Internet / Politics / Religion / Science

Science Worship: It’s a Thing

Carl Sagan: Patron saint of space  Richard Feynman: Patron saint of that charming smile, just look at it!  Bill Nye: Patron saint of bowties  Neil Degrasse Tyson: Patron saint of badasses over here

You know what’s really en vogue right now? Not summer neons, not that ombre shit (thank God that trend is almost over). No, it’s SCIENCE. Just like that: SCIENCE. All caps, period at the end, declarative as fuck, SCIENCE. Science has been in fashion for some years now, made especially trendy by science popularizers like Neil Degrasse Tyson, Bill Nye, the late Richard Feynman, the smattering of Carl Sagan quotes all over the Internet, and the martyrdom of the late Christopher Hitchens. Also helping it along are online communities, like the Facebook page, I fucking love science, as well as Reddit’s lively (as well as loathsome) Atheist community. Science has had a big revival in popularity insomuch that it is “cool” to like science these days, whereas back in our parents’ generation it was nerdy and lame.

Disclaimer: Part of me can’t believe I need to put this here, but before I go on, I have to say that it’s good that people are into science. We need more people getting into it. The US routinely trails behind global leaders in scientific advancements and innovations, despite having some of the best facilities for teaching science at the university level. The same trend is visible in K-8 testing among US schools. If anything, we ought to be taking our enthusiasm for science, implementing it in education, and making sure it sticks. I am NOT advocating for the eradication of the sciences. That’s not what I’m about. However, I do come from a humanities field, which encourages discourse and discussion. And right now, the popularity of science is a backhanded compliment.

Science presents itself as a sort of alternative to all types of ideology, but specifically religion. Science presents itself as free of prejudices and biases of the past—it’s looked upon as a subject for which there is no room for politics. It’s also often seen as a path to all the right answers.

FB status: Life's too short to be wrong. That's why I like science. You can live your whole live subscribing to it, and as long as you roll with the revelations (looking at you Higgs Boson) you aren't.

SCIENCE. It’s my favorite way of being RIGHT!

An interest in science does not a critical thinker make. I need to first point out that you can subscribe to a lot of things, and so long as you roll with the revelations you won’t be “wrong.” Or you’ll be wrong until you roll with a revelation that proves you were wrong, and you change your position to be right (looking at you, Higgs Boson). That’s all a revelation is: making something previously unknown, known. Fitting a new truth into your previously limited viewpoint. From a societal standpoint, science is the reigning and empirical ideology, but as Stephen Bond notes, in the case of racial science and human experimentation, “science was defeated by political ideology, and not by science itself.”

“There was nothing that could have defeated it within the empirical framework of racial scientists. Their racist experiments confirmed their racist hypotheses based on their racist observations. But while the science supported them, politics, in the aftermath of World War 2 and the Holocaust, did not. After 1945, racial science became politically unacceptable in western liberal democracies, and remains so in spite of the various attempts to revive it. It was not disproved by the scientific method; instead, the political ideologies behind racial science were discarded, and replaced by new ones that did not accommodate it.” — Bond, Stephen Bond

A more present-day example: These days most people object to the classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder, citing it as outdated and prejudiced. Part of “rolling with the revelations” is understanding that the climate of science changes with our politics, and that you can be wrong as many times (if not more) than you can be right. But this is not the way science is treated today. The phrase “It’s science!” shuts down a discussion entirely because everyone silently agrees that science speaks for itself, and if someone dares to say otherwise, they are but an ideological dummy not worthy of commenting on this high level of discourse. Because where science is a pinnacle of cold hard data, ideology is a slippery, figurative, outmoded, and highly delusional way of looking at our world.

Well the joke’s on all of us because science is an ideology, and it’s one of the most powerful drives behind our moral and political decisions. It is just another lens by which we see the world, and each other. It is a lens just as economics is a lens, history is a lens, religion, politics, or as Derrick Jensen says, “Choose your poison.” Science answers specific questions, such as “What is the color of the universe?” but leaves others unanswered such as “What does it mean to be good?” or even “What is good?” Sam Harris makes an argument for science’s role in morality in his book, The Moral Landscape, but this argument is often heavily criticized. His views are also Islamophobic, bigoted, and altogether NOT a shining example of morality. As proponent of the idea that science is the answer to all things in the world, EVER, Harris is the perfect example of an ideological false prophet, whose fervent advocacy for science has led to various colleagues criticizing his blind faith.

Science doesn’t present itself as ideology. It presents itself as fact….which is exactly what every ideology does! From our point of view, it looks like it’s always butting heads with stupid fanatical people. “Sheesh, guys, get your heads out of the sand, SCIENCE is coming through!” But because of its prestige, science has a reputation of greatness to uphold, and the more you buy into it as a source of ultimate rightness and truth, the blinder you are to its influence.

