Hijacked Science

Commenting on the abuse of science, the late John Silber, a former president of Boston University, stated (1988):

Scientific programs that are powerfully effective in understanding and controlling largely isolated data in such fields as physics, have been applied crudely, reductively, and disastrously in the humanities and social sciences. Discipline after discipline has succumbed to the dogma that only the quantifiable is true.

Such oversight regarding first things serves to reduce knowledge about human life and serves a side of human nature that Alan Watts liked to call “rascality”:

I had a long talk with him back in 1958 … and there was a sort of twinkle in Jung’s eye that gave me the impression that he knew himself to be just as much a villain as everybody else … It showed that he knew and recognized what I sometimes call, “The Irreducible Element of Rascality” in himself.  [Alan Watts in 1961]

There are numbers for weight, height, pulse, cholesterol, etc., etc., etc. . . . even for “intelligence,” but what are the numbers for love, fear, hate, compassion, sympathy, and the countless other unquantifiable items central to human life? Who else but a relative handful of academics and alert professionals take notice that the most important things in life are bypassed in biology, psychology, education, social and political science, and a host of other disciplines that indiscriminately help themselves to physics and mathematics and the methods of science proper? It should be, but is not generally obvious, that when the basics of human life are omitted by the professions that affect it, there is hardly any distinction between being a human and being a humanoid. Considering such constructed creatures “superhuman,” as futurists and transhumanists are fond of doing, skirts the issue and scores one for “rascality.”

Such basic carelessness concerning human life has no business in any discipline or profession directly affecting human conduct. How can there be wise and just government, wise and just social policies, when all the most important things about life are ignored or relegated to “science” – in quotes because they don’t belong there?

“When I decided on a scientific career,” wrote Austin L. Hughes in an essay on scientism, “one of the things that appealed to me about science was the modesty of its practitioners. The typical scientist seemed to be a person who knew one small corner of the natural world and knew it very well, better than most other human beings living and better even than most who had ever lived. But outside of their circumscribed areas of expertise, scientists would hesitate to express an authoritative opinion. This attitude was attractive precisely because it stood in sharp contrast to the arrogance of the philosophers of the positivist tradition, who claimed for science and its practitioners a broad authority with which many practicing scientists themselves were

To be less diplomatic about it, professionals who rely on the domain of the so-called social and political “sciences” for their base of action are de facto pseudoscientific speculators, often at public expense. But the speculations of vulgarized science distill to bull, regardless of how “scientific” the language, tight the system, convincing the supporting data, or smart the arguments.

Pseudoscientists pretend to explain human activity as though it were a lab exercise, presumably to arrive at guidelines for what is judged best (by them) for the conduct of society. Their output has been called “evidence-based policy-making.” Evidence? Check a slogan that has been used to “justify” this approach:

“Science is the pursuit of knowledge, knowledge is power, and power is politics.” 

Notice the circle of reductions, linking output with input, a trick of leftist “liberalism” to hoodwink everyone (including the “liberals” themselves). And notice the implication that science is the only way of knowing what is best for people. So much for the value of such “evidence.”

Where, today, is any strong competition from less “verifiable” but substantially valuable modes of insight, such as provided by literature and the fine arts, philosophy and theology? Being “scientific” is not the only criterion for what is verifiable. True scientists do not look down on methods of knowing outside of their domain, aware of the very real limitations of their work. In fact, some have tapped into that vast reservoir of “unquantifiables” so despised by positivists, such as the divine inspirations that formed the complex mathematical theorems in the mind of Ramanujan.

Unfortunately the bull from pseudoscientists compounds the inherent errors of the trade and magnifies the problems targeted for solution. Yet these dealers in false science expect you, me, and everybody else to live by their absurd programs, via NGOs and government agencies, using tactics of coercion that rival any in the history of oppressive rule. Some of us notice that the rule by iron hand in some autocracies has been replaced in our democratic republic by the rule of a majority brainwashed by controlled media. We also notice that the ethics employed in such counterfeit democracy have more of might than morality behind them, adjusted ad lib to the political climate.

Though no one will admit it, scientists in general have become the collective witch doctor of contemporary society. They have spooked the public with a dazzling array of experiments and body of knowledge that would indicate a seemingly infinite power to influence the world, staging ever more daring feats of scientific wizardry. This has made too many overlook the fact that the world is also profoundly influenced by nonscientists like Confucius, Plato, Christ, the originators of our musical scale . . . Gandhi . . . (name your own agents of progress who were not practicing scientists).

Full knowledge of the world, macro and micro – outer and inner – perpetually recedes from our reach, fading from sight like a faint star that vanishes from view when gazed at, in order to see it more distinctly. It is not easy for a proud species like ours to see, even less accept the fact, that the world (including us) is at root unknowable in the rational sense. This should be the starting point in any serious endeavor toward progress that affects human beings. In that endeavor, let science be science, for its vitally important work must not be tampered with. Those who choose science for their vocation, if they are to remain true to their calling, must seek ways to isolate themselves from the corrupting reach of politics. “Going along to get along” is not an option.

Graphic credit: Wikimedia Commons

Anthony J. DeBlasi [AB, PΦK, Brooklyn College, 1953] is a Korean War veteran whose 80+ years of observation of the people and world around him have taught him lessons unavailable in academia, the mainstream media, and the world-wide-web.

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