is the correct way to deduce a fact, the stance argues, are always larger battles over ways of seeing.

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