Book Review: “Scientific Knowledge, Controversy and Decision Making” by Brian Martin and Evelleen Richards

“Scientific Knowledge, Controversy and Decision Making” by Brian Martin and Evelleen Richards (1995) is a book which highlights the scientific and public controversies that surround technical and scientific issues. The reading identifies two types of controversies: cognitive controversy (controversy over knowledge) and social controversy (controversy over nonscientific factors). According to Martin and Richards (1995), different scientists have different views about knowledge and science; hence causing scientific controversies. They also identify various approaches to scientific controversy such as Group politics controversy, Flouridation debate, and the Vitamin C and Cancer dispute. The book also identifies four approaches to studying controversy. The positivist approach entails an approach in which a social scientist accepts the scientific view of issues and begins from there to analyze the situation. The Sociology of scientific knowledge of Constructivist approach suggests that scientific controversy is a valuable site for researching about the nature of scientific knowledge. Other approaches discussed in the book are the social structural approach and the group politics approach. Martin and Richards (1995) suggest that each of these different approaches to scientific controversies has certain characteristic attitude decision making. Therefore, decisions made in each approach vary from other approaches.


This reading is an important reading in my education because it enables me to appreciate various controversies in science and develop various mechanisms to solve such controversies in real world as they occur. The various approaches to scientific controversies can enable me to identify a scientific controversy whenever it arises and make appropriate decision regarding how I should handle such a controversy. Furthermore, the issues about decision making can help me to make appropriate decisions in future if I am faced with a scientific or knowledge controversy. The reading has taught me that no matter how much scientists attempt to develop scientific knowledge; the views of each individual will always vary and may cause controversies that may affect pursuit of knowledge negatively. However, I have understood that despite these differences, appropriate decision making and public policy implementations will produce good scientific results.

The area that is still unclear to me is how ethics can be enhanced even when there are still such scientific and knowledge controversies. If controversies indeed exist in the field of science, then where can a scientist draw the line of what is good or wrong? It seems to me that controversies in science and knowledge affect the ethical practices of science. In future I would like to learn how to enhance ethics in science and knowledge even with scientific and knowledge controversies.

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