“The mythology holds that science describes physical reality, that science is truth. And if science is truth, then all other forms of truth—all philosophical truth, all ethical truth, all emotional, spiritual, relational, experiential truths—are devalued. They’re regarded as something else besides truth.” — Stanley Aronowitz

If you cannot see the ideological aspect of science in Millenial culture, all one has to do is take a look at the various heroes sainted through image macros, memes, and name dropping of users on the Internet. Sagan is the easiest to dissect. People have made whole videos with sound bytes of Sagan’s wisdom, accompanied by ambient music and overlaying images of stars. Sagan is also quoted with magical and inspiring proverbs like: “If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” A scientific man, but also a romantic man, he doesn’t have to be in the least bit sciencey to be revered, and to be made spiritual. Sagan and Feynman’s resurgence on the Internet, specifically, is contributed through spectacle, and internet popularity.

Andromeda galaxy

“Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge.” — Sagan
See? See???? Even HE knew!

Ideology doesn’t just extend to those who are into science but don’t know anything about it. Science operates through a long established hierarchy, which means that at the very tip-top are people who are the most privileged. In order for studies to be considered valid, they must gain accreditation from the right institutions. On the one hand, peer-reviewed studies are important for discrediting articles about a stay-at-home mom’s one weird tip that can make you good-looking AND immortal (doctors hate her for it!). On the other hand, peer reviewed science, despite its “open university” model, remains an ivory tower of mostly rich, white men. Even access to scientific papers require subscriptions, making them largely inaccessible to people who cannot afford them.

This allows for white rich men in ivory towers to dictate what is “objective truth” to people who are not white, nor rich, nor men. It is reinforcing an authority figure who the underprivileged are told to trust without question. And trust they do. Patients regularly give autonomy to doctors when doctors push for “aggressive” cancer treatments at the expense of the patient. Investigative journalist Barbara Ehrenreich points out in her essay,  “Welcome to Cancerland” that pharmaceutical companies and carcinogen-producing companies have a close working relationship with mainstream breast cancer organizations. Foundations like Susan G. Komen agree to only fund research that tests for genetic causes for breast cancer and absolutely no funding goes into research for environmental causes (unless you count their stance on hair dye, alcohol, and microwave ovens). Meanwhile, money is funneled into companies that contribute to the rise in cancer rates, and pharm companies benefit by participating in a “$12–16 billion-a-year business in surgery, ‘breast health centers,’ chemotherapy ‘infusion suites,’ radiation treatment centers, mammograms, and drugs ranging from anti-emetics to tamoxifen.”

When working-class Latino residents of the Central Valley of California complained that the pesticides and toxic runoff from agriculture had led to a rise in birth defects, scientists invalidated personal accounts and lived experience from people who spoke up. Why? Because there had been no legitimate study, and no true quantitative data. As far as science is concerned their claims are not true. How would we make it true? Who would fund that study? Surely, not agricultural groups who wouldn’t benefit from it. Certainly not the residents who could not afford to fund it, even though they would have the most to gain by doing so. In this way we use science in a way that fails its Humanist duty.

Science has long been wrapped up in capitalism, which means so long as we ascribe a huge importance to it, as long as we accept it as an ultimate source of truth, people with money will have the means to advance the truths that most benefit them. It allows for us to highlight certain truths—validate them and treat them as universal—while invalidating and ignoring other truths, the truths of the disadvantaged. Science comes from rich stock and works hard to stay rich. And truth is never objective because it is always filtered through the lens of an ideology.

28 thoughts on “Science Worship: It’s a Thing

  1. This has been something that’s been on my mind and noticed on the internet in recent years as well. I do admit that I fall victim to the allure of ‘Science’ and its romantic ideologies from time to time, but it’s a little disconcerting to see see how words of Sagan, Feynman, etc are quoted like sage advice. Also, the fact that representation of science in popular media is synonymous with mostly white men just reaffirms how ‘truth’ is validated. In an article by Margaret Wertheim where she discusses the limits of physics, there’s a passage that resonates with some of my feelings when science is discussed as an absolute truth:

    “…For him, maths was a delightful form of play, a ludic formalism to be admired and enjoyed; but any claims physicists might make about truth in their work were, in his view, ‘nonsense’. This mathematically based science, he said, was just ‘another kind of storytelling’.”

    Similarly, I’m an ardent supporter of scientific discovery and advancement, but knowing that personal politics and ideologies play heavily in our understanding and access is disheartening. (i.e. making cost-effective drugs for curable diseases in developing nations because it’s not profitable to the pharmaceutical company, Tesla’s idea of free network/internet that was never realized)

  2. As someone in the sciences, this is a shameful article.

    Let’s contrast science with other, shall we say, methods of discerning ‘truth’ (the others of which don’t work).

