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Scientific imperialism

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Title: Scientific imperialism  
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Subject: Sociology of science, Ethical naturalism, Scientism, WikiProject Academic Journals/Journals cited by Wikipedia/P44, Cultural imperialism
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Scientific imperialism

Scientific imperialism is a term that appears to have been coined by Dr. Ellis T. Powell when addressing the Commonwealth Club of Canada on 8 September 1920. Though he defined imperialism as "the sense of arbitrary and capricious domination over the bodies and souls of men," yet he used the term "scientific imperialism" to mean "the subjection of all the developed and undeveloped powers of the earth to the mind of man."[1]

In modern parlance, however, scientific imperialism refers to situations in which critics perceive science to act imperiously. Philosopher of science John Dupré described it (in his 2006 paper Against Scientific Imperialism) as "the tendency to push a good scientific idea far beyond the domain in which it was originally introduced, and often far beyond the domain in which it can provide much illumination." He also wrote that "devotees of these approaches are inclined to claim that they are in possession not just of one useful perspective on human behavior, but of the key that will open doors to the understanding of ever wider areas of human behavior."[2]

Scientific imperialism has also been charged against "those who believe that the study of politics can and should be modelled on the natural sciences, a position defended most forcibly in the United States, and those who have dissented, viewing this ambition as methodologically unjustified and ethically undesirable."[3]


  • Critique of power 1
  • Accusations of being the "religion of the intellectuals" 2
  • Medical research 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6

Critique of power

Writing about scientific exploration by James Cook in the 18th century, the textbook Worlds Together, Worlds Apart defined scientific imperialism as the "pursuit of power through the pursuit of knowledge,".[4] Arthur Peacocke wrote that its later pejorative use may reflect the frustration felt by some with "the limitations of reductive scientism (scientific imperialism)." He also questions the notion that "successful scientific theories are true or approximately true models of the world," and expresses a desire to "dethrone science from an imperialistic stance over philosophy and theology."[5] Theologian and Christian apologist J. P. Moreland argues that "the myth that science is the model of truth and rationality still grips the mind of much of our popular and scientific culture", stating that "though philosophers of science over the past few decades have gutted many of the claims of this scientific imperialism, many thinkers, knee-jerk agnostics, and even judges persist in the grip of this notion."[6]

Accusations of being the "religion of the intellectuals"

Behavioral psychologist J. E. R. Staddon defined scientific imperialism as "the idea that all decisions, in principle, can be made scientifically" and stated that it has become a "religion of the intellectuals".[7] John Dupré also criticised "a natural tendency, when one has a successful scientific model, to attempt to apply it to as many problems as possible", and described these extended applications as being "dangerous".[8] Such notions have been compared to cultural imperialism, and to a rigid and intolerant form of intellectual monotheism.[9] [10] [11][12]

Medical research

Medical doctor Peter Wilmshurst has used the term to describe "poor people in developing countries...being exploited in research for the benefit of patients in the developed world", and advised that "the scientific community has a responsibility to ensure that all scientific research is conducted ethically".[13] Another accusation lies in the alleged misappropriation of indigenous drugs in poor countries by drug companies in the developed world. Pharmacologist Elaine Elisabetsky wrote that "ethnopharmacology involves a series of sociopolitical, economic and ethical dilemmas, at various levels...frequently host country scientists, visiting scientists, and informants disagree...research efforts are (often) perceived as scientific imperialism; scientists are accused of stealing plant materials and appropriating traditional plant knowledge for financial profit and/or professional advancement. Many governments, as well as indigenous societies are increasingly reluctant to permit such research...historically neither native populations nor host countries have shared to a significant extent the financial benefits from any drug that reaches the market...unless these issues are amply discussed and fairly resolved, medicinal plant research runs the risk of serving ethically questionable purposes."[14]

See also


  1. ^ Scientific Imperialism an Address, Delivered by Ellis T. Powell, LL.B. D.Sc.
  2. ^   (JSTOR link for this paper)
  3. ^ Bell, D. (2006). "Beware of false prophets: biology, human nature and the future of International Relations theory". International Affairs 82 (3): 493–510.  
  4. ^ The Scientific Voyages of Captain Cook
  5. ^  
  6. ^   (review here)
  7. ^ Staddon, J E R, "SCIENTIFIC IMPERIALISM AND BEHAVIORIST EPISTEMOLOGY," Behavior and Philosophy, 2004
  8. ^ John Dupré: The Disunity of Science (2006) Interviewed by Paul Newall
  9. ^  
  10. ^ Scientism and Humanism: Two Cultures in Post-Mao China (1978-1989), by Shiping Hua & Science and Dissent in Post-Mao China: The Politics of Knowledge by H. Lyman Miller, Reviewed by Yan Sun, The Review of Politics, 59.3, Non-Western Political Thought (Summer, 1997), pp. 600–2
  11. ^ Garth D. Benson, Science Education from a Social Constructivist Position: A Worldview, Studies in Philosophy and Education, 20.5, September, 2001, pp.443-452
  12. ^ Joseph Ben-David (July 1972). "The Profession of Science and its Powers". Minerva 10 (3): 362–82.  
  13. ^ Wilmshurst P (March 1997). "Scientific imperialism". BMJ 314 (7084): 840–1.  
  14. ^ Elisabetsky, E. (1991). "Sociopolitical, economical and ethical issues in medicinal plant research". J Ethnopharmacol 32 (1–3): 235–9.  

Further reading

  • Adas M., Machines as the Measure of Men: Science, Technology and Ideologies of Western Dominance (New York, 1989)
  • Alam A (1978). "Imperialism and Science". Race and Class 19 (3): 239–51.  
  • Arnold D. (ed.), Imperial Medicine and Indigenous Society (Manchester,1989)
  • Drayton R (1995). "Science and the European Empires". Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 23 (3): 503–10.  
  • Inkster I (1985). "Scientific Enterprise and the Colonial Model, Observations on Australian Experience in Historical Context". Social Studies of Science 15 (4): 677–704.  
  • Mackenzie J.M., (ed.), Imperialism and the Natural World (Manchester, 1990)
  • Macleod R., On Visiting the “Moving Metropolis”: Reflections on the Architecture of Imperial Science in Reingold N and Rothenberg M (eds.) Scientific Colonialism (Washington, 1987)
  • Macleod R (1993). "Passages in Imperial Science: From Empire to Commonwealth". Journal of World History 4: 117–50. 
  • Palladino P, Worboys M (1993). "Science and Imperialism". ISIS 84: 91–102.  
  • Petitjean P., Jami C., and Moulin A.M. (eds.), Science and Empires: Historical Case Studies about Scientific Development and European Expansion (Netherlands, 1992)
  • Pyenson L (1993). "Cultural Imperialism and Exact Sciences revisited". ISIS 84: 10–108.  
  • Reingold N. and Rothenberg M., Scientific Colonialism: A Cross Cultural Comparison (Washington, 1987)
  • Secord J (1982). "King of Siluria: Roderick Murchison and the Imperial Theme in Nineteenth Century British Geology". Victorian Studies 25: 413–43. 
  • Staddon, J E R (2004). "Scientific Imperialism and Behaviorist Epistemology". Behavior and Philosophy. 
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