In Philip K. Dick’s The Minority Report, ‘precogs’, who are imaginary individuals capable of seeing the future are relied upon to stop crime, with a consensus report synthesized from two of three precogs. When the protaganist is indicted for a future murder, he suspects a conspiracy and seeks out the “minority report,” detailing the suppressed testimony of the third precog. Science works a lot like this science fiction story. Contrary to the view that scientists in a field all share the same “paradigm,” as Thomas Kuhn famously argued, scientists support different, and competing, research programs. Statements of scientific consensus need to be actively synthesized from the work of different scientists. Not all scientific work will be equally credited by science as a whole. While this system works well enough for most purposes, it is possible for minority views to fail to get the hearing that they deserve.
This book analyzes the support that should be given to minority views, reconsidering classic debates in science and technology studies and examining numerous case studies.
The interdisciplinary field of science, technology, and society (STS) was launched in the 1980s to challenge perceived overreach of scientific authority. As STS scholars honed their critical tools, however, assaults on scientific authority gradually became associated with the same conservative, rapaciously capitalist interests the field of STS had first set out to critique. Championing scientific dissent, possibly undercutting scientists' expertise, and emphasizing contingencies in the scientific process became problematic for STS scholars to pursue. The subsequent reckoning has motivated Lynch to develop tools for determining when minority scientific positions should and should not be taken seriously. Lynch's argument follows Bruno Latour, whose Down to Earth (CH, May'19, 56-3759) attempted to put STS on a new footing. The result is a thorough and thoughtful overview of the past half-century of thinking on scientific consensus and dissent, articulated through cases ranging from dietary science to climate change. The book proposes useful conceptual tools to help sort the minority wheat from the minority chaff. Scholars in STS and adjacent fields will find this a rewarding and provocative read… Recommended. Graduate students and faculty.