    Science relies on empiricism, evidence, and hypothesis-testing within a certain set of assumptions – realism, the assumption that everything in the universe lives in the same reality and is independent of what we think it to be; empiricism, the tenet that knowledge is created by a process involving observation; inductivism, ‘a position that tries to explain the way general theories can be justified by the finite number of observations humans can make and the hence finite amount of empirical evidence available to confirm scientific theories’ (copy-pasted from Wikipedia.), often further refined into Bayesianism and the hypothetico-deductive method; and an emphasis on reproducibility (which ties into realism) and parsimony (because the universe, as we know, likes to take the easy way out of things).

    Religion, for one, does not do this. Religion among other things takes quite a bit of stock in ‘revelation’, which is a very fancy word for ‘I got this feeling in my gut, man, can’t verify it with any actual evidence, but I got this feeling maaaaaan it’s like intuition!’

    I take strong objection to the characterization of science as the province of rich white guys; many fields, such as biology, actually hand out about 50% of PhDs to women (one of which I am – I don’t have my PhD YET, but I will)! They are also rapidly reaching parity in faculty positions as well. I have had the opportunity to work with mentors of both sexes and have worked with people of different ethnicities and sexual orientations, including the blacks and Latino/as you call ‘downtrodden’ and ‘abused’ by what ends up not being science itself but the biotech industry!

    And if you have a problem with the funding, take it to the funders, because we’re definitely not funding our OWN labs – nobody goes into science to be a millionaire.

    I can’t say I think you’re going to change your mind, though, since you’re in the humanities and probably have a bit of an inferiority complex in between your bouts of reading Feyerabend.

    • What you need to know in my response is that I am not attacking individual scientists. I am attacking science as it exists as an institution, the same way economics and religion and politics exist as an institution. I am saying that science, in the context of our politics and our moral choices, is inseparable from the institution that surrounds it. I am also attacking the way it is upheld as universal truth and the way it is regarded as unquestionable authority. I am bringing the fact that powers that be will highjack the public’s trust in the veracity of science and control what the public believes or even can believe by ensuring only their science gets done.

      So you could be a lady. That’s awesome. I’m excited for you in getting your PhD and I believe that you will use science, in your best individual efforts, in a way you find morally sound. But the fact of the matter is, traditionally, science has not been dominated by women, and in many other fields still is not. And I won’t bother to link this here because statistics of it are all over the place. Even more importantly, the people who control where science chooses to research — politicians, economists, etc. — are ALSO an overwhelming statistic of rich, white men. But emphasis on rich because at the end of the post I am saying that as long as you have the money, you can lend your resources to science while also making you and your pursuits completely untouchable and exempt from it.

      I also did not make a comment on religion (this is something you do in your comment), other than to say that people pit science against it as though they are always diametrically opposed (this is also something you do).

      • As far as the physical world goes, science is the best tool we have for gleaning “universal truth”. And no true scientist would claim science can directly reveal answers to or interrogate moral and ethical questions.

        That ubiquitously recognized limitation notwithstanding, well-established scientific theories and ideas, what one might call facts, should inform philosophical treatments of ethical/moral issues. To adequately treat deep, relevant questions facing humanity, we should set them in the context of human life which is ultimately confined to the physical world (notice I say nothing of the human afterlife).

        Have you been in in a science graduate program recently? Like genetics, chemical engineering, neuroscience, or biophysics? Do you know how many Asian, Indian, female, and Middle Eastern grad students, postdocs, and professors there are? The percentage of white men in these programs is falling. And yes, there are occasional conflicts of interest involving the ever corrupting force of money, but on the whole research is directed exactly where the public wants it: medicine and pharmacology. If you’re frustrated with the slow progress, try doing some science for a while to understand how arduous, tedious, and careful the process is and slap a bunch of bureaucratic standards on top and watch the costs of advanced equipment, many different experiments, repeating those experiments to verify results, and dozens of failed attempts pile up. Most of the effort is surprisingly honest.

        Politicians, in the US at least, tend to suppress and deny well-founded science rather than manipulate it. If they were perhaps more informed, let themselves be open to new evidence, and willing to alter their views if said evidence is more compelling than previous empirical arguments, then perhaps Congress would solve the more important problems facing the country.

        Pointing to examples of bad or misused science (e.g. eugenics) or corrupt scientists does not invalidate scientific knowledge as an ultimate authority on the natural world.

        It’s this misunderstanding of you seem to have of science as some dogmatic set of principles that irks me. To quote Carl Sagan, whose opinions you seem so quick to dismiss, when it comes to the “institution” (your words) of science, “its only sacred truth is that there are no sacred truths.” The backbone of science is skepticism and an unflinching acceptance of empirical evidence – facts. The institution of science, the core of it, is a simple algorithm, called the scientific method. Most people have neither the time nor the patience to make the application of this tool their career, so they rely on science as an authority.

        While contrary to the idea of questioning arguments from authority that is so central to scientific process, it is the safest argument from ethos you can accept. If you disagree with this point, please give me an example of how this great cabal of rich white men influencing science has attempted to sway public opinion by arguing that there is empirical evidence for something that is fundamentally false.

