Richard Mitchell on agents and acts

Carrol Cox cbcox at
Sat Sep 24 18:57:22 EST 2005

Tom Wright: I would argue that it can become deceptive even in technical
journals.  It creates the illusion of objectivity.  In Burkean terms, it
implies that scientific experiments involve motion, not action.  Motion,
of course, is free from bias; action is not.  By not mentioning the
agent, these texts avoid reminding the reader that the experiments are
performed by people who are fallible and whose motives might be suspect.

That illusion of objectivity is the risk, and I agree there is no such
thing. But in the case of technical journals rather than changing the
style of the articles themselves -- and there are reasons for the
conventions they adopt -- could that better be handled through editorial
statements at the beginning of each issue and through footnotes or
endnotes to the articles themselves.

"Drs. X & Y carried out the experiments at X-State University" & so
forth would still potentially hide the fact that it was Pfeizer (sp?)
drug company that financed X&Y's work. One could even, potentially,
launch a protracted campaign to force fuller revelation in journals of
"the interests" involved in research reported on, while changing the
rigid style conventions of technical journals would be almost impossible
-- the old metaphor of herding cats comes to mind.


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