Sunday, February 03, 2019

Facts can always be otherwise, down a rabbit hole.

Science is made, it does not exist outside of our making.

This is not to say that the world, the universe, the salad in my fridge...does not exist. However, our knowledge of such things, our science of what is/is not,  is a communicated one, a negotiated one, a shared one.  Or as stated by Latour,  in an interview reported in Science magazine,  "To have common facts, you need a common reality." (de Vrieze, 2017).
Expanding on this Latour goes on to explain that, "Science has never been immune to political bias. On issues with huge policy implications, you cannot produce unbiased data. That does not mean you cannot produce good science, but scientists should explicitly state their interests, their values, and what sort of proof will make them change their mind."
Oddly, we forget this. We have an amnesiac tendency to blackbox our accepted knowledges, that is-we forget how we come to our beliefs. Oftentimes we no longer have access to how our thinking even occurs... but knowledge is something constructed, it doesn’t exist in some ready-made jar to be consumed, it doesn’t occur in a vacuum sealed pack. It doesnt occur in some individual...
"there is no sense for an isolated scientists to exclaim "cogito!" or "eureka!". Laboratories think, communities discover, disciplines progress, instruments see, not individual minds." (Latour, 1996).  What's accepted as fact or as an alternative fact, requires not only our own thinking but that our thoughts (and those of others) hit up alongside previously held thoughts. Current and past. A gathering of garlands in time as Serres is described as having said . This may seem a very esoteric or even ephemeral approach to an understanding of knowledge, but our thoughts, our cognitions, evolve and when espoused, verbally or in writing,  our views may then become aligned with those of others, allies if you will, or which also oftentimes, engage resistance. A 'science war' ensues. A tussle perhaps, or even a merger,  a resistance maybe, or outright denial and a rallying of others or their thoughts to negate such facts being accepted by oneself or by others. And so science is made, though not commonly thought of as a making.
And in these times of truths, counter truths, inconvenient truths, through to alternative facts, that might assume we ever had facts that were insurmountable then we enter a space of post modernism.  This could lead to the postmodern quagmire of anything goes, however, not just anything is ok. We have as Latour rightly points out responsibility in science to win back and to earn respect,  and to do so, he argues that there is need to present science as science in action.
This is a risky undertaking because when we make the uncertainties and controversies explicit, such acknowledgement provides fodder for everyone from creationists, to anti climate changers,  anti-vaxxers, believers in a flat earth, Santa Clause, fairies,  unicorns, or the need for a wall... etc etc.

Our 'facts' are made and they are political.
Socrates drank poison as punishment for asking unpopular questions.
Freud changed his beliefs with the Venice circle accepting that women telling of incest must be hysterical.
British PM Disraeli claiming "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."
Currently  USA President Trump claiming alternative facts.

This is then open acknowledgement of our world-making potential and of ontological politics at play. As Donna Haraway has said, "This is not some kind of blissed-out techno- bunny joy in information. It is a statement that we had better get it – this is a worlding operation."

Facts/knowledge/statistics/stuff is always elusive. That it devlops substance, becoming seemingly immobile, occurs as alignments hold it in place. To not acknowledge this, to not enter into open dialogue of how such stuff comes to be known, to be indifferent to alternatives as  Katherine Behar writes, is a “newfound inhospitability” giving face to “Botox ethics”: an ethic that seeks not to articulate connections but to inhibit them; to create not unbounded subjects but enclosed objects; it recommends not outward-directed networking and changeability but inward-directed unexpressivity and singularity.
It is the very reason for why science as a subject exists, and why studies of science and technology have to continue.

de Vrieze, J. (2017). Bruno Latour, a veteran of the Science Wars, has a new mission. Interview with Bruno Latour. Retrieved from

Gane, N. (2006). When we have never been human, what is to be done? Interview with Donna Haraway. Theory, Culture and Society, 23, 135-158.

Latour, B. (1996). Cogito Ergo Sumus! Or psychology swept inside out by the fresh air of the upper deck. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 3, 54-63.

Sheldon, R. (2017).You can't have me: Feminist infiltrations in Object-Oriented Ontology. Retrieved from!

 Worth noting what generated this blog:
 I was invited to do a blind review. It wasn’t very blind. The opening sentence referred to  to the author’s xxxx book xxxx (he was responding to a critical review). I started reading the manuscript. I was out of my depth - I instantly regretted not being as immersed in ANT as I had been during my PhD studies and I was missing this. 
Not having been immersed in said book, or  said critique- how to attest to the value of the article or its accuracy- I was going to have to do some further investigating. Reviewing can be truly exhilarating and rewarding and it’s great when it is (like today).
So, down an enticing bunny hole inside of which  my fluffy white tail got a tad grubby... (a ref to Stephen Fry and QI repeats) and I found myself (as much as I ever can)  back in the foundations of how knowledge is made. Part of the enticement is that this is area I have been mulling for a while, ever since a friend Ibrar Bhatt piqued my curiousity with a call for papers on 'Lies, Bullshit and Fake News Online: Should We Be Worried?'
In looking for a Donna Haraway reference to blissed out bunnies and the need to be aware of world making ontologies,  I fluked across the article by Sheldon. And regretted that the current day job is a sad distraction on what I might otherwise do.  The article by Sheldon is well worth the read, a story of bunnies of the less reputable kind that led to a deliberate defeminized portrayal.  Visual ethnography is no less susceptible to HIStory making than any other form of science.
Triggered also is the mullings of recent times on how reflexivity does not give wings (a bon mot of Chris Bigum's, my very excellent phd supervisor.. 
From the FB ANT group, I had also been thinking about how reflective writing is asked for /demanded by some methodologies, some PhD supervisions, as an add on. to tick a box which would in some way make the research more hygienic. It doesn’t. And Steve Wright referred me to the useful article by Passoth and Rowland (2013). Beware of Allies! Qualitative Sociology 36(4).
We are through and through implicated. As Latour has said in a lightly veiled response to Haraway's critical feminism: To explicate the implicit, unfolding  comes with refoldings and  the creation of further opaqueness...there is no enlightenment vs darkness. The light only exists because we also have shadow, and the reverse is also true. Such a position is encapsulated in Latour's calling for a science of the science, or more prosaically,  a technology of the technology.

Nonetheless, crude and flawed as they are, reflexivity and referencing are utilised in tracing how this argument is or isnt informed, it shows the allies drawn upon as well as those refuted if not neglected.

Going to need some of these...after all, I didnt reference Lewis Caroll...the first chapter book i ever read :-)