        As you may have guessed, I disagree with you on most of the points you have made. You write your disclaimer about how you think science should be more prevalent in America then turn around immediately begin to talk about how bad and dangerous it is that science is becoming so popular. Even if there is merely an increase science literacy – a surface understanding of basic but essential scientific facts – it benefits America as a whole equipping better facts to put decisions and events affecting our world, our physical reality, into context.

        • I do not turn around and denigrate its popularity. I turn around and denigrate its ultimate and unquestioned authority and its worship. Harry Potter is popular, but it’s not without its problems. I only ask that we turn a critical eye on things and dissect how they work.

        • You are a really disingenuous commentator.

          “And yes, there are occasional conflicts of interest involving the ever corrupting force of money, but on the whole research is directed exactly where the public wants it: medicine and pharmacology.”

          Haha nice non-rebuttal to the point that the vast majority of funding goes to totally worthless caues (male baldness for example, besides the typical “Komen Foundation For the Cure” bullshit).

          “Pointing to examples of bad or misused science (e.g. eugenics) or corrupt scientists does not invalidate scientific knowledge as an ultimate authority on the natural world.”

          No one said it does, dumbass. The title of this post is Science Worship, not Science Delusions.

          “If you disagree with this point, please give me an example of how this great cabal of rich white men influencing science has attempted to sway public opinion by arguing that there is empirical evidence for something that is fundamentally false.”

          hahaha this is ludicrous. Here is one example, just to sate your sheltered ignorance: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pioneer_Fund

    • As another scientist (one working in biotech, if you are wondering), this is a shameful comment.

      Ari already stated that she is quite happy with the scientific method, so no one is questioning it. And there is no doubt that a very large (and useful) number of things can be learned using science. The only thing being questioned is if science is the only way to learn useful things.

      Philosophy, religion, and the like try to answer questions like “Why should we do science?” Is it because it will make us rich? Is it because science is beautiful? Once you have answered that question, science can tell you how to achieve those goals (do science!), but it can’t tell you that you should (unless you already have a goal, which means you probably used philosophy or religion first).

      And there is a danger to what is funded and how people use it. People (whether scientists or not) love to say “a study showed that…” without reading the whole paper (you know grad students and professors are busy). If science were as well funded as we would like it to be, there would be lots of repeat studies to try to disprove the first study, but that can’t always happen (and when it does, those whose ideas were supported by the first study don’t pay attention to the later ones). But both sides will claim “science” is on their side and not understand why the other side won’t pay attention to them.

      And really? A claim that the author has an inferiority complex? That is just petty.

      In defense of the biotech industry, at least note that drug prices are purposely lower in poor countries, usually just barely above the cost of manufacturing (or lower, if the company is being nice). Economically, this is profit maximizing, but the end result is actually that poor nations’ drugs are being subsidized by rich people.

      • Right. In a perfect world, funding would not be an issue and science would be only innovation. But what world is this? Certainly not a world I live in and probably not a world I will ever live in. This is what I mean when I say that science as an institution is inseparable from our politics (and this is what creates it as an institution in the first place).

        • Science might indeed be hierarchical and elitist. But is this the fault of science or the fault of people who would control it for their own benefit? This argument could be made about almost anything, easily more so in the humanities than the sciences.

          That being said, as someone with a B.S, I was a little hesitant to embrace this article at first, but upon further examination, I really can’t take issue with anything written here. Science, as it is put into practice by human beings, is just as fallible as we are. There may be one overarching truth to the universe that could ideally be uncovered via science alone, but we as a species are probably doomed to only chase it, especially considering our extremely limited view of the universe. Consider that in 1678, when Christiaan Huygens published his mathematical framework for the wave-like nature of light, his work was basically brushed aside for Newton’s theory of light as a particle, because Newton was much more famous and beloved as a scientist. Naturally, the truth lay somewhere in between, but politics prevented people from seeing that. Feynman could have come along as a proponent of quantum theory at this time, with thoughts about matter waves and superposition, and he would have been dismissed as a pseudo-scientist at best, more likely a lunatic (Sheesh, Feynman, get your head out of the sand, SCIENCE is coming through!)

          So I think Ari’s issues with science are more about how we practice science, rather than science in its pure form (so to speak), which is totally justified.

          • “Science might indeed be hierarchical and elitist. But is this the fault of science or the fault of people who would control it for their own benefit? This argument could be made about almost anything, easily more so in the humanities than the sciences.”

            It is not the fault of people controlling it, it is the fault of people not questioning it, like you.

    • Fuck you dogmatic. This is not a shameful article. It’s a brilliant article. Too bad you’re not brilliant enough to understand it, even though you think of yourself as a brilliant person, because “people who do science must be brilliant right, because science is brilliant?”
      You don’t need to be smart to do science, you need to be unconscious so you can blindly follow the scientific method. Don’t question the scientific method, follow it, like a robot.

