Michael's Response Q2

The article “Nuclear Missile Testing and the Social Construction of Accuracy” discusses two sets of critiques of studies of ICBM accuracy during the Cold War. In these studies, testing of ICBMs from tightly controlled flight tests of ICBMs from California to the Marshall Islands under peacetime conditions was used to predict the accuracy of ICBMs launched in wartime against targets in the USSR. Two critiques emerged of this practice. The first argued that the conditions of such tests would always be fundamentally too controlled to allow a realistic prediction of how these systems would perform in wartime. Because this argument suggested that maintaining a large bomber force was a prudent measure to deal with this uncertainty, it became associated with the portions of the national security community that were seen as gaining from maintaining this capability.
The second critique was associated with the ICBM community itself. This community believed testing could be assembled into a valid prediction of missile performance, but argued for brutal scientific skepticism of any individual set of assumptions that went into the testing. In effect, the scientific skepticism was moved from the overall objectives of the approach to the components that made up the approach.

Both schools can be seen as selectively embracing parts of Merton’s scientific ethos. They fully embrace the idea of organized skepticism, but apply it in vastly different ways.

More significantly, both schools, as a practical manner, abandon the idea that science and technology disputes are handled in a fundamentally disinterested manner. Both point to clear interests other parties have in the technology as a means of discrediting their arguments. The break-down of disinterestedness goes beyond the reward structure critique offered by Mulkay, where scientists may not live up to self-imposed values due to reward structures internal to science. Instead, non-scientific incentives are seen as inseparable from the process.

The net result is a suggestion that while disinterestedness is an aspirational ideal, it is also, borrowing from Hamlet, “a custom more honor'd in the breach than the observance.” The additional discussion of the controversy in terms of existing political disputes suggest that there is, and is extremely unlikely to be, an issue of societal significance where science can position itself as purely apolitical in the idealized ethos described by Merton.

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