Question Forum 2

Questions Forum 2
1) Identify the competing discourses of doubt/ support surrounding the nuclear missile in Hughes’s article, and describe the implications for the nuclear missile debate. What can this case tell us about the relationship between technology and society? Does this article introduce different approaches than we have seen in previous weeks?

Elijah's Response


Russ Rochte's tardy response - apologies for not remembering how to hotline something in:

The competing discourses of doubt and support surrounding the nuclear missile in the MacKenzie article, “Nuclear Missile Testing and the Social Construction of Accuracy,” can be labeled according to the respective issue: Testing and CEP. In each case, the central problem was “accuracy.” The accuracy of the testing methodologies was called into question by those who feared that the ICBM would not work properly once operating within the actual wartime environment, regardless of the outcomes of the component-level tests and the Kwajalein Atoll test shots. Likewise, there were those who doubted the mathematically derived circular error probable and error budget for the missiles because, as before, the testing environment was considerably different from the actual intended wartime-use environment. In each case, proponents for and opponents against presumptions of “accuracy” could choose their assumptions, frame their problems to fit the data, and construct arguments to fit their political positions. Skepticism (such as identified by Merton) was in evidence, although the origins and biases thus revealed had more to say about the opposing sides of each argument than about the technologies themselves. For example, those in favor of maintaining and adding to America’s manned nuclear bomber fleet had much to gain from denigrating the potential of the ICBMs – manned bombers did not suffer from the lingering doubt about performance. Since live testing in a wartime environment was not possible, this argument was not ultimately resolvable. Testing lay at the heart of the matter in the CEP argument as well, since the same background conditions applied – no live test shots with real warheads at actual targets could be performed. The article concludes with observations from the case studies resulting in “the certainty trough” metaphor to describe the inverse relationship between certainty and proximity to the work, wherein those farthest from the actuality are the less uncertain, and those with either direct involvement or those ideologically committed to another solution retain higher uncertainty.

This suggests that, with regard to the ICBM described, the “distance” between them frames the relationship between technology and society. That is, the less detail the public knows about the technology, the more likely society is to accept – and believe – the claims of the “experts,” especially when they can back up their claims with “test” results. As the “appeal to authority” is a common persuasive technique, American society (like many others) is conditioned to respond favorably when “authority” makes reasonable claims in light of the “facts” available. Therefore, both of certainty in the technology and of the consent to its testing and intended use, are constructed responses that can be shaped and altered.

If this is correct, then this runs counter to Merton’s principle of disinterestedness, surely, (since communities of interest were vying for budget and control) and also his principle of communalism (since not all interested parties were likely privy to the same data – much of it classified). This suggests that my initial observation that skepticism was likely at work may not be correct, since although there was critical scrutiny of the issues by both sides of the arguments, the integrity of the scrutiny was undermined by the lack of disinterestedness. Each side had something to gain from winning their side of the argument – and it wasn’t just scientific progress. With regard to large budget items or issues of national defense, at least, it seems unlikely that “science” would be able to position itself as a wholly disinterested party.

2) Does Hughes’ perspective on technological artifacts tend to support or refute Langdon Winner’s idea that artifacts have politics? Delineate the nuances of both arguments and their implications. Looking back at how artifacts are described by the authors in our previous classes is there a trend that can be identified?

Amanda's Response

3) Merton and Kuhn imply a normative underpinning of science and scientific discovery. What does Hughes’ perspective of the development of technology and large technological works imply about the role of expertise and scientific processes? How does this coalesce with (or contradict) the process of the development of technology as described by Merton and Kuhn?

Jonathan's Response

4) When considering the rhetoric surrounding the technology of war compare the tropes of mechanical versus human uncertainty and what their implications are for the sociology of science. Furthermore, what might the certainty trough be able to tell us about high and low-church distinctions in STS? (MacKenzie, pgs. 350-351)

Anita's Response

(sorry, can't figure out how to make a separate page)

The rhetoric surrounding the technology of war addresses the ideas of human and mechanical uncertainty, and the implications that these have for the research and development of these technologies, and for their eventual use. The effectiveness of any technology, particularly those used in war, depends heavily on how accurate the technology was designed to be, within a given margin of error. However, Donald Mackenzie (1999) argues that while the production of accuracy is vital to the production of knowledge, it is difficult for humans to definitively determine whether “accuracy figures,” as he terms them, should be taken as conclusive facts (351). In terms of war technology, treating these accuracy figures as concrete fact can have massive consequences for both the users of the technology, and for those against whom the technology is used. For example, if accuracy figures pertaining to the range of a nuclear missile are very close to the actual figures that might be observed during an actual missile strike, this technology would have an extremely negative impact on anyone within a given area of the missile impact site. On the other hand, if the figures were found to not be as accurate as they were assumed to be, the missile would still have very bad consequences for anyone in close proximity to the impact site, but would also have negative consequences for those who used the missile (i.e. governments).

War technologies are also subject to mechanical uncertainty, due to the difficulty of testing them in conditions that closely resemble those in which they would be used (Mackenzie 351). For instance, while it is possible to predict the performance of nuclear missiles in controlled tests, it is very difficult to predict exactly how the missile will work in the conditions under which it would actually be used – i.e. a nuclear strike – without actually performing a strike. While the missile might behave as the developers and manufacturers expect them to during tests, they may behave unpredictably in real strikes, and may either cause unintended damage, or may fail to work at all. Also, as Mackenzie mentions, even if it were feasible to test a missile in the actual environment in which it would be used, it is possible that a single successful test could be a “fluke,” and that further tests would not be as successful as expected (344). For some technologies, unpredictable or unsuccessful tests may not matter too much. For something like a nuclear missile, or any other technology used in war, the stakes are much higher, and it becomes imperative that reliable tests are conducted before the technologies are used.

