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In an academic context, the different branches of science are divided into two main groups: arts and sciences. Futures study belong to the former one. Futures Platform's anticipatory work represents systematic foresight, which is part of the same tradition as futures studies but strives more toward maximising the objectivity and minimising the value rationality of its observations and interpretations.

 

1.1 Arts and Sciences
1.2 Science and Pseudoscience
1.3 Futures Studies and Foresight Belong to the Arts
1.4 Systematic Foresight Strives Toward Objectivity

1.1 Arts and Sciences

The scientific fields can be divided into two main academic groups: arts and sciences[1]. The sciences comprise positivists natural sciences, such as physics and chemistry, in which the criteria for scientific knowledge are rigorous. For example, according to the principle of falsification, no amount of observations can verify the final accuracy of a theory, but even one conflicting observation can falsify the entire theory. All scientific knowledge must endure repeated iterations, and new information has to cumulate seamlessly on top of the previously acquired knowledge. Research must be objective, continuously peer-reviewed, self-correcting, value-rational, and so forth. Two researchers should arrive at the same conclusion if the material, equipment, and methods are identical.

The other major scientific group, the arts, which seeks to understand the conditions of the human environment, is further divided into academic fields which carry out research, and fields which practice and teach practical skills without any particular research purposes, such as crafts or performing arts. The academic arts include, for example, social science, business science, educational sciences, science of religion, and history research. In principle, the academic arts share the same goals of scientific inquiry as positivism, but the criteria for scientific knowledge are considerably more flexible. The main reason for this is that each branch of the academic arts has its specific field of study within the area of human affairs. To understand before-mentioned subjects, it is necessary to use unique methods, which often means that the general criteria of science need to make some concessions. Additionally, the arts are commonly strongly rooted in the area of practical knowledge interest, even though there are ambitions to build more general level theories. In other words, the scientific criteria and the scientific aspirations are to be held, as far as possible, the same as in positivism, but in some cases, flexibility is necessary due to reasons caused by the area of study.

1.2 Science and Pseudoscience

So-called pseudoscience has nothing to do with any branch of real sciences or academic work. Pseudoscience refers to an area of “research” which attempts to validate some belief, which lies outside the boundaries of current science, with means masked as scientific. One example of pseudoscience is ghost hunting. The premise of ghost hunting is that we are surrounded by ghosts which can be identified by using various technical means which appear very precise and accurate, such as barometers, electromagnetic field meters, and thermal cameras. Other pseudoscientific fields are, e.g., ufology, cryptozoology, eugenics, horoscopes, palmistry, and phrenology. The “theories” supporting these fields are based on unproven and untested beliefs which are not part of the scientific worldview.

Quasi-research, on the other hand, refers to research which is conducted with methods which themselves are scientifically credible, but in which the results are determined beforehand. In such research, the orderer or the financier unofficially informs the scientists how it would like the results to appear, and the researchers try to present the findings in accordance with those wishes. This kind of research is likely performed in all fields, in which some external actor may have a keen interest to utilise the prestige of science for its purposes.

Quasi-research may also be characterised as research in which the worldview of the research team, or its ethics, consciously or unconsciously define the results of the study. In such value-based quasi-research, the means to distort the results may, for example, include placing unjustifiable emphasis on some issue or deliberately disregarding some critical viewpoints. Such quasi-research operating on the grey zone of research ethics takes place, to some extent, in all branches of science, and it is usually very difficult to eliminate completely.

Sometimes, futures studies are placed in the same category with the pseudosciences and quasi-research, since the subject it examines does not yet exist. The critics claim that the future is, in a sense, floating in the air and is thus a matter of faith, as is the case with the pseudosciences in general. Somewhat comparable to crystal gazing. At least no measurable results or even specific numerical threshold values can be gained from it. Additionally, when the concept of making the future a better place is proposed, the question arises, who defines what exactly better means? These critical observations are justified. However, with such arguments rooted in positivism, all qualitative research and arts can be called into doubt. In fact, with the same arguments, all other branches of sciences operating, even partially, within the area of practical interests of knowledge can be challenged. This also applies to those fields which are perceived to be within the domain of natural science, such as technology, biology, or medicine.

1.3 Futures Studies and Foresight Belong to the Arts

All fields belonging to the arts are academical branches of research and education which seek to adhere to the general criteria of science. They all perform systematic analysis, debate, have their publishing channels, have a community which shares and evaluates professional knowledge, and each of them aspires to make the starting points and methods of their research open to critical examination. Likewise, they follow the principles of cumulative knowledge, self-correction, and public peer-review. Even though their field can be abstract, their conventions, principles, and their relationship with research, truth, and knowledge are uniform. These elements separate the academic arts from pseudosciences.

The knowledge interests of both the futures studies and foresight are strongly practical, and they follow, within their respective fields, similar scientific conventions as other arts mentioned above. For this reason, they can be located within the domain of  the academic arts.

In their research, all academic arts must, to some extent, be flexible regarding the criteria of positivistic science because of the practical reasons dictated by their subjects. Otherwise, they would be natural sciences.

In futures studies, flexibility regarding the positivist criteria of science is mainly required by its value rationality, meaning that there is an inbuilt drive towards the improvement of something. The reason for this is the field’s unique subject of research, which by itself is a moving target. The starting point, therefore, is the aim to steer to future to the desired direction by utilising, as primary methods, visions, scenarios, and what-if interpretations.

1.4 Systematic Foresight Strives Toward Objectivity

Even though value rationality is present in futures studies, it is not present to the same extent as in fields in which the entire knowledge interest is purely emancipatory. In systematic foresight, which is located within the same branch of science as futures studies but represents a different approach, the role of value rationality is considerably smaller. This is due to differences in principles between futures studies and foresight. Whereas the former is strongly visionary and committed to imagining a good future, the latter seeks to evaluate options and probabilities more pragmatically, leaving the user the task of interpretation.

The anticipatory work done by Futures Studies represents systematic foresight which relies on the same tradition as futures studies. However, Futures Platform, in contrast to futures studies, seeks to maximise the objectivity and minimise the value rationality of the observations and interpretations it makes. The principles and methods with which the foresight work is done and the change phenomena are produced, is described in this document: How Phenomena Are Produced.

Notes

1. Between these two groups are located sciences which study formal languages, such as mathematics, logic, and, to some extent, also the core areas of both semiotics and statistics. In this division, the actual quantitative research and linguistics are located within the arts.
2. The German philosopher Jürgen Habermas refers to the conditions of knowledge acquisitions as knowledge interests. They are general cognitive strategies which direct the process of research. The three knowledge interests described by Habermas are technical / positivist, practical, and emancipatory. In the area of practical knowledge interest, the demands of positivism, such as falsification, are being treated flexibly, as long as the research can be shown to provide practical benefit, for example, through double-blind experiments, economic profitability, or increasing understanding regarding the matter. This particular knowledge interest is often also called hermeneutics, i.e., being a research strategy aimed at both studying the language which deals with the subject and as well as understanding the different interpretations of the reality.

 

Updated 31 October 2018

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