The internal ideological threat to science

Perhaps certain segments of science feel threatened by the growing anti-science rhetoric one seems to encounter each day in the media and elsewhere.  Perhaps it is just another example of the sense of absolute surety that people nowadays have about their own ideas and convictions.  Regardless, there is a growing trend in science of absolutism – that certain ideas are sacred and infallible.  Unfortunately, this not only goes against the core principles of science (it is inherently “updatable”) but has the potential to hinder progress.

The latest example I have stumbled on is an ongoing discussion on LinkedIn about the nature of mass.  One individual declares that mass is just energy.  It’s a perfectly valid argument, but one I happen to disagree with for a number of reasons.  In declaring my disagreement, however, I incurred a great deal of wrathful assertions that I was simply wrong and that there was no real debate about this point anymore (which is not true since plenty of peer-reviewed journals still publish articles on this topic).  It was accompanied by the usual vitriol that is seen in online discussions (why do I let myself get sucked into these things?).

So what is there that can be done about it?  I have no idea.  I try very hard to educate my students not to do things like this.  It’s a start, I guess.  I’m also thinking of suggesting an article that confronts this topic to some of my acquaintances at various journals and magazines.  Otherwise I’m at a loss.  For all our pomposity about our superior methods of thinking, scientists are just as ideological and stupid as everyone else.

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3 Responses to “The internal ideological threat to science”

  1. of course, “science” doesn’t feel threatened, scientists do, and everyone tends to agree on the methodological precepts whether they practice them or not. What do you mean by “our” pomposity about “our” superior methods?

  2. quantummoxie Says:

    Well, you are correct about that. It’s the scientists who feel threatened. Anyway, “our” wasn’t necessarily meant to include everyone, but scientists do have a reputation for arrogance, particularly about their (our) methods among non-scientists. Some of it is not entirely warranted, but some is.

  3. Greg Dunn Says:

    Hello, Ian Durham I’m a young graduate student in physics. A few months ago the stresses of school almost lead me to drop out and then I came across your blog and I realized maybe anyone can become a physics professor. You’ve truly inspired me to stay in school and pursue my dreams despite not being very intelligent. I already have a thesis topic! I’m going to write my ph.d thesis on the life of Maxwell with special emphasis on his equations. If you have any tips or suggestions I’d love to hear them.

    -Greg Dunn

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