The Wrong View of Science

There are many forms of poor thinking, and most have been on vivid display in the past year or so. One that often gets overlooked is scientism, the “the uncritical application of scientific or quasi-scientific methods to inappropriate fields of study or investigation”. There’s a large number of people with a religious fervour for science, but aside from pithy memes the apologists can’t support their position.

I studied Scientific Practice and Communication at Monash University this semester, which did a good job at introducing second year students to the way science actually works (as opposed to the way it is promoted to work), outlining poor science and misuse of the scientific method, and problems with the modern research environment and peer-reviewed journals. Sometimes they seemed to contradict themselves, but it’s a tough line to walk. One professor described the importance of The Royal Society’s motto Nullius in Verba (Take Nobody’s Word For It), and then in the same lecture lamented that the problem with modern discourse is that now people thought it was okay to question experts. Of course, questioning is good, but it needs to be backed up with an alternative idea that is coherent, logical, and sound. Often science experts are challenged on non-scientific grounds and the competing ideas are unsound and incoherent, but it can be difficult for non-experts to distinguish which is better.

All that aside, science cannot save the world by itself, and should not be applied to questions outside of its paradigm. I wrote a longer piece arguing this point, with examples, for the university paper Lot’s Wife. Read it here.

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