Is science objective or, like other social creations, fundamentally tied to politics?

First, science is operated by humans and its data and interpretations come from a political human who must always choose a particular topic of study over another (a normative and political choice). Second, scientific research receives funds from those with political interests and must bend to some degree to these interests. Third, in itself, the scientific method proposes its use over other methods and ideas. Fourth, scientific progress does not necessarily following logical progressions (Khun, Hemple, Popper) and must then following something else. These all appear to imbue political subjectivity into a supposed objective endeavor. As Aristotle argued, politics in the form of the regime arrange everything else in the city. However, because science is based upon a method and system that generates and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations, it should be self-regulating and objective over time. What do you think?

  • 2
    It can be! As asked this is a pretty broad question. There are certainly examples where it has been. Jan 28, 2015 at 23:26
  • It may be worth investigating certain critics of medicalization (like Ivan Illich)
    – Joseph Weissman
    Jan 28, 2015 at 23:29
  • Are humans involved? Then there will be politics. Who gets grants, what questions are legitimate to ask, what ideas may be expressed. Political.
    – user4894
    Jan 28, 2015 at 23:33
  • This is a great question! Why the consensus on closing? @alfonso: I would welcome more followup questions!
    – DBK
    Feb 2, 2015 at 13:44
  • @alfonso, I think this is an interesting question, but it seems more like a sociological one than a philosophical one. Feb 11, 2015 at 18:26

2 Answers 2


Science is a social creation, tied to politics. However, it seeks to move in the direction of being objective.

If you think about the scientific method it consists of: * Identify a null-hypothesis * Suggest an alternate hypothesis * Do a study * Reject the null-hypothesis if the data is supported * Publish.

Of these steps, the most politically charged step is "Suggest an alternate hypothesis." Given any imperfect model, there are an infinite number of potential "better" models you can choose from for your alternate hypothesis. There is nothing in the "rules" of science to force you to one hypothesis or another, other than the eventual need to be able to reject the null-hypothesis and accept this new one.

Science moves towards objectivity via recursion. Your alternate hypothesis stands until someone else expends the resources to reject it and provide a new hypothesis. The more politically motivated a hypothesis is, the more room it gives for the next scientist to reject it. The limit as "number of experiments" approaches infinity is "objectivity."

Accordingly, a large group of politically motivated scientists can influence science by refusing models which violate their politics. If nobody challenges this with an a-political alternative, then politics clearly affects society.

Another political issue that can come up is the ability to do work. Rejecting a well entrenched null-hypothesis requires a fair bit of data. If it is expensive to generate that data, the political minority may lack the power to collect the data to reject the politically charged hypothesis. This could come up easily in situations like particle physics, where tests can cost remarkable sums.

The theory of science is that, over time, there will be a series of politically-viable-but-undesirable experiments to overthrow any poorly-matching-but-desirable result. This usually stems from the ability to use small scale tests to theorize about the large scale experiments that will be needed, and to find solutions. This is just a theory, it isn't proven.

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    A fair, just answer. I think you recognize the deep problems associated with human beings and their often undue, unjust attitudes. Not to say any of us should be or should accept sheep in 'politically correct' dress. Jan 29, 2015 at 19:29

Everything people do is political to some extent, if we conceive of politics as the intentional influence applied to individuals / everyone as a consequence of outlooks or beliefs held by a majority or a group of individuals in a position of sufficient power.

The point of politics is to influence people. If it didn't work, people wouldn't bother with it.

That said, the sociology around science is awfully good at shielding the methodology required for generation of reliable and lasting knowledge from the pressures to get results of a certain sort that would be convenient or desirable (from the perspective of individuals or groups in a position of influence).

(Incidentally, I do not know why you say that science (as a process) is not a way of testing explanations. That is just about all it is.)

"Hard" sciences are very heavily data-driven, and no matter how much you might want data to come out a certain way, it is very hard to get those wants to reliably produce the "right" results especially across different labs and after taking the precautions that one is supposed to take (scoring done blind or double blind, appropriate controls, etc.). It is possible for enough pressure to be applied that normal processes are not followed, but it's almost always painfully obvious when you really look into it. (A lot of normal, uninfluenced science doesn't have proper methodology or controls also. Scientists need always be on guard for such things.)

Because one is not supposed to lie or fabricate data (and the consequences are supposed to be, and usually are, really horrible socially), and because one is supposed to report clearly one's methodology (and it is obvious when one has not), coming up with apparently very strong evidence that something is true when in fact it is not is incredibly difficult. That, if it could happen, would be the most damming kind of non-objectivity.

Instead, politics is limited to kind of a soft power to influence results: by allocating funding to only look in certain areas or by making one a pariah if one gets certain kinds of results. This may leave our knowledge incomplete or uncertain in politically-motivated ways, but it doesn't much taint whatever we conclude we know robustly.

Of course it's always possible for everyone to be so strongly culturally biased that nobody manages to see through a flaw in interpretation, or for nobody to challenge the dominant view on things, but because of the data-centrism you typically notice in such cases that we just don't understand the process very well: the science is not all that predictive. And that goes for practically all of the softer sciences. So whether or not they are influenced, we already know we shouldn't be too sure of these results.

So the hard sciences are tarnished a bit by politics, but not terribly much.

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