What is “Knowledge” in a World of Alternative Facts?
We are witnessing a fundamental change in thinking about authoritative scientific knowledge. Increasingly, facts carry little weight in today’s highly charged public debates about everything from climate change to vaccinations to social inequality. This change poses particular challenges for the social and historical sciences.
One response to this shift has been to reassert traditional concepts of objectivity, insist on the foundational nature of facts and strengthen the conviction that real science—science we can trust—is value-free. But this ignores the contingency and complexity of scientific inquiry: evidence is rarely a given; there is no single scientific method; and our most productive sciences are influenced by the values and interests of their makers.
As Canada Research Chair in Philosophy of the Social and Historical Sciences, Dr. Alison Wylie aims to a pragmatic and procedural account of objectivity based on analysis of research practice in archaeology, where evidence is notoriously tenuous, and in feminist social science, where values are explicit.
The insights she and her research team draw from these fields include a recognition that multiple lines of evidence are often more significant than incontrovertible facts; that robust appraisal of knowledge claims requires different perspectives; and that partnerships with stakeholders are crucial to ensuring acceptable outcomes.
Ultimately, Wylie hopes to show that a more integrated view of knowledge—produced under non-ideal circumstances—can reframe the current debate about what counts as authoritative knowledge.