Tuesday, February 4, 2003

Good science, part 2

I talked with friends this weekend about my Friday post, and in conversation, I defended Prof. Dini's expectation of particular "disciplinary knowledge". My friends annihilated my argument.

But let's backtrack a bit. I'm trained as an anthropologist and I accept the reality of human evolution. But anthropologists are also trained to accept the reality of creation myths. When I wrote that evolution and creationism can easily run parallel to each other, I only meant to draw out that each perspective seeks to answer different questions and there is no reason (beyond politics) for them to come into conflict. If I asked an anthropology student the same question that Prof. Dini asks, I would expect the student to tell me about evolution *and* creation myths - because our discipline bounds knowledge in that way. So, in that sense, I think that a biology professor has every reason to expect a student to understand evolution.

But, here's a problem: I am (too) often accused of *not doing* sociology. Why? Because sociologists study society, and I replace that concept with sociality or the social. What I study does not fit into the traditional boundaries of sociological knowledge. Worse yet, I have been known to argue that scientific knowledge can be treated the same way as mythical knowledge. This, of course, undermines the scientific *authority* of our research and (supposedly) makes me a bad sociologist (or at least in North America, an anthropologist rather than a sociologist). And, incidentally, this perspective has cost me more than a few recommendations over the years.

My point is that knowledge, whether or not tied to a particular discipline, changes over time. Historically, scientific *facts* have been disproved, and replaced with *better* facts. Certainly, we should expect scholars to know their discipline, but I also think we need to give scholars enough room to move that they are able to reconfigure the boundaries of their discipline. Different ways of understanding are critical to scholarship and the pursuit of knowledge.

And apologies to those who wanted to debate creationism and evolution with me - I'm not one of those people who will pick one *over* the other ;) But having said that, I will admit that the Young Earth variety of creationism confuses me precisely because it seeks to explain a non-scientific argument in scientific terms. And I'll have to remember that the next time I try to explain science in non-scientific terms...


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