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When discussing knowledge we must explore what we mean by knowledge. Does everybody within society accept the same information as knowledge? I will investigate further using the example of medical knowledge. Knowledge is not absolute. As knowledge and knowing is a human faculty, by the very nature of human beings and a society that has a choice in what and who to believe, it cannot be an objective set of truths.
The moment a fact or theory is communicated it is in some way at the mercy of the medium which / who is communicating it and the recipient. We must also discuss not just what we know but how we know. Using the example of religious knowledge I will explore the ways that constitute knowledge gathering and acceptance of knowledge. I will be discussing what can cause changes to and further enhance knowledge held. Medical knowledge is an area which appears to be constantly developing, new ideas are regularly offered to the public consciousness to be either accepted or disregarded and whichever judgement is chosen makes a statement about where society places its trust, how ready we are to accept change, how radical we will allow any changes to be and whose theories and evidence mass society is willing to accept.
An example of this is Alternative Medicine, although it is more accepted now than in previous years (e. g. aromatherapy massage is now actively promoted by mainstream health professionals as a complimentary therapy during pregnancy and treatment of bad backs) it is still generally seen as a compliment to Orthodox Medicine and not valid as treatments in their own rights. The ways in which medical knowledge has developed and how these processes of development have knock-on effects throughout society e. g. the setting up of the Royal Society in 1662, emphasised the expert knowledge bias over common sense knowledge.
Expert knowledge was historically endorsed and distributed by middle and upper class male establishments (e. g. the Royal Society was founded by Charles II and allowed gentlemen members only and women were only allowed to qualify in Medicine in 1876 however they were only actually granted access to quality medical training after the Second World War). This helped perpetuate an air of superiority, increased intelligence and authority to this group in society, their medical knowledge trusted and officially endorsed over traditionally female common sense knowledge. Structures of medical knowledge enhancement e. g.
the methods of investigation into Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in 1970 s by Dr Steinschneider as well as offering a medical theory, also makes certain assumptions about the non-medical world e. g. the family set-up, motherly love, which may cloud objectivity and lead to the wrong conclusions being drawn e. g. the case of Waneta Hoyt which was at the core of Dr Steinschneider's research. Waneta and Tim Hoyt lost five children one after the other, SIDS was looked to as the cause and Dr Steinschneider developed a new theory regarding the cause of SIDS, namely that prolonged apnoea was to blame.
In 1976 however forensic pathologist Dr Linda Norton began researching the case without ruling out parental involvement. Dr Norton found evidence that multiple infanticide was actually at the heart of the case and as a result 23 years later Waneta Hoyt was jailed for murdering her five children. Medical authority extends an assumed authority throughout other spheres of society although it has no jurisdiction over these other areas or any official right to comment on or assume given facts about non-medical situations e. g. family ties and a mothers natural instinct to protect her offspring (an assumed fact which obscured the truth in Dr Steinschneider's study of the Hoyt case. ) Yet the medical profession does make assumptions and comment on situations outside of its remit and because it is an authority it is believed in many cases and by many people.
The knowledge endorsed by medical authorities e. g. The Royal Society are looked upon as more valid than for example knowledge passed down through generations of women, not because the common sense knowledge has necessarily been disproved (or even tested) but because authorities have been socially sanctioned and have traditionally been viewed as objective and trustworthy. Charles II established the Royal Society in 1662. At this time Monarchs were afforded a vast amount of power and trust, seen as next to God and therefore the Royal Society inherits some of this power and public trust.
Thomas Kuhn has a Social Constructionist approach and bases his argument on the idea of paradigms. That rather than making and proving hypotheses, researchers spend the majority of their time trying to solve problems set by previous researchers. Kuhn says scientists are constantly developing paradigms and that previous theories or paradigms are often replaced by new ones. By this rationale each new discovery is in some way simply the next step on from the previous step so there are no great revelations for the public to digest, no scientific theory will be a huge leap from knowledge they already accept. Even the great discovery of DNA has been a gradual (if accelerated) journey from the actual discovery that DNA existed to each subsequent related discovery of what DNA meant in terms of inherited diseases, treatments, human cloning etc Although these are monumental things they have come as a stream of knowledge. Perhaps new theories that would come out of the blue and challenge a huge chunk of society's accepted knowledge would be too much for society to swallow in one go.
Maybe that is why, although the general public does not have the expert knowledge and specialist investigative skills to accurately assess the accuracy and validity of any scientific theory orthodox or alternative and relies on various media (newspapers, education, official papers etc. ) to choose whether to accept or reject a theory, we are on mass, much more ready to accept a theory that follows on from what we already take as read. Alternative medicines such as Homeopathy (despite being seemingly proved and disproved in contradictory investigations) have never wholly been a...
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Research essay sample on Royal Society Scientific Theory