  3. I agree with some of your points. I agree that there are many people that misunderstand/misinterpret/misuse science, that science has gained popularity in the recent years (The Big Bang Theory, which I think is a good thing), but that trendiness of science may not always afford the best motives. I think that is the point of this post. (excuse typos :/ I type fast and tend to read over them.)

    There are some points, however, that I disagree with, i.e. the presentation of certain arguments.

    “Science presents itself as free of prejudices and biases of the past—it’s looked upon as a subject for which there is no room for politics. It’s also often seen as a path to all the right answers.”

    Science is free of prejudices and biases. People aren’t. The individual chooses to use science for his or her own agenda, political or otherwise.

    1. Who is Stephen Bond and why should I care?

    Racial Science:

    “Their racist experiments confirmed their racist hypotheses based on their racist observations.” – How did Stephen Bond come to these conclusions? References?

    “It was not disproved by the scientific method; instead, the political ideologies behind racial science were discarded” I’d like to read these about experiments and the methodology used. Again, sources?

    Pseudoscience is not formally accepted scientific ideas that are no longer popular. “Pseudoscience is a claim, belief, or practice which is presented as scientific, but does not adhere to a valid scientific method, lacks supporting evidence or plausibility, cannot be reliably tested, or otherwise lacks scientific status.[1] Pseudoscience is often characterized by the use of vague, contradictory, exaggerated or unprovable claims, an over-reliance on confirmation rather than rigorous attempts at refutation, a lack of openness to evaluation by other experts, and a general absence of systematic processes to rationally develop theories.” (Wikipedia, always check the sources)

    Furthermore…“While humans differ genetically in some ways, such as blood type and skin pigmentation, most anthropologists and biologists believe categories of race are not biologically grounded because modern humans simply have not evolved into separate subspecies or races.” (randomfacts.org, always check the sources)

    So, again, this dude, whoever he his, is presenting something that appears to be pseudoscience to me. Site the sources. Original sources, please.

    Accreditation and reputability are important: http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/ancient-aliens

    Scientists are not infallible. Institutions and scientific papers are not infallible. But there are gradations of knowledge. And peer reviewed papers undergo rigorous scrutiny. This is why a scientific paper is very different from a blog. If the difference is not understood, I don’t know how to remedy that, other than to encourage people to read scientific journals for themselves. Plenty are available to read free online as well as in the local libraries.

    When an individual uses “science” to justify their beliefs, then that is their own is understanding/misinterpretation/misuse of science.

    ***

    I’m a science person, as you know. My degree is in a scientific field. What I have learned is the exact opposite of what you are presenting here. I’ve been lucky enough to have of three undergraduate research internships, two in my field of study and one outside of it.

    What I’ve learned (besides historical and current theories):

    1. How much we don’t know – which is a lot.
    2. How we come to the conclusions we come to, i.e. fact, opinion, observation, speculation, hypothesis, methodology, experimentation, errors in experimentation, and theory.
    3. What peer review papers are, how they are written, and the type of scrutiny the get before publication. For two of my projects I was given a stack – a big freaking stack – of scientific papers to read.

    The scientists I know never speak in absolutes. And there are plenty of scientists that don’t agree with current theories. For me, I dislike when someone makes an assertion about something because they heard someone say it somewhere, or they read it on a blog, or they thought it up all by themselves in their brain, as if it is scientific fact. This perpetuates ignorance. I wholeheartedly push for people to question everything. Don’t take something on blind faith or because it sounds true. Ask why. Ask for sources. I also want to be clear that evidence does not mean proof.

    I also dislike when people equate science with atheism. I know that you’re not doing that here, but merely pointing out that a lot of atheist use science as their sword of truth. I just want to say that I have a couple friends, physicists, who are devout Christians. Not all scientists are atheists, and I loathe that generalization.

    ***

    “This allows for white rich men in ivory towers to dictate what is “objective truth” to people who are not white, nor rich, nor men. It is reinforcing an authority figure who the underprivileged are told to trust without question”

    I disagree. I know that as a consequence of world, social, political, and economic structures that a lot of scientists have been or are seem to be white. I know a lot of non-white scientists. I think the scientific stage has changed a lot and continues to change. And I certainly don’t believe the above statement. I came from a disadvantaged socio-economic class and underrepresented ethnicity and gender when I entered my field of study, and what you are stating is not my experience at all. It was the confines of my circumstances that made it hard for me to see past my situation. The people in positions of authority supported and helped me to overcome these barriers. And I believe that you will find this to be true of most people who break free from the filters of socio-economic and underrepresented constraints.

    ***

    “Science has long been wrapped up in capitalism, which means so long as we ascribe a huge importance to it, as long as we accept it as an ultimate source of truth, people with money will have the means to advance the truths that most benefit them. It allows for us to highlight certain truths—validate them and treat them as universal—while invalidating and ignoring other truths, the truths of the disadvantaged. Science comes from rich stock and works hard to stay rich. And truth is never objective because it is always filtered through the lens of an ideology.”

