A dangerous discipline

I recently read a disturbing article (I’d link to it, but it was on paper – egads!) about a professor of “science studies” at Dartmouth College.  What I found most disturbing was the field of “science studies” which, in essence, holds that there is no such thing as scientific truth (at least the so-called “Strong Programme” branch of this field preaches this).  The discipline supposedly has its roots in Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions.  But I’ve read this book and I believe it is a gross misrepresentation of Kuhn to say his treatise recognizes the subjectivity of science.

But what really gets me is who these people are.  As a scientist, I’m used to (in today’s day and age) getting attacked by anti-science religious nuts, the majority of whom are ultra-conservative (or, perhaps more appropriately, neo-conservative).  But these science studies folks are by and large ultra-liberal leftists!  [Point of note: I’m a self-proclaimed pragmatic libertarian who thinks the usual liberal/conservative labels don’t apply to most people, particularly myself.]  So now, we’re getting it from both sides!  I just don’t understand how an entire field has managed to arise from the notion of the subjectivity of science.  Take plain old Newtonian gravity for instance.  How is that in any way subjective?  Have you ever seen anything on earth fall up when you drop it (helium balloons notwithstanding)?

I will echo the last sentence of my previous post on the economy: man, we’re screwed.

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5 Responses to “A dangerous discipline”

  1. I was also appalled when I first came into contact with this kind of thinking, but it is unfortunately quite strong in some circles (especially in continental philosophy, sociology and others…)

    I can recommend this wonderful article by the philosopher of science Mario Bunge:

    In Praise of Intolerance to Charlatanism in Academia

    http://www.hermanohme.com/bunge.htm

    Reprinted from The Flight from Science and Reason; Volume 775 of the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1996.

    The ten points in the conclusion are wonderful – the “Charter of Intellectual Academic Rights and Duties”

    Cheers,
    Günther

  2. quantummoxie Says:

    Wow. It is truly a shame that this is not more widely circulated, but perhaps it confirms some of his points.

    I do find it interesting, though, that he includes the Bayesians in the pseudoscientific category. A good chunk of quantum information theorists are Bayesians (e.g. Chris Fuchs, Carl Caves, et. al.). On the other hand, I trust their scientific rigor and thus wonder if Bayesians come in two distinct types.

    What kills me is that these nutjobs undermine – vilify in many instances – the same science that underlies the technology that they use to spread their vilification! My challenge to them, then, is to build a working cell phone, computer, automobile, or radio without using existing science, i.e. find some young soul who hasn’t been brainwashed by us technocrats yet, raise him or her on the bunk these idiots think up, and then challenge this person to then build one of these devices while remaining blissfully ignorant of all of our false pronouncements.

    I will say this once again: man, we’re screwed.

  3. Hi,

    I know Bunge has problems with Bayesianism which I do not share, because in AI it is also a very fruitful approach (Bayesian Networks) and the book by E.T. Jaynes (Probability, the Logic of Science) is also Bayesian but _very_ hard science oriented.

    I think it’s just that Bunge did not take into account the rapid development of the field in the last two decades (and the article is from 1996 anyway). But apart from that minor quibble, it’s good manifesto 🙂

  4. This “science studies” stuff was a lot more aggressive and annoying a whole decade ago. Sort of had the wind knocked out of it by Sokal’s parody of “postmodernism”, from which it springs.

    The book Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and its Quarrels with Science by Gross and Levitt is also an effective counterattack.

    I’m pretty far left myself, as are a lot of people in the hard sciences. The attacks mainly come from the humanities-type left.

  5. quantummoxie Says:

    Yes, I’ve noticed that. I think people in the sciences who are left-wing tend to be the “thinking man’s” (or woman’s) left I guess. Personally, I just abhor labels since it pigeon-holes people. I prefer to take issues and consider them rationally on an individual basis (and am thus wholly anti-partisan).

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