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teaching:tacit-knowing-and-the-challenge-of-science [2019/01/21 12:04] (current)
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 +====== Tacit Knowing and the Challenge to Science ======
 +There are a number of ways to read
 +[Polanyi]( For example, there
 +are some historical and political angles to *The Tacit Dimension* that
 +relate to the pursuit of science and knowledge and to restrictions on
 +freedom by the state or by other entities to pursue those activities.
 +Polanyi also worked during a period of the 20th century that saw great
 +upheaval, massive wars, and a rise in totalitarianism that in some ways
 +mirrors the kind of nationalism and demagoguery that is showing its face
 +today across the world. It would be interesting to explore these aspects
 +of Polanyi's work, and especially reasons for some of the influence
 +Polanyi's ideas have had on some neoliberal thinkers, but for now, let's
 +simply bracket out those aspects and focus on what the knowledge
 +management (KM) literature has taken off with---the idea that "we can
 +know more than what we can tell."
 +Each of us will have our own interests in where KM intersects with our
 +areas of pursuit. For me, it is hard to escape how *tacit knowing*
 +impacts the pursuit of science and, inclusive of that, scholarly
 +communication and the conduct of scientific discourse. And this is
 +because, unlike some [skeptics]( in the
 +scholarly communication literature, I hold the view that science is only
 +as successful as the scholarly publishing system. That is, our primary
 +way to communicate scientific knowledge is through the written text, the
 +documentation, and if our system for disseminating that documentation is
 +unhealthy, then our pursuit of science, globally and writ-large,
 +With this in mind, we can relate the implications attached to *tacit
 +knowing* to some modern developments. There is an increasing number of
 +researchers, scientists, and librarians who actively pursue a thing
 +called [open science]( Some
 +of the arguments put forth in favor of a process that *opens* science
 +includes claims that an open science results in a more [efficient and
 +productive system]( that takes
 +advantage of web and internet technologies, is able to operate with
 +better transparency, is better at re-using other scientists' data, and
 +is better at attributing other scientists' work. In some ways, we might
 +say that an open science is the full, or nearly full, realization of the
 +[inherent norms of scientific
 +Within this rhetoric among the proponents of open science lies the idea
 +that an open science results in a science that is more scientific. The
 +key idea here is that science practiced openly will be more available
 +for critique, review, judgment, and so forth and as such, its
 +epistemological claims can more easily be
 +[falsified]( or
 +[verified]( via,
 +[reproducibility]( and
 +replication tests. Thus, and at the very least, there are ideas inherent
 +in the open science movement that imply that science is not science
 +unless it is open and it is not true unless it is reproducible, in a
 +very mechanical sense. But, these are questionable and *testable*
 +claims, which demand a path for moving forward---a path that requires of
 +us to test the validity of open science and the premises upon which rest
 +our ability to document and codify the processes involved in the conduct
 +of scientific pursuits. That is, to say that open science is better
 +science requires us to test that claim, scientifically.
 +Thus, there are significant epistemological and also
 +issues that are simply not acknowledged by the open science community.
 +Pertinent to this is one basic issue: the [criterion of
 +That is, what criterion do we use to identify science from what is not
 +science (or pseudoscience)? For Polanyi, if "we can know more than we
 +can tell" means there are limits to what we can communicate, and open
 +science is about being better at communicating scientific work, then
 +even under a better model of scholarly and scientific communication
 +there will always be an upper bound limit on what can be falsified,
 +verified, or reproduced via scientific documentation. This means there
 +will never be a complete guarantee that scientific claims can be trusted
 +via the scholarly communication system. There is always something
 +intrinsic in our scientific knowing that is beyond what we can tell.
 +What is also not fully acknowledged are other ideas about the
 +demarcation of science---issues related to *problem-solving* (ala
 +[Kuhn]( and *problem-finding*
 +Here we can refer to, I think, one of the best passages (pp. 64-66) of
 +Polanyi's book, the ending of which he writes:
 +> Thus the scientific interest---or scientific value---of a contribution
 +> is formed by three factors: its *exactitude*, its *systematic
 +> importance*, and the *intrinsic interest of its subject matter* (p.
 +> 66).
 +In other words, Polanyi argues that science is demarcated not just by
 +its truthfulness, its coherence, but also by whether it is *interesting*
 +in the right *theoretical* way. This brings us back to
 +[Merton's]( statement about the
 +transmission of not just scientific knowing to the next generation of
 +scientists, but also of scientific *taste*. Let me re-quote Merton:
 +> The role of outstanding scientists in influencing younger associates
 +> is repeatedly emphasized in the interviews with \[Nobel\] laureates.
 +> Almost invariably they lay great emphasis on the importance of
 +> problem-finding, not only problem-solving. They uniformly express the
 +> strong conviction that what matters most in their work is a developing
 +> sense of taste, of judgment, in seizing upon problems that are of
 +> fundamental importance (p. 453).
 +I am not a skeptic about scientific documentation, but *tacit knowing*
 +raises very interesting and serious challenges about the conduct and
 +dissemination of science, and as well as any kind of knowledge that must
 +be taught and passed from one generation to the next, from teacher to
 +student, or from co-worker to co-worker. This is the task that Polanyi
 +has placed before us.
teaching/tacit-knowing-and-the-challenge-of-science.txt ยท Last modified: 2019/01/21 12:04 by seanburns