I agree with the previous review that this is probably the single best book on the "science wars" to date.
While I learned more about the different ways science is viewed in Western culture from reading both sides in Labinger and Collins' "The One Culture," this book is nearly as educational and quite a bit easier to read. Brown is extremely good at making complex things (like philosophy of science) much more understandable and at explaining things we too quickly assume we are thinking about the same way (like politics) in a way that helps understanding as well.
Brown is remarkably fair to all sides in the often contentious debates over science, sometimes reminding me of that other excellent Canadian philosopher, Ian Hacking. He satisfyingly plays both sociologists of science and "internalist" supporters of science against postmodern philosophers whom he (I think correctly) disqualifies as being largely irrelevant to serious debates because as often as not they are simply unfamiliar with the real content of the scientific theories they claim to be arbitrary cultural constructions.
The point stressed in this book is that the usual interpretation of the debate follows the sides defined in Gross and Levitt's "Higher Superstition:" the "academic left" opponents of science vs. the supporters of science, and that this is an understandable error in defining the real sides.
As a supporter of science who is on the left and is an academic, Brown points out the fallacy of defining the sides that way, and also points out the too often ignored intentions of the sociologists of science to be _doing_ legitimate science, not attacking it. He interprets the lesson of Alan Sokal's famous hoax as raising the flag of rational thought for both the political left and the political right, rather than pitting one against the other.
This book contains one of the very best general introductions to the philosophy of science, an excellent recap of the best arguments against extreme versions of social constructionism, and also a superb overview of the strengths and weaknesses of the textbook internalist view of science as the confirmation and refutation of hypotheses. He makes the specific unique contributions of each philosopher of science particularly clear.
This wonderful and solid introduction to the issues is followed by an equally good introduction to the program of scientists who study science itself, "externally," and how it differs from programs studying other objects. Perhaps Brown's most useful contribution of all is identifying the difference between the "external"and "internal" programs as different perspectives on human belief, what causes people to accept and reject beliefs, rather than different ways of looking at realism and objectivity. I was persuaded by his argument that the central difference is whether we see reasoning and evidence as strong causal forces in human belief, or whether we see other causal forces as primary. It isn't difficult to find plenty of cases where theorists have to decide between different interpretations based on their subjective plausibility, and plenty of ways that reasoning from evidence goes astray. The question becomes whether we can actually rely on reasoning without going astray, whether norms of objectivity themselves actually do lead to objective reasoning in some sense.
The book ends with an interesting discussion of the democratization of science that helpfully ties all of the themes together to the author's conclusion that epsitemology is inseparable from politics, that science does indeed work, that it relies on a diversity of theories competing with one another, and that we need better informed and intelligent voices promoting it.
I had one point of confusion about Brown's explanations, in an otherwise very clear book. His explanation of "naturalism" didn't quite make sense to me. Rather than just leaving it simply as a view of nature that precludes the supernatural, he adds some assumptions that seem to tie naturalism directly to positivism, seeing the norm of objectivity as not only essential to science but to naturalism in general, and the only and best way of gathering information about the world.
It seems to me that people can be naturalists in the philosophical sense and yet consider non-scientific ways of knowing to be valuable. Emotions, metaphor, and examples aren't specifically tools of science, but they are still part of the natural world and ways of gathering potentially useful information about it that can subsequently be introduced into science. Regarding an "aesthetic understanding" of the world as being outside of the natural world doesn't quite make sense to me. It isn't important to his argument however, and a minor quibble about an otherwise outstanding and well-written book.
Brown leaves no important consideration unconsidered in this original and valuable contribution to the literature on the study of science.