Multicultural perspectives on science
Pages 15

If there are different ways of accounting for a phenomenon of nature then it is

possible that some people will reject some of these accounts – including the

account offered by Western science – and accept others. A. Gibson (1996,

personal communication) tells of a time when she was working at a rainforest

scientific station on a South Pacific island and a conversation she had with an

indigenous islander. The islander commented that Westerners only think they

know why the ocean rises and falls on a regular basis. They think it has to do with

the moon. They are wrong. The ocean rises and falls as the great sea turtles leave

and return to their homes in the sand. The ocean falls as the water rushes into the

empty nest. The ocean rises as the water is forced out by the returning turtles. Is

this islander scientific because he has accurate knowledge of the ocean tides that

affect his island? Is he unscientific because his explanation for tidal action is scien-

tifically inappropriate? Is science universal because the standard scientific account

for tidal action applies to all local occurrences of tidal phenomena? Or, does one

grant the obvious brute factuality of actual phenomenon but reject universalist

claims for standard scientific accounts of actual phenomenon? Matthews states

well the universalist perspective of the Standard Account:

Just as volcanic eruptions are indifferent to the race or sex of those in the

vicinity, and lava kills whites, blacks, men, women, believers, non-believers,

equally, so also the science of lava flows will be the same for all. For the univer-

salist, our science of volcanoes is assuredly a human construction with negoti-

ated rules of evidence and justification, but it is the behavior of volcanoes that

finally judges the adequacy of our vulcanology, not the reverse.