Is 'Forbidden Knowledge' Possible in Modern Science?

Deborah Johnson, Georgia Institute of Technology

In this paper I use the concept of forbidden knowledge to explore questions about putting limits on science. Science has generally been understood to seek and produce objective truth, and this understanding of science has grounded its claim to freedom of inquiry. What happens to decision making about science when this claim to objective, disinterested truth is rejected? There are two changes that must be made to update the idea of forbidden knowledge for modern science. The first is to shift from presuming that decisions to constrain or even forbid knowledge can be made from a position of omniscience (perfect knowledge) to recognizing that such decisions made by human beings are made from a position of limited or partial knowledge. The second is to reject the idea that knowledge is objective and disinterested and accept that knowledge (even scientific knowledge) is interested. In particular, choices about what knowledge gets created are normative, value choices. When these two changes are made to the idea of forbidden knowledge, questions about limiting or forbidding lines of inquiry are shown to distract attention from the more important matters of who makes and how decisions are made about what knowledge is produced. Much more attention should be focused on choosing directions in science, and as this is done, the matter of whether constraints should be placed on science will fall into place.

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