ToK: Classification of Biodiversity

The adoption of a system of binomial nomenclature is largely due to Swedish botanist and physician Carolus Linnaeus (1707–1778). Linnaeus also defined four groups of humans, and the divisions were based on both physical and social traits. By 21st-century standards, his descriptions can be regarded as racist. 

How does the social context of scientific work affect the methods and findings of research?

Is it necessary to consider the social context when evaluating ethical aspects of knowledge claims?


13 thoughts on “ToK: Classification of Biodiversity

  1. In the matter of science and knowledge, I believe that the idea of social matters shouldn’t matter in science. In simpler terms, science is purely fact and figures, and any research done in the name of science isn’t to be offensive or taken as an attack. Scientists always strive to learn more, and some of their methods may come into question at times in terms of ethics, but for the most part, I believe everyone should be treated the same. Animals can be separated by the way they look and what their colors are, and nobody takes offence. In fact people are interested. I believe that if humans are separated in this way, it’s not too horrible, as we should be proud of our diversity. However, I don’t know if my opinion would differ if Arabs were included in Dr. Linnaeus’s work. I’m not sure if I’d be offended to be separated as a human being from other humans who have different skin. But in a way, it’s as if he claims people of different origins to be sub-species. In those terms, in a human social context, that is racist. But in the name of pure science, the reason as to why we differ and why we are all so special and different yet so similar is something very interesting to learn about.

    1. In my opinion, I agree with what you have written, however what makes arabs so different from everyone else regarding Dr Linnaeus’s work?

  2. How does the social context of scientific work affect the methods and findings of research?
    Social context of scientific work does affect the methods and findings of research as they may change the ways in which we carry out methods of research and thus may also change context may limit findings as well if methods are considered unethical or if methods used contradict social norms. During his time, carulous linnaeus’s division of the four groups of humans was not considered as racist as his findings would be considered now as social context has changed thus his findings today would be considered both racist and a rudimentary approach to classification due it depending on physical and social traits. This also shows how the findings are different compared to now, as at the time,his findings would be considered socially acceptable compared to now where they would not, thus showing a direct link between social norms and scientific methods and findings. The only issue with this is that it limits scientific research improvements and breakthroughs as scientists are more worried about what people think of the findings rather than the actual truth. Another example was Charles Darwins theory of evolution which during his time was also considered unethical and contradicted what people believed at the time,thus limiting further discovery as any scientist would have stopped further research due to this opposition. If future discoveries follow this path, the world of science will not discover anything different and will only believe and follow the rules of society rather than the rules of science.

    1. Charles Darwin’s ideas are accepted nowadays, meaning that even if a scientist makes a discovery today that people don’t agree with, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll never agree with it in the future.

  3. How does the social context of scientific work affect the methods and findings of research?

    The world around a scientist can affect their work greatly as things that are researched may not be socially acceptable in that time and place so the method of the topic may not be fully researched therefore the findings will be inaccurate. The researching of socially unacceptable topics may get the scientist into trouble by their family, friends or even the government. For example it is illegal to do abortions in Saudi Arabia so researching this topic or conducting experiments can get them punished. The scientist will have to pursue a different topic or have their reputation tarnished. Most people try to not be hated during their lifetime so avoid doing actions that might get them into trouble. Although there is a contradiction as most people who are famously known by the world like Socrates were considered threat by the government as he provoked thoughts that were unacceptable during that time but now he is known to be a genius. The question that arises is whether this possible fame in future is worth the hatred and torture the scientist has to go through in life. However some topics may have been socially acceptable in the past but are no longer acceptable now. For example Carulous Linneaus’s classification of humans into four groups is now considered racist and unacceptable. This change in social norms over the years effects the further research of certain topics. This shows that societies opinions on a topic can effect the further improvements in that topic and may prevent a scientist from pursuing their work.