    I think this true for a lot of things in this world. Money is king for many. This is a generalization, however, that I disagree with. It’s unfortunate that politicians and big money, like oil and tobacco, as well as those particular scientists, where this is true. It’s unfortunate that we found a cure for impotence before a cure for cancer. I also know that money and war has pushed a lot of science forward.

    But there are many more scientists who are in it for altruistic reasons. I don’t think I’ve ever met a physicist who is in it for the money. Nobel prize, maybe. But money? I don’t think so. There are much more lucrative ways to make money.

    I’m actually kind of disappointed in this last one, Ari, because there are much more worthy instances of racial disparity to highlight. And what ends up happening is that it contributes to the “race-card” noise and drowns out relevant examples of racism today.

    ***

    My two cents. See you Thursday. =)

    • This is an EXTREMELY long comment, and I cannot possibly reply to all of it (however, I did read all of it).

      Stephen Bond: I don’t care who he is. Who am I besides someone who blogs? If you care about who he is (because who he is makes his points somehow more legitimate), there is a bio on his site. I quoted him because I like his point about political ideology defeating racial science in 1945, which backed up racism and was never really disproven, only disapproved of.

      What I take issue with most of your arguments is that you are countering them with personal experience. Similarly to the woman above who argued: “Rich white men! I’m not one!” And you’re doing the same thing. The main point of contention that comes with these posts is that people will think that I am attacking scientists as individuals. I am not. I am not attacking the scientific method (which I actually think is relatively untouchable). I am not attacking people who do science for altruistic reasons (see my above comment). You can read my comment to K above to see what exactly I am attacking (hint: it is science as an institution).

      I cannot begin to even address your comment on “the race card,” since I have actually cited REAL examples of empirical and institutionalized racism. Specifically institutionalized racism that comes from a source that people have revered and respected for years. So how is this not relevant? I will have many opportunities to write all about racism in many different contexts, and it will ALL be relevant. This comment is another example that shows that science is considered untouchable. Guess what? All institutions are prejudiced. All institutions are bigoted. All of them are biased. So if you’re about to say “this isn’t racism,” then you are participating in backing up an institution that has, historically and presently, practiced exploitation which is totally unacceptable.

      • Ari, it’s me, Cynthia. I’m not trying to argue with you, and I’m not upset. I thought my choice of words showed that but I guess not. I preempted my comment with what I disagreed with. I thought you wanted a discussion, so I gave my opinion and my experiences (which I think are relevant). I think you misinterpreted what I meant about the race-card comment. I saw that FB comment about having a ball about upsetting people. I personally don’t see how inflaming a subject moves an issue forward. It actually does the opposite, as people will trample over each other to get their point across. I don’t want to be a part of that. So I’m going to bow out. See you Thursday.

        • Replying here with citations for posterity:

          Racial science is pseudo science, yes we know that NOW. We did not know that in 1945. The reason for why we stopped racial science is because it’s ethically reprehensible and politically dangerous. This is not about what we know in hindsight. Because hindsight is always 20/20. It’s about the fact that in people’s worshipping of science, we give permission for people to make mistakes like these. When nazis were conducting unethical science, they were using the scientific method. Nazi science is the reason for why we have aspirin, and why we know so much about hypothermia. (cite: http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2008/12/04/was-nazi-science-good-science/) Some of it was good science. Some of it was bad science. ALL of it was morally reprehensible. When we found out what they were doing at Auschwitz, people were horrified. It was what prompted us to create a rule about informed consent. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi_human_experimentation#Aftermath)

          This is my point and Bond’s point that I am driving home here. We didn’t stop experimenting on race issues because we proved in 1945 that the Nazis were scientifically wrong. We stopped regarding this as real science because of the sheer horror that resulted of the Holocaust. In the decades after WWII eugenics became increasingly unpopular within academic science (see text: Eugenics Quarterly became Social Biology from 1969).

          However, I was not trying to connect this to white males and I don’t see why you made the connection?

          In response to science being dominated by males, here are sources. (http://www.livescience.com/1927-men-dominate-math-science-fields.html, http://www.livescience.com/1927-men-dominate-math-science-fields.html, http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2011/08/04/women-stem-opportunity-improve-us-competitiveness) But what I was stating in the post is that the people who hold the reigns (e.g. heads of corporations/heads of government/heads of interest groups) to dictate where science puts its resources are white and male. Because at the top of EVERY established institution, there are white males.