Discussions about certainty can tell us a lot about the high- and low-church distinctions in STS, depending on how the discussions are framed. The high-church faction of STS, which refers to STS as science and technology studies, might examine certainty as the end goal of the construction of truth, whereby whatever is found to be a truth is also a certainty (Fuller 1997, 182). Meanwhile, the low-church faction of STS, which refers to the field as science and technology in society, may define certainty in the same terms as the high-church faction, but might also examine the impacts that these certainties and truths have on society (Fuller 1997, 182). Here, the low-church might ask questions regarding the political implications of using nuclear missiles in war, while the high-church may question how these truths and certainties were constructed, and how they guide scientific knowledge or the development of technologies.

1. Mackenzie, Donald, “Nuclear Missile Testing and the Social Construction of Accuracy,” Nuclear Missile Testing (1999), 342-357.
2. Fuller, Steve, “Constructing the High Church-Low Church Distinction in STS Textbooks,” Bulletin of Science, Technology, & Society Vol. 17 (1997), 181-183.

5) Put Pinch & Bijker’s Empirical Programme of Relativism (EPOR) and Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) in conversation with one another. How do the authors highlight their similarities and differences, and how are these used to forge an argument for a new/ combined approach. Also, feel free to address the political and disciplinary work being done by their proposal, and how it may have influenced the field of STS. (Pinch & Bijker, pgs. 26-40)

Lisa's Response-Question2-5

Katelyn Kuhl

Question 4
In examining the issues that may affect the accuracy of the missile, both the human, technological and environmental, are addressed in a similar matter. The gravitational force, magnetic field, and weather at the silo location could all affect the accuracy of the missile. Environmental effects may also challenge the missile workers as they fulfil their duties which could negatively impact the accuracy of the missile. The accuracy of the missile is judged against other missiles traveling the same trajectory, but this path does not accurately reflect a U.S. to Russia path that would be likely in the event of war. As if you delve deeper into the parts, and not just the whole missile, new challenges to testing and predicting accuracy emerge. Similarly, it's not just the humans that launch the missile that can affect its accuracy, but the surveying that was conducted previously by people, that could negatively impact the missile reaching its intended target.

I do not exactly understand the connection between high church and low church with the uncertainty trough. I will offer a few thoughts, though, and look forward to further discussion of this question. I perceive a possible connection between those “directly involved in knowledge production” and their high uncertainty with the low church of STS. Those directly involved are working to create a missile that works, but their broad knowledge of the missile enables them to know where the gaps of knowledge are, where the areas of weakness are, ect. As an academic dives into the low church STS, they may encounter nuance and detail that cannot be extrapolated from and that could challenge a high church STS perspective.

More compelling though, is how Mackenzie marries high and low church in this article. For much of the article, MacKenzie is examining real life problems, interviewing experts and users, and incorporating politics, media and other typically low church considerations. Yet, ultimately, his in depth study of the accuracy of intercontinental missiles is a reflection on the production of knowledge. In Mackenzie’s case, it is the production of knowledge of accuracy. The knowledge of accuracy “is a network, in which different kinds of tests are performed against differently constructed backgrounds, with no one test-not even ‘use’ - and no one background being accepted by all as the ultimate arbiter.” (355) Mackenzie takes on a high church question of “Fact” and states “Nowhere in this complex process of modeling and testing do unchallengeable, elementary and ‘atomic’ facts exist. This does not mean the accuracy is a mere fiction… for this absence of ‘atomic’ fact is characteristic of all scientific knowledge.” (356)

Pratama's Respond Question 1:

There is an interesting case in Mackenzie’s Nuclear Missile testing and the Social Construction of Accuracy, which is two different positions surrounding the nuclear missile that raised into political debate on the presidential campaign in the United States in 1964. The supporter of expanded missile was Lyndon B. Johnson, who tended to associate with Frigate Bird's Polaris, and doubt group was linked to Barry Goldwater with intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
In the article, Mackenzie’s work seems like a social construction of technology approach that examined the meaning of facts that two different group interpreted, and ended in how the controversy passed. Mackenzie started to describe the first stage of the controversy by describing some different interpretations on Operation Frigate Bird. Although the Operation was success, some critiques raised on a single test could be a fluke, a relatively short-range, submarine launched missile, not the longer, higher trajectory of an ICBM, and the modifications to the missile needed to minimize the risk of Operation Frigate Bird. (p.344)
In my opinion, the different interpretations to facts, that the groups claimed, have similarity in the way of producing a claim, but they have different interests that might influence them. For example, the same way here is their interpretations have driven by the same object of accuracy. Secondly, I noticed that the process of interpretation is a result of negotiation between doubt and support group. During the process of negotiation, both proponent and doubt groups not only interpreted object (accuracy) but also produced knowledge of accuracy.
Speaking of implications, Mackenzie’s account leads to challenge relativism claim that tends to rely on a certainly theory in accepting or declining knowledge. Another implication is the debate influenced to reveal some hidden aspects that may hinder, and led to increase public participation.

Mackenzie, Donald, “Nuclear Missile Testing and the Social Construction of Accuracy,” Nuclear Missile Testing (1999), 342-357.

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