  4. How does the social context of scientific work affect the methods and findings of research?

    Society and social norms are constantly changing as technology advances and political and religious views change. A good example of this change is the work of Swedish botanist and physician Carolus Linnaeus. Linnaeus adopted a binomial nomenclature system in 1735 where he studied the physical traits by first looking at the place of origin and later the colour of skin and social traits of people. From those studies, Linnaeus defined four groups of humans; Red Americans, White Europeans, Black Africans, and Sallow Asians. At the time the study was conducted, the findings were not considered racist, however by 21st century standards they are considered racist, stereotypical, and unacceptable.

    Today, many scientists do not conduct studies and experiments in fear of being judged or hated upon due to ethical and religious concerns. This fear is rooted from society norms and expectations. This has naturally slowed down studies in more controversial topics and subjects. I personally experienced this a few years ago in year nine. I had an ICT project where the class was given a choice of questions regarding the media. My partner and I chose to base our project around “If abortion was ethical and if it should be a choice for a woman”. I decided to interview teachers around the school, however many teachers did not want to participate. At the time I did not know why, but later found out that it was illegal to voice opinions on abortion as it was illegal to abort or even conduct studies on abortion in Saudi Arabia. So not only do society expectations affect research but so do government laws and regulations.

    To conclude, there are many ways that society and social context affects research including but not limited to society and social norms changing, political and religious views, fear of judgment, and government laws and regulations.

    Norah Tabsh

    1. it is true that social norms are constantly subjected to change due to certain advances based on life. however we can assume that due to these circumstances these changes were brought and not surely known.

  5. How does the social context of scientific work affect the methods and findings of research?

    It is safe to say that the world is in a state of constant change, where social norms and traditional customs constantly adapt forming new ways of doing things. With Scientific understanding and methods also transforming into something else as time passes. The idea that the social context of things also dictates what exactly is being researched at that time is commonly ignored, covered by questions criticizing whether it is politically correct to undergo such a study and publish such findings in such a manner.

    To begin, Years ago governments did not solely rule countries and empires but in fact countries were greatly controlled by the power of religion. With that being said many scientists at that time could not even think of challenging the ideas of a holy book, but those who chose to ignore those threats payed the price with their lives. It is important to understand that any idea proposed which contradicted the sacred book was considered blasphemous and satanic In it’s meaning. This not only governed what scientists chose to research but also the manner in which they went about doing it. For example, Doctors were not allowed to study human anatomy using deceased humans but instead used certain animals which were thought to be closely linked to the structure of humans. In addition the tools used do not come close to the apparatus used in today’s practices. The unique social context for doctors at that time effected their findings compared to modern scientists which were able to use human cadavers. A great example of this is the false assumption of the make up of the bones in the jaw in the past, where only in the future using human cadavers was the structure firmly confirmed. Now here we see Clearly a cause and effect of not only the methods but also the findings.

    Deviating from religion, certain times in the past were war has broke out (ww1 and ww2) created a social context in which new methods and findings were produced as a result of a governments desperate needs. For instance, the invention of the Haber process and ammonium fertilizers were only possible due to the amount of research/money/resources being thrown at it at a critical time. Now this wasn’t the only thing that rose into the spotlight during the world wars, the research in atomic weapons is a great example of how social needs for countries provoked scientific studies. Everybody wanted to be the country with the Atomic bomb and others such as America needed it desperately. America’s soldiers were dying by the minute and thus this initiated a worldwide race for the creation of such a bomb.

    The cold war was yet another example of how conflict instigated a series of scientific studies and breakthroughs. Both the U.S and Russia raced to be the first to conquer the space and advance in the category of space exploration. This resulted in JFK achieving these scientific goals as he landed a man on the moon.

    Now to refer back to why the question was asked, Carolus Linnaeus used both physical and social traits to divide human into groups. This may seem outrageous nowadays however by putting things into context almost all plants and animals were classified based on their anatomy and morphology at that time. The now sensitive issue with race did not concern the average Joe as it does today. Slavery was still very prominent at his time and classifying something by its looks was totally acceptable. In the 1700 there was no high tech equipment in order to use cladistics or to analyze the Base sequence of DNA as an alternate method; This was probably the best way of classifying humans during his time.

    It is true that we cannot say for sure that these findings would have not occurred if they were researched in a different social context however we can assume that these certain times/situations forced people to pursue those scientific questions in order to deal with the issues that they had.