          Let’s take agriculture as an example: the top powerful people are Tom Vilsack (secretary of agriculture), Bill Hawks , Michale T. Scuse (undersecretary for farm and agriculture services), Doug O’Brien (under secretary of agriculture for marketing and regulartory programs), Kevin Concannon (under secretary of agriculture for rural development), Harris Sherman (under secretary of agriculture for natural resources and the environment), and WHOA, one (white) woman Dr. Catherine Woteki (under secretary of agriculture for research, education, and economics). This is just one political sector that plays an integral role in dictating what science gets done and what kinds of innovations it makes. Sometimes at the expense of disadvantaged people, as with the case of the Central Valley in CA in my post. For more about environmental racism, and other types of environmental racism, go here: (http://www.dosomething.org/tipsandtools/11-facts-about-environmental-racism)

          If by this point you are not convinced that white men control the sciences (even if they themselves are not scientists they are at the top of the ivory tower), we can examine my other example from my post. Susan G. Komen. At the top of Susan G. Komen is a woman, Nancy Brinker. But go to their corporate partners page (http://ww5.komen.org/corporatepartners.aspx) and find the heads of these companies and they are overwhelmingly white and male. So this is what I mean when I say science is inseparable from this hierarchal tradition, inseparable from the institutions that make it what it is. People donate to SGK for the cause of breast cancer research. SGK funnels money into research that makes sure not to compromise their relationship with these companies (http://www.barbaraehrenreich.com/cancerland.htm). The corporate sponsorships account for hundreds of millions of dollars and tons of publicity. It means that there are particular types of people dictating what our agriculture should look like, but speaking through the supposedly transparent mask of science. It means there are particular types of people dictating where we should put our money in medical research, but speaking through the supposedly transparent mask of science.

          Your personal experience is important and should not be discounted, but you need to understand that I’m not addressing this at all, and this is not what I have a problem with. I am not trying to erase you or your experience. But you ARE a minority. This is about science’s role in our political and moral landscape and how our worship of it increases the danger of exploitation. I am not asking to hate on science. Only to look at it with a critical eye. I know people WITHIN the community are attempting to do this too, attempting to keep science pure and about study and curiosity only. But this is not the world we live in yet, and I doubt that it ever will be.

  4. you’re muddling science (a discipline and its institutional milieu) & scientism (an ideology which claims that truth can only be accessed, uncovered, determined, discussed through scientific means & terms). i agree with some of your critiques of each, but disagree with your designation of science itself as an ideology. i recommend this article by Philip Kitcher, a philosopher of science, to familiarize yourself with existing arguments against scientism (in Kitcher’s words, “scientific imperialism”): http://www.newrepublic.com/article/books-and-arts/magazine/103086/scientism-humanities-knowledge-theory-everything-arts-science?page=0,2

  5. I now can’t find the article it was from, but I found a recent quote that I fell in love with: “In most cases scientific results would be better viewed as mistakes pointing to a next step that is a bit less mistaken.”

    I think (one of) the main point(s) of your article is how non-scientists view science. (Sorry that sounded rather elitist). One of the huge problems right now that science is facing is the public’s understanding of it. They generally won’t read scientific papers and instead just read blogs and newspaper articles. They also, don’t realize that not every conclusion a “scientist” makes is true.

    Another problem (which I saw in a documentary about HeLa cells) discusses how scientists were researching cancer, suddenly developed ways to grow cells and study them, and then politicians declared a “War on Cancer” (also used as a funding ploy by scientists so that they could do the research). Once more research started occurring, it soon became clear to scientists that we weren’t going to fix cancer easily, and it soon became a huge let-down and disappointment to the public.

    To get funding and when publishing, the results and research pitches often leave the funders/public with the impression that things will get solved, and solutions will be easy and simple. Most scientists know that this is often not the case, and some of the general public does, but most of the public are disheartened/lose faith in “science” when it does not happen.

  6. On the other hand, peer reviewed science, despite its “open university” model, remains an ivory tower of mostly rich, white men.

    How are you, with the quoted sentence, not explicitly referring to individuals? You claim that your criticism pertains to “the institution” rather than the individuals. But in what regard is peer-review not organized by individuals?

    • What individuals are referred to? Peer review need only involve one peer, but that doesn’t mean that talking about the convention of peer review is the same as criticizing individual people who practice it.

  7. Pingback: What We Believe But Cannot Prove | The Art of Polemics

  8. Science does not present itself as fact nor does it present itself as truth. Rather, science presents the best possible explanation based on the available data.

  9. Extremely well written and coherent. Thank you addressing the elephant in the room. Please continue. Not enough people are doing this!

  10. Excellent article. It doesn’t describe my thoughts as much as it does my intuition. Nonetheless, the subconscious mind is more powerful than the conscious mind. I thrust it far more, as it is without ego.

    It is funny that you will often see atheists and scientists attack your intuition as being delusional, because they know that with it, you cannot be so easily converted. Contrary to their perception, religion is not based on intuition, but instead the exact opposite. There are no intuitive people in churches and cults, because intuitives have an inner voice, they don’t need an external voice like a priest or holy book. This is why modern science is also hierarchical like religion. It is reason without intuition, and also why you have these authoritarian figures like Sagan, Dawkins, … Everywhere where intuition is not present or even frowned upon, is doomed to descend into dogma. All cults rely on the decimation of the followers’ inner voice (intuition) to be replaced by an external voice (collective herd mentality).

