It has been claimed that true science must be impartial, in this context meaning “based on objective criteria”. The ‘impartial’ characteristic is especially actively promoted by academic staff in social sciences. This is easy to understand, as it is in social sciences (like sociology, psychology, political science, etc.) where it is most difficult to remain impartial, that is unbiased and unprejudiced. Unlike natural sciences (physics, chemistry, biology, etc.) that study the outside world, the focus of social sciences is a human being and human relations. The question is, however, do social sciences really need to be impartial?
Let me give an example here which is a burning question at the same time. Many speak today that the world is undergoing a serious and fundamental crisis. In economics, for example. this crisis is manifested as the crisis of global capitalism. In politics this is fading away of nation-states. And so on and so forth. Hundreds of brilliant academic minds are offering their ‘recipes’ of how to handle the present challenges. Are their recommendations impartial in this case? In other words, is it really possible, to adopt a neutral stance in the time of a global transformation, and propose “an objective development of a theory” (as the academia likes to put it) without any form of advocacy for a particular vision of a perfect society?
I doubt so.
And even if it is possible for a social science researcher to remain impartial, what is the real use of it? Is an objective theory really more important than a just and fair society, for example? I really want to believe this is not the case.
That is why when I hear a recommendation like “to approach the research as a test of theory” and “eliminate the social and political objectives”, I am far too skeptical. Science as a system of acquiring knowledge must indeed strive to be impartial to avoid the risk of abuse and manipulation. However, knowledge also commits to action, and only action – not just ideas – brings true knowledge and is the key to the future. As Karl Marx nicely put it: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.”