    By Jad Abdel Jawad

  6. Is it necessary to consider the social context when evaluating ethical aspects of knowledge claim?

    After doing some research, I’ve realized there is a great difference between ‘claim’ and ‘knowledge claim’. A claim is ‘an assertion of the truth of something, typically one that is disputed or in doubt’. While a knowledge claim is backed with more reasoning and factual evidence. His research and reasoning behind is knowledge claim could be criticized and up for debate however I believe a scientist should be one who is led by independent facts learned through evidential research which does not involve his/her social context.

    I don’t believe it’s necessary to take social context under consideration. Scientists like Carolus Linnaeus make their knowledge claims based on scientific reasoning. His classification system helped us understand the concept of race which is a sensitive and questionable concept, but I believe the ethical aspects of his knowledge claims are unrelated to his social context.

  7. The social context of scientific work should be taken into account however it should not affect methods and findings. I believe that in this generation, scientists are limited, not by the technology they have but with what they are able to do with it. Scientists should and would not allow social manners to affect their study however I also believe they do not neglect it at all. The reason I believe that it should not affect their study is because social issues or manners cannot define science however depending on the method and findings, science can affect the social context. For example, classifying human beings according to their facial features and skin into categories (white Europeans, red Americans, yellow Asians and black Africans) can affect how people treat and see one another and thus can cause much greater issues and problems. Obtaining more information about ourselves and about the classification of biodiversity will allow us to make new discoveries and can be very beneficial to the world of science however, not everyone will accept the method and findings. Society limits scientists according to what they think is acceptable and is the norm at the time. Time plays a great factor into how the social context of scientific work affects the methods and findings of research depending on the generation that the research is being carried out in. Usually methods and findings of research are published or leaked to the public and if they are rejected then the research isn’t carried out anymore as it isn’t accepted anymore. In conclusion, the social context does affect the methods and findings of research as it limits them and thus causes the amount of information being discovered in science to be determined by the social context. However, if accepted by society, then the social context plays a much smaller role as then methods and findings of research become based on facts, numbers and theories.

  8. How does the social context of scientific work affect the methods and findings of research?

    We know that the world is constantly changing in terms of society and social norms. In the world today where ideological principles are changed regularly due to the development in technology and other factors, research taking place during different time periods might not be entirely accurate, as the society might have or have not accepted the information as totally appropriate. This affects scientific work because in the social context, scientists are limited in information/research that they are allowed to gather/present to society. Going outside the norms would most probably categorize the person as eccentric because they are not behaving commonly like others. Restrictions because of ethical reasons limit findings for the scientists because they oppose the social norms of society. For example, Carolus Linnaeus classified humans into four groups. During his time this was the normal way to divide humans by their skin colour i.e. race. Nowadays this method of classification is considered to be socially unappropriate and unacceptable. Segregating humans in these groups is considered offensive because of our social norms in today’s society. This shows that scientists can never be fully open to pursue research because the ethical reasons in society prevent them by always changing. In conclusion, I believe that the social context of scientific work does affect the methods and findings of research in terms of society and the constant change in social norms.

    1. Mentioning that research can be inaccurate depending on the social context a scientist is in, is wrong because scientists are only limited by the social context and are not affected by it. The science behind their methods and findings of research isn’t defined by the norm of society.

  9. Is it necessary to consider the social context when evaluating ethical aspects of knowledge claims?

    Since research is changing society, scientists should consider the social and ethical aspects of their findings. I believe it is necessary to be aware of the social context when making knowledge claims, as it encourages a way critical way of thinking. This is how there has been a clear development of science in the recent century. Since researchers and scientists are more open minded and aware of prejudice, this allows a new way of thinking.
    However, in the case of scientists like Carolus Linnaeus, he made his knowledge claim in which he defined four groups of humans. In my opinion, this should not be considered as a racist claim. This is because it was not said in a social context. The claim was intended simply for defining different humans form diversities. We now live in a world in which scientific knowledge can regularly change our way of thinking and our values.

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