  11. Ari, you’re taking on an interesting and important subject, the over-reliance of people on science. As others have noted, you overreach. In the end, you present some misleading statements as facts.

    Of course science has limitations, and people are not sufficiently familiar with them. You can neither prove or disprove the existence of an omnipotent God by observation and logic, when that God could fudge your results at will. (Many religions would consider such attempts to be heresy, so both science and religion reject this approach to the question.)

    Science can greatly inform moral choices, but basic moral principles cannot be established scientifically either. Hume laid out the “is/ought” issue over 200 years ago; Thomas Jefferson, working with one of world’s greatest greatest scientists, Ben Franklin, referred to basic “self-evident” truths, knowing that educated, enlightenment-age readers would see through any attempt to ground them in reason, but would still accept them as a starting point.

    People need to be aware of the limitations of science and the nature of its power. People also need to know that when humans do science (and just now, there is nobody else available to do it), it helps humans to find objective answers, but humans, with their backgrounds, interests, and biases, still come up with the questions. And these questions will be informed by contemporary attitudes.

    So far so good. We do need to help people know how when someone tries to misuse science to push their points. But the article contains some prominent errors and misleading statements as well.

    Still, Ari, you’ve just gone beyond your knowledge, and gone off the rails. I can see that you’re not connected with science, but very interested in it. If you can take some constructive criticism, you can learn a lot. At the least, we can, hopefully, straighten out some misconceptions.

    “On the other hand, peer reviewed science, despite its ‘open university’ model, remains an ivory tower of mostly rich, white men.”

    Ari, I don’t know what you call “rich,” but most scientists fit into “middle class” or “upper middle class.” Perhaps you’re trying to say that rich people call the shots for scientists working in industry (pretty much true) or in academia (more like herding cats, really).

    A lot of older scientists in the US and Europe are white men; the younger crowd is a lot more diverse. Why the change happened, but not instantaneously, is a large and interesting topic, but of course the ones at the top are mostly white men; they’re the ones who started grad school in the late 1970s or so. Women and non-whites, with a vast array of doors newly opened, mostly didn’t choose science, for whatever reasons.

    But seriously, Ari, have you been around a science graduate school lately? In the US, they can’t fill all the slots with Americans of any stripe. Law, medicine, and business offer a much greater buck for the bang–more money, and prestige, for a given amount of work. So, you see a lot of men and women from all over the world, but especially China and India, where science and technology are still held in high esteem as critical to societal development. They get our education, but then again, we skim off some of their best and brightest, if they decide to stay here. And among the Americans, the younger set is much more diverse in every way.

    “Even access to scientific papers require subscriptions, making them largely inaccessible to people who cannot afford them.”

    Scientific papers have always been available to anyone who wants to walk into an academic library and read them. Not all academic libraries are open to the public, but a great many are, especially at state universities. Scientific abstracts are widely available online, full texts are available online for many papers as well. If they charge, and you don’t want to pay the fee, go to an academic library and read them online there. If your nearest academic library is an hour a way, then either drive an hour, or move, or quit whining and wait for the inevitable day when everything is online for free.

    “When working-class Latino residents of the Central Valley of California complained that the pesticides and toxic runoff from agriculture had led to a rise in birth defects, scientists invalidated personal accounts and lived experience from people who spoke up.”

    References, or it didn’t happen. (Actually, “References, or else don’t bother us with it.”)

    “Why? Because there had been no legitimate study, and no true quantitative data. As far as science is concerned their claims are not true.”

    Ari, you really don’t know what you’re doing, do you? A simple Medline search on “Central Valley Pesticide” turns up 63 results. When you finish reading these, or at least skimming the abstracts, you can branch out to others that explore the same issues without referring specifically to the Central Valley.

    “How would we make it true?”

    By studying it scientifically, as we have been doing.

    “Who would fund that study?”

    The National Institutes of Health, National Institutes of Environmental Health Science, the Environmental Protection Agency, along with their California equivalents, and a whole slew of private foundations. Try clicking on “grant support” in the results of your Medline search to see who has supported such research already.

    “Science has long been wrapped up in capitalism, which means so long as we ascribe a huge importance to it, as long as we accept it as an ultimate source of truth, people with money will have the means to advance the truths that most benefit them.”

    No kidding, really? And there’s no perfect answer to this? Well, that’s amazing, until you accept it as commonplace and deal with it. That’s why we tax corporations, and redistribute the money for the common good–including funding scientific studies of things that hurt workers, even if the results are inconvenient for some corporate interests. It’s a bit socialist, but necessary, which is why we do it.

    Love your energy, Ari. Keep after the things you care about. But a lot of what you’ve written has gone beyond “stop worshipping science blindly” (a good thing) and started lurching towards the Postmodern pseudo-intellectualism that seems