Fairy Tale Science: The Correct Path to a Better Reality

The June 2021 issue of Discover magazine contains an article, "Show Me The Science" by Anna Funk, Ph.D., an associate editor of that publication.  It offers reasons that everyone should place their trust in science.  It also sidesteps most of the arguments marshaled by critics of what's being passed off as science these days.  The article states:

The formal process of science begins when a researcher thinks of a specific, testable question and seeks to answer it.

It’s hard to find fault with that statement’s parsimony. It’s necessary to observe, however, that it fails utterly to consider the boundaries within which scientific research occurs.  Understanding what happens before and after the formal process of science begins is at least as important as the process itself.  That has never been more true.  Dr. Funk’s insular assertion presumes scientific research occurs in an ideological vacuum.  It does not.

Science today begins much sooner than when someone generates a testable hypothesis.  It starts in elementary school, where students receive political indoctrination along with carefully winnowed pieces of subject matter that have been approved by the school’s administration.  Students learn early that some things are not suitable even for casual discussion, let alone serious deliberation or scientific research.  Over time they learn that even thinking about these things is bad, that using terms associated with them ought to be frowned upon in a proper society.  Like all social norms, these taboos are rarely written down anywhere, and if they are, they’re kept well away from parental or public scrutiny.  Students learn that things their parents, family, and friends believe and have taught them are fundamentally incorrect and undesirable.  They learn that ideas contrary to what they're exposed to in school should be rejected.  Government is uniformly presented as the truest source of knowledge and guidance in modern society.  Such myopia flows readily into their socialization beyond K-12, where the same straitjacketed mental perspectives are reinforced, and rewards and punishments are based on how well one regurgitates politically correct answers.  The very idea of questioning the reigning orthodoxy is thereby made progressively less likely.  These are defining characteristics of an indoctrination system, not an education system.  It coercively truncates what may and ought to be questioned.

Brighter students notice an appreciable, sometimes enormous, gap between what they’re supposed to learn and what their experience shows them is true.  Those giving voice to such observations quickly learn doing so is risky.  Our schools are no longer engaged in teaching students how to think.  They’re focused on teaching them what to think.  Acceptable thought, Orwell’s “goodthink,” is the goal of our public indoctrination system.  This is intellectually vacant but also seductive to many students as it avoids all the tedious trial-and-error necessary in learning to think for yourself.  This readily suits our schools as independent critical thought is the very last thing they want from students.  Students learn that it’s unnecessary to go through all the trouble of primary learning.  Smarter people have already done it for you.  The lesson regularly reinforced is that it’s generally best to believe and do what you’re told.  Every level of U.S. education is suffused with politically expedient inertia.  Graduates consequently emerge well-indoctrinated but functionally illiterate, innumerate, and resistant to understanding.  That is the pool from which new scientists come.

The point of actual science is to reveal reality’s truth.  That’s why anyone who’s rational values it.  Among the first things a proto-scientist is supposed to be taught is the necessity of satisfying a set of mandatory procedural requirements designed and demonstrated over time to disclose the truth.  Scientific requirements are determinative -- satisfy them, and your work can accurately be labeled scientific; fail to do so, and it cannot.  Meeting these requirements takes a great deal of focused thought, toil, and expense.  That’s why conducting actual science is hard.  Today these scientific tenets are also among the first things nascent experts are learning that they can overlook as long as they’re providing support for a politically preferred narrative.  Overlooking them is made more likely when having to satisfy scientific requirements creates an impediment to finding preferred outcomes.  Further, competition for research funding is intense; finding a funding agency’s desired results can be a competitive advantage.  Politicized researchers design studies to provide such pseudo-scientific support; whether it reflects reality or not is a secondary consideration.  Biased research results are, obviously, likely to deviate from what’s real.  That’s profoundly important to anyone interested in understanding reality.  It does not matter so much to someone interested in advancing a political end.

Science as an abstraction is still widely held in respect, for now. Parties responsible for tolerating procedural deficiencies in scientific pursuits therefore do not appreciate having attention drawn to it.  Any graduate student in a scientific field could probably recount a story about how bringing up unmet scientific requirements during a research discussion, thesis proposal, or dissertation defense precipitated strong political or ideological reactions.  Although common, it’s brutally sobering the first time one realizes that something other than a scientific concern can predominate an ostensibly scientific endeavor.

A scientific imprimatur is all that’s necessary today to sell snake oil to a largely ignorant but well-indoctrinated audience; that it’s false or hollow doesn’t matter unless someone challenges it.  Within the ranks of academia and government that’s more unlikely now than ever before.  Pseudo-science has thus become commonplace, and the groundwork for it has been decades in preparation.  As bad as all of the foregoing is, the “Pro-Regressive” mentality would make things infinitely worse.

Opportunistic ProRegs have confabulated quantum research and the construct of social reality as justification to deny the existence of an objective reality.  They sophomorically insist that everything is relative, and science needs to accommodate that perspective.  This would be a titanic step off of Western civilization’s cultural and philosophic rails.  If there is no common, fixed Reality then there is no necessity of learning about it, let alone going through a lot of arcane procedural gymnastics to do it.  In a purely subjective universe, no one could actually “know” anything was true; no assertion would be too ridiculous to propose.  If ProRegs successfully relegate Reality to concept status then science will popularly cease to matter.  Mark Twain or Voltaire would have difficulty parodying absurdity of that magnitude.

Clark Kerr, U.C.-Berkeley’s first chancellor, famously said,

The purpose of the university is to make students safe for ideas -- not ideas safe for students.

That’s a fine, even noble, sentiment, but representative of a completely displaced zeitgeist.  U.S. education has inverted Kerr’s assertions: only some ideas should ever be presented to students, and other ideas need to be suppressed or even attacked, violently if necessary; Further, an idea’s acceptability is not fixed but malleable as political needs require (“Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia”); The best course at any given time is to defer to those in power.

If that’s not regression to pre-Enlightenment then the word has no meaning.  Taken to its logical conclusion that will spell the end of “science” as so aptly stated in Dr. Funk’s idealized description.  Except within approved limits.  Inside an approved Reality.

Image: Pixabay

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