Sts 2411 Exam Review Studying Suggestions

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STS 2411 Exam Review
Studying Suggestions

Use the lecture summaries to get the basic important ideas

If the ideas are in the readings but not in the lecture summaries you will not be examined on them
Look for lists of three or four points and definitions of terms that can be the basis of a good short answer or multiple choice questions
The exam will cover materials from the beginning of the term to the last lecture before the mid-term

So far the course has been primarily about theoretical concepts, high level abstractions that are used to explain scientific change. This makes it difficult to study as you don’t have a lot of experience applying these concepts in the study of science. Thus for the short answer and multiple choice portions of the exam it is best to review some of the concepts introduced in each set of readings.

Major Concepts:

Actor Network Theory




contributory and interactional expertise

core group

Duhem-Quine thesis


Empirical Programme of Relativism


experimenter’s regress





interpretive flexibility

logical positivism

micro and macro social
normal science


prescriptive and descriptive

problem of induction


relevant social group


revolutionary science

scientific method

self-referential social institution

social cause

Social Construction of Technology

social and physical (natural) realism

Strong Program in the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge

symmetry postulate

tacit knowledge

technological determinism

technological frame

traditional classification


verification and falsification
Sample Questions
Multiple Choice Questions

Multiple choice questions will be worth 1 mark each, you will be asked to do 10, for a total of 10 marks.

What is the Egalitarian Fallacy?

a) assuming that all people are equal

b) balancing both sides of an equation

c) putting politics before economics

d) treating truth as absolute

e) treating all beliefs as equal

Sample Short Answer Question

What is the “taking sides” argument in SSK and why is it politically important?

  • The sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK) challenges the status of scientific claims, and there is a concern that it could be used to challenge the scientific claims of disadvantaged social groups. One solution is to “take sides” and restrict the use of SSK to challenge the scientific claims of powerful. One of the problems with this approach is that it oversimplifies conflicts into “sides”, and it does not recognize that the “underdog” in scientific debates can change. The argument is politically important as SSK has been used to challenge the work of disadvantaged social groups, and SSK is committed to a symmetrical approach that does not allow it to “take sides”.

Short Answer questions will be graded out of 4 marks each, you will be asked to do 5 of them, for a total of 20 marks.
Essay Question

3. The problem of induction, the Duhem-Quine thesis and underdetermination are all important limitations on the development of science, describe each of these problems, discuss how scientists overcome them in practice, and explain their significance to STS.

Induction is the process of going from a particular observation to a general observation. For example, observing a white swan, then another white swan, then another white swan, then deciding that all swans must be white. The problem is that it is always possible that the next swan may not be white. Just because something has always happened a particular way in the past does not guarantee it will do so again in the future. In science the problem is that even well supported scientific theories may prove to have exceptions or even be false, past success with those theories is no justification for the claim that they are true.

The Duhem-Quine thesis states that scientific theories are imbedded in a network or web of assumptions, experimental equipment, observations, laws of nature, etc. When a theory is tested with an experiment it is possible that it is not the theory that is at fault, but the experimental equipment, or a background assumption, etc.

Underdeterminism relates to theoretical explanations of observations. For any given set of observations it is always possible to come up with more than one theory that can account for those observations.

All of these problems are problems in theory; in practice scientists have discovered ways around them.

With respect to induction, scientists still use inductive reasoning, making claims based on generalizations from observation, but the point at which they decide that they have made enough observations to merit a generalization is determined by social causation, and the point at which they decide that a given observation counts as an exception to a generalization is determined by social causation.

With respect to the Duhem-Quine thesis, scientists still falsify theories using experiments and tests, though there is often controversy over whether or not it is the theory that is falsified or one of the background assumptions, etc. These controversies are settled when consensus is reached, a process that involves presenting competing evidence, testing assumptions and equipment, etc. As none of these processes can be conclusive on their own, consensus is reached through social causation.

With respect to underdetermination, advocates for different theories engage in debate and discussion over the relative merits of their competing theories. Sometimes scientists will appeal to things like the elegance or simplicity of their theory, sometimes the data set will be questioned. As none of these techniques is compelling on its own, ultimate consensus is reached through social causation.

The significance of these problems to STS is that their solutions are all social, in each case a process of negotiation, disagreement and eventual consensus leads to closure of the debates and a practical solution to each of these theoretical problems. This contrasts with the standard picture of science that claims that these theoretical problems are solved when compelling evidence is presented. STS argues that there is no such thing as “compelling evidence”, and thus that social explanations are needed. As a result, STS scholars are uniquely well placed to study and understand these social processes in science, as STS is based in sociological theory.

Essay responses will be graded out of 40, you will be doing one essay question, with the following schema:

    • A: Argument – 10 marks

      • Was there an argument, was it contradictory, was it convincing, was it sound, did it support the thesis, etc.

    • T: Thesis – 10 marks

      • Is there a thesis, did you stick to the thesis, does it answer the question, is it coherent, it is appropriate in scope, etc.

    • E: Evidence – 10 marks

      • Was your evidence relevant, did you demonstrate an understanding of the evidence, did your evidence fit your argument, etc.

    • C: Clarity – 10 marks

      • Was your writing comprehensible, was it appropriate to the argument, etc.

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