Don’t Trust the Science

The new religion is not sacrosanct

The pandemic has become, well…boring. What an odd state of affairs.  But the pandemic, false as it is, is made possible by an irrational attribution to ‘scientism’.  All the talking heads need do is preach “follow the science” and everything they say becomes ‘fact’ in the minds of the ever increasingly ‘ignorant’ masses.

Let’s discuss Science TM. It isn’t an “institution” per se, but it is clear that it has become invoked as a semi-divine figure: “Trust the SCIENCE!!!” So. what is this “SCIENCE”, truly, and how does it interact with us?

Science as Granter of Legitimacy

Perhaps the single most important aspect of the cult of scientism is that the stamp of Science confers legitimacy. It says “this belief has been verified by ‘experts’ by a method that is held by society to be as close to ‘objective’ as possible.” It goes beyond our subjective opinions and establishes objective fact…Or so it is claimed. 

The ability to claim that one’s beliefs go beyond one’s own subjective feelings and instead reflect objective reality is a powerful weapon. It requires no education or knowledge. And, so you see, a variety of political debates devolve into a pair of utter dorks trying to see who can post the most shiny graphs, supposedly supporting their preferred version of scientism.  Graphs produced by their new AI computer software they got last week.  Suddenly, their tool has become more intelligent than they.

Science therefore is presented as being either non-political or somehow “extra-political”: beyond external debates over what is “good”/”bad” or “right”/wrong. Of course, it cannot grant legitimacy if it is embedded in politics: that is the realm of subjective values of course! The fatal flaw is that Science IS political in every imaginable way.  Where do the scientismists get their funds?  From politicians, of course.

Science IS Political

“Why is the ‘S’ in ‘Science’ capitalized?” Well…

It is critical to understand the difference between various scientific methodologies and Science. The scientific method presents a way for us to engage systematically with the world around us, testing hypotheses and attempting to better understand the world we exist in. The method may be flawed or incomplete/insufficient to understand the world, but that isn’t the same as being political.

Except for the fact that the funds grantors are politicians who already have the answer or conclusion in their pocket.  They just need a little expert jingo to substantiate it. 

Science, on the other hand, is invoked. “What does the Science say” is not a meaningful commentary on the scientific method but rather an attempt to invoke a supposedly unassailable objective authority to justify one’s political agenda or beliefs. 

Science is an institution in the sense that we can understand the journals, universities, research institutions, etc. as having various interests beyond “discovering objective facts about the World.” No funds grantors have any real interest in ‘discovering objective facts about the World’. In that sense, its interests are political.

The scientific method may exist as a pure idea, but every single practitioner of the arcane arts of science has an agenda embedded in the Political. They are part of society, incapable of escaping it. They have their own needs to consider, publishing books and papers that may carve out a place for them in posterity.

Of course what this means is that every single scientist has a Map of the World, shaped not by purely “rational” attempts to empirically understand the world, but also by their own greed, ambitions, values, identity and agenda:

I already have my Truth before I encounter a new event. I may not be consciously aware of this, but there is information that can be assimilated and information that must be rejected. If I fail to properly curate my experience to fit my preexisting map, I will fall into existential crisis. I may lose my grant money.

And let us not pretend that aggregating a bunch of scientists into an institution like an journal or university will somehow make them “non-political.” Publication bias alone is sufficient to demonstrate that journals are just as political as any individual scientist. And this applies, of course, to both “mainstream” or “prestigious” journals as well as “heterodox” journals where supposedly “off-limits” ideas are discussed. Sometimes those ideas are off-limits because they are not compatible with the Maps of the dominant institutions; but sometimes those ideas are off-limits because they’re stupid pets of the reputed higher authority. You must be careful to distinguish between them. Institutions are seekers of endowments and prior “experts” are jealous of their credits, reputations and legacies.

Herdalization and the Dominant Maps

Herdalization acts in two ways when it comes to this topic:

  1. Individuals throughout society are taught to see Science as the objective fact-revealer, as described earlier.  The whole herd subscribes to the same scientism dogma fact sheet, which is sacrosanct.
  2. The problem of science being constrained by our Maps is amplified when large segments of the population (including scientists) have very similar Maps. This narrows and subjectifies the spectrum of possibilities.

The Problem of “Consensus”

One of the funniest and most piercing ‘takes’ on why consensus should not be considered sacrosanct, comes from, of all places, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”:

There is a litany of historical examples of when consensus not only ignored correct findings, but actively fought against them for a variety of reasons, some political, some greed, or both.

Nihil Est Verum  “Nothing is true”

Ignaz Semmelweis, who first suggested that doctors should wash their hands, was fired, harassed, forced to move, had his career destroyed, and died in a mental  institution

The problem with consensus reflects the problems with democracy, and in particular the same problems that underlie preferences in economics: we don’t make our decisions in a vacuum.

Our decisions are impacted by our observations of the decisions of others. Is it any surprise that reproducibility crises proliferate throughout the sciences? What happens when an entire field of “hard science” follows one expertonly to find out the expert was wrong? What, you thought reproducibility crises only hit the “soft sciences”/the fields pretending to be “scientific” (like economics)?

Why do People F*cking Love Science?

The appeal of Science sits, at its core, in its promise to be the chief means to make the world a better place. In other words, for the extremely naïve, Science provides a toolkit that allows for reducing suffering in the world and increasing the freedom of millions, perhaps billions, of people to authentically express themselves and enjoy autonomy. This was the Matrix of the past 200 years that has now imploded and is headed for the dumpster.

You may, or may not agree with this vision. I am not saying it is correct. But this is how I would characterize the “I F*cking Love Science” crowd. Yes, part of it is that it’s “cool”: shiny rockets and colorful animals catch our eye. But there is a deeper sentiment there. 

Science is invoked so fervently because it is a promise. Science presents a covenant to the people: “practice my methods and I will give you a better world.” If that sounds like a statement of religious faith to you, that’s because it is. Science did not eliminate dogma, it replaced an old dogma with its own new one.

This isn’t a call to abandon the scientific method; rather, it is a call to be skeptical of the “goods” of innovation, and to be humble when we claim “knowledge” about the world. To open our minds to the greater aspects of scientific exploration, to go beyond the realm of physical matter. To no longer invoke Science as an idol, but rather to understand it properly as a single important, albeit insufficient, set of methods to understand the world and provide information and means to establish a society that is good, however we define it.

The “I fucking love science” sentiment is not coming from the idealistic promise of a better world. If they actually “fucking loved science”, they would be scientists. The sentiment is a cheap attempt to mine personal legitimacy for their views. The same reason the “critical theory” departments want a building on campus right alongside Physics and Engineering.

The same phenomenon no doubt existed in the middle ages with ideological zealots in the court, only they would have “fucking loved the Catholic Church” at the time.

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