Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Popular Scientific Arrogance

From The Wall Street Journal “Best of the Web:”
Popular Science Is Neither. Discuss.

The website of Popular Science magazine, beset with “trolls and spambots,” is shutting off user comments, explains its online content director, Suzanne LaBarre. We can sympathize with that—but not with this:
A politically motivated, decades-long war on expertise has eroded the popular consensus on a wide variety of scientifically validated topics. Everything, from evolution to the origins of climate change, is mistakenly up for grabs again. Scientific certainty is just another thing for two people to “debate” on television. And because comments sections tend to be a grotesque reflection of the media culture surrounding them, the cynical work of undermining bedrock scientific doctrine is now being done beneath our own stories, within a website devoted to championing science.
All scientific knowledge is empirically based and tentative; “scientific doctrine” is an oxymoron, and “scientific certainty” a relative term. LaBarre’s comments exemplify the danger of religion’s decline. Science is corrupted when people look to it to provide them with a belief system.
This is typical of the arrogance of those who pretend to speak in the name of “science.” They show the dogmatism equal to religious dogmatism at its worst.

If “science” insists that something is true, don’t you dare doubt it.

For these folks, science is not something produced by ordinary mortals. Science never heads off down the garden path, the result of political ideology, group think, careerism, or personal or group self-interest on the part of the scientists.

But in the real world, scientists, a century ago, embraced the poisonous doctrine of eugenics. A little more recently, they accepted the Piltdown Man hoax. And their current claims about global warming are sounding a bit suspect given the reality that there has been essentially no warming for the last 15 years.

We have no problem with the theory of evolution, but we are rather put off by the fact that that members of the cult of science are radically offended that anybody might disbelieve it. They just can’t accept that, no matter how emphatic science is about an issue, people will choose heretical ideas.

Members of the cult of science need to grow up. Nobody has a right to have people agree with them.

We are rather skeptical of anthropogenic global warming, and we are especially put off by the fascist demands for orthodoxy on the part of its proponents.

It’s relevant here that scientists are (relative to other professions) a rather secular lot, with a very large proportion of atheists among their ranks. But of course, when one decides one does not believe in God, the desire for certainty and moral purity does not go away. Rather, it gets transferred to another belief system. Science becomes that belief system. That’s how science becomes scientism.

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