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Chapter 2 – The political sociology of science and undone research

2.6 Hess’s alternative pathways in science

Hess developed his framework from observations that certain research was selected for study, whilst other research was left undone.33 Using case studies of conventional research versus alternative research he found a disparity in the numbers of research studies. These case studies included an alternative hypothesis that bacteria might be the cause of cancer, comparisons of research programs on orthodox and alternative medicine, and of conventional and organic agriculture. The bacteria causation hypothesis of cancer was not well received by the biomedical establishment whose research priorities include genetic inheritance and lifestyle factors as the major causes of cancer. Likewise, alternative medicine and organic agricultural practices have been

33 Hess DJ, 2007, Alternative Pathways in Science and Industry, Activism, Innovation, and the Environment in an Era of Globalization, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts

little studied. Hess found that the majority of funding for research undertaken in the major institutions focused on orthodox research with very little directed towards alternative theories. These areas for Hess constitute ‘undone science’ or neglected research areas and the motivation for the gap is political.

In his book Can bacteria cause cancer? Hess analyses how the dominant biomedical model of medicine shapes the research agenda.34 Like Lakatos, he found that a field of research increases its autonomy as it becomes more defined, routinized and guided by the generally accepted research program. According to Hess, the cancer research community confirms this pattern, adding that there is a formative period when the basic direction of the research program is set in place (such as the refusal to see cancer as a metabolic, nutritional, or infectious disease and one that could be treated by vaccines, sera, and nutritional therapies).35 Furthermore, as a field of research becomes increasingly technical and specialized, the choices that were so evident at the beginning become largely forgotten. In the field of cancer research, Hess documents the cancer controversy of which James Ewing and William B. Coley were initially a part. It subsequently lost ground as the noninfectious nature of cancer came to dominate.36 Support for the dominant theory did not emerge entirely from internal, intellectual processes such as the consideration of evidence but rather, the consensus was compliant with the dominant political and economic forces that provided incentives for therapies

34 Hess DJ, 1997, Can Bacteria Cause Cancer? Alternative Medicine Confronts Big Science, New York University Press, New York and London

35 ibid, p 73-74

36 Hess DJ, 1997, Can Bacteria Cause Cancer? Alternative Medicine Confronts Big Science, New York University Press, New York and London

oriented toward X-ray machines, radium, pharmaceuticals, and other industrial products.37

The scientific research agenda has been largely directed by the pursuit of profit under the guise of progress, but this progress and the benefits it bestows have now been the subject of more critical analysis. Science has long been associated with industry in both the private and public sectors. In the private sector, funding of research for the development of technologies has provided modern society with benefits in the workplace, in the home, for leisure and in the pursuit of knowledge. Science has also benefited from public funding in more altruistic pursuits such as, space exploration and the development of computer technology. Both have provided humanity with huge benefits but are there unintended consequences and costs?

Wherever large corporations substantially influence government policies, legislation and laws, this promotes priorities in culture, the economy and in scientific research that benefit corporations at the expense of the public. It is these influences that lead to research being shaped by vested interests, through the choice of studies to be undertaken, leaving other research undone.

Funding priorities are not the only areas where undone research is evident; it is also evident in the knowledge-making process. The ability to create a body of scientific knowledge increasingly relies on the latest technology and methods. The cost involved in accessing sophisticated equipment is often exorbitant, hence, the dominant network, with the most funding, tends to have the most access. In the case of DFTD, the

37 ibid, pp 73-74

Government has its own laboratory for carrying out tests but it also has access to expensive and highly sophisticated genetic testing laboratories, such as Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in the United States and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom. This can have the effect of silencing the alternative views by giving the impression that the dominant research field, with access to world class technology, is pursuing better science.38

In the knowledge making process Hess moves beyond the debate that scientific knowledge is socially constructed, to be more concerned with which research is selected as deserving attention and which is not considered worth pursuing. 39 He terms this problem the “selection” of knowledge, in contrast to the construction of knowledge.40 His use of the word “selection” is understood as “choosing” from an already limited range of choices imposed on the less powerful. For Hess the question is no longer how knowledge is socially shaped, but is instead a structural question of what research is selected.41

Various social, economic and political factors impact on scientific research programs in this knowledge making process. They constitute both internal and external pressures and strongly influence the type of knowledge that is built upon a program. Whilst the studies that are selected for research contribute to a body of knowledge, those abandoned or left undone create a body of non-knowledge or ignorance. The next section describes the rationale for categorizing undone research or what Hess terms

38 Hess, DJ, 2007, Alternative Pathways in Science and Industry, Activism, Innovation, and the Environment in an Era of Globalization, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, p 24

39 ibid, p 28

40 ibid, p 29

41 ibid, p 29

‘undone science’. It begins with an outline of the internal and external pressures and continues, under the more general framework of ignorance, to define undone research. I conclude with a typology of the different reasons, either practical or political, for undone research.