Scientific imperialism

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Scientific imperialism is a term that appears to have been coined by Dr. Ellis T. Powell when addressing the Commonwealth Club of Canada on 8 September 1920. Though he defined imperialism as "the sense of arbitrary and capricious domination over the bodies and souls of men," yet he used the term "scientific imperialism" to mean "the subjection of all the developed and undeveloped powers of the earth to the mind of man."[1]

In modern parlance, however, scientific imperialism refers to situations in which critics perceive science to act imperiously. Philosopher of science John Dupré described it (in his 2001 book Human Nature and the Limits of Science, p. 74) as "the tendency to push a good scientific idea far beyond the domain in which it was originally introduced, and often far beyond the domain in which it can provide much illumination." He also wrote (in his 1994 paper "Against Scientific Imperialism", p. 374) that "devotees of these approaches are inclined to claim that they are in possession not just of one useful perspective on human behavior, but of the key that will open doors to the understanding of ever wider areas of human behavior."[2]

Scientific imperialism has also been charged against "those who believe that the study of politics can and should be modelled on the natural sciences, a position defended most forcibly in the United States, and those who have dissented, viewing this ambition as methodologically unjustified and ethically undesirable."[3]

Critique of power

Writing about scientific exploration by James Cook in the 18th century, the textbook Worlds Together, Worlds Apart defined scientific imperialism as the "pursuit of power through the pursuit of knowledge,".[4] Arthur Peacocke wrote that its later pejorative use may reflect the frustration felt by some with "the limitations of reductive scientism (scientific imperialism)." He also questions the notion that "successful scientific theories are true or approximately true models of the world," and expresses a desire to "dethrone science from an imperialistic stance over philosophy and theology."[5] Theologian and Christian apologist J. P. Moreland argues that "the myth that science is the model of truth and rationality still grips the mind of much of our popular and scientific culture", stating that "though philosophers of science over the past few decades have gutted many of the claims of this scientific imperialism, many thinkers, knee-jerk agnostics, and even judges persist in the grip of this notion."[6]

Accusations of being the "religion of the intellectuals"

Behavioral psychologist J. E. R. Staddon defined scientific imperialism as "the idea that all decisions, in principle, can be made scientifically" and stated that it has become a "religion of the intellectuals".[7] John Dupré also criticised "a natural tendency, when one has a successful scientific model, to attempt to apply it to as many problems as possible", and described these extended applications as being "dangerous".[8] Such notions have been compared to cultural imperialism, and to a rigid and intolerant form of intellectual monotheism.[9] [10] [11][12]

Medical research

Medical doctor Peter Wilmshurst has used the term to describe "poor people in developing countries...being exploited in research for the benefit of patients in the developed world", and advised that "the scientific community has a responsibility to ensure that all scientific research is conducted ethically".[13] Another accusation lies in the alleged misappropriation of indigenous drugs in poor countries by drug companies in the developed world. Pharmacologist Elaine Elisabetsky wrote that "ethnopharmacology involves a series of sociopolitical, economic and ethical dilemmas, at various levels...frequently host country scientists, visiting scientists, and informants disagree...research efforts are (often) perceived as scientific imperialism; scientists are accused of stealing plant materials and appropriating traditional plant knowledge for financial profit and/or professional advancement. Many governments, as well as indigenous societies are increasingly reluctant to permit such research...historically neither native populations nor host countries have shared to a significant extent the financial benefits from any drug that reaches the market...unless these issues are amply discussed and fairly resolved, medicinal plant research runs the risk of serving ethically questionable purposes."[14]

See also


  1. ^ Scientific Imperialism (an address), Delivered by Ellis T. Powell, LL.B. D.Sc. (1920)
  2. ^ Dupré, John (1994). "Against Scientific Imperialism". PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association. 1994 (2): 374–381. doi:10.1086/psaprocbienmeetp.1994.2.192948. JSTOR 192948. Retrieved 2007-07-16.
  3. ^ Bell, Duncan (2006). "Beware of false prophets: biology, human nature and the future of International Relations theory". International Affairs. 82 (3): 493–510. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2346.2006.00547.x.
  4. ^ The Scientific Voyages of Captain Cook Archived 2007-09-30 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Peacocke, A.R. (1993). Theology for a Scientific Age: Being and Becoming-Natural, Divine and Human (Enl Sub ed.). Augsburg Fortress Publishers. ISBN 978-0-8006-2759-1.
  6. ^ Moreland, J.P. (1989). Christianity and the Nature of Science. Baker Book House. (review)
  7. ^ Staddon, J. E. R. (2004). "Scientific Imperialism and Behaviorist Epistemology". Behavior and Philosophy. 32 (1): 231–242. hdl:10161/3389. JSTOR 27759479.
  8. ^ Dupré, John: The Disunity of Science (2006) Interviewed by Paul Newall
  9. ^ Haraway, Donna (Autumn 1988). "Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective". Feminist Studies. 14 (3): 575–99. doi:10.2307/3178066. JSTOR 3178066.
  10. ^ Sun, Yan (1997). Hua, Shiping; Miller, H. Lyman (eds.). "Science and Culture". The Review of Politics. 59 (3): 600–602. doi:10.1017/s0034670500027753. JSTOR 1408555.
  11. ^ Benson, Garth D. (2001). "Science Education from a Social Constructivist Position: A Worldview". Studies in Philosophy and Education. 20 (5): 443–452. doi:10.1023/A:1012035404449. S2CID 140413307.
  12. ^ Ben-David, Joseph (July 1972). "The Profession of Science and its Powers". Minerva. 10 (3): 362–82. doi:10.1007/BF01556920. S2CID 143920573.
  13. ^ Wilmshurst, P. (March 1997). "Scientific imperialism". BMJ. 314 (7084): 840–1. doi:10.1136/bmj.314.7084.840. PMC 2126228. PMID 9093085.
  14. ^ Elisabetsky, E. (1991). "Sociopolitical, economical and ethical issues in medicinal plant research". Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 32 (1–3): 235–9. doi:10.1016/0378-8741(91)90124-V. PMID 1881163.

Further reading

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