One of the courses I am doing this term (arguably the best course I am doing this term) is on the Philosophy of Science. I have wanted to write a post on feminism and science for a while but haven’t had the time. Most of the data of the post comes from Kathleen Okruhlik’s Gender and the Biological Sciences. I thought it would make for interesting reading. (That apart I really have nothing to post about. Life is as dull as dull can get).
Traditionally the philosophy of science has placed a very limited premium on the role social and psychological factors play in influencing the scientific process. (The most revolutionary work in this vein was Thomas Kuhns’ The Structure of Scientific Revolutions)
The traditional view of science is of a process that aims at objectivity and achieving a better understanding of reality. In the context of discovery or theory generation how one comes up with a hypothesis is irrelevant. What is important is having a strict and rigorous process of falsifiable experiments and tests. This process will naturally act as a filter to separate the good theories from the bad.
The problem with this view of the scientific process arises when we consider the fact (as Okruhlik points out) that in actuality science doesn’t work like this. A scientific theory is chosen as the best available explanation of a certain phenomena over other theories, not necessarily because it is the best explanation of reality per se. This makes sociological influences at the level of theory generation particularly important.
Take for example theories the aim to explain female behavior. The theories may be different from each other in many respects but if they all arise in a deeply sexist culture, they will all be contaminated by sexism. Non sexist rivals will not be generated at all. Thus having a rigorous, objective scientific process does not automatically eliminate the sexist or androcentric bias from science.
I reproduce just two of the many examples Okruhlik gives to support her case.
One example is nineteenth century craniometry’s attempt to explain inferior female intelligence by appealing to brain size. It was suggested that the true measure of intelligence lay in the proportion of brain to body mass. But this index favoured women and the hypothesis was discarded. It was then suggested that frontal lobes were the seat of intelligence and men have bigger frontal lobes (women have bigger parietal lobes). However when research pointed to parietal lobes being the seat of intelligence the data was evaluated to argue that in actuality women have smaller parietal lobes. The one underlying assumption that scientists were unwilling to give up was that women are biologically less intelligent than men.
In another example, take the case of the lab rat. An ideal healthy lab rat is by default male. Female hormones and their effects are taken simply as nuisance variables that prevent experimenters from getting at the pure, clean, stripped down essence of rat hood as presented by the male model. (This held true for human experiments as well. Until quite recently the default archetype for medical research was a (white) male). The female species is thus covered by research on males; if she is not included it is because she is not an archetypal member of her own species.
The question that arises therefore is this: Do we simply accede that science is not as rational and objective as we want or think it to be, or do we attempt to alter the process of science so that it takes into account the normative aspects of theory generation?
To achieve the latter it is important, Okruhlik argues, to recognize that there is a bias present in the social arrangements that govern the scientific process and to try and control for these. Secondly, it is important to note that the traditional rationality of the scientific process is a simple summation of individual rationalities. It is only the inclusion of diverse standpoints that can lead to a questioning of certain underlying sociological biases and pave the way for change.
It is for this reason that the feminist standpoint and critique of science is so important. It is not that this view is more holistic, intuitive, objective or nurturant. It is important because it comes from a social and political view point that is different from the one that has dominated science. That said, real change in the scientific process will be possible only when theories are developed by scientists who not only have a solid grounding in their own disciplines but who are also open and committed to questioning the sociological biases that seep into science.
 From Biology and Society, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Supplementary vol. 20 (1994): 21 -42
 Kuhns fundamental argument is that all normal science essentially works within a given paradigm and is thus constrained by the boundaries of the very paradigm it works within
 The method of Conjecture and Refutation as well as the notion of ‘falsifiability’ were put forth by Karl Popper.
 In Popper's opinion theories are not true or false, but rather good or bad. Once a theory has been corroborated it is accepted as the ‘current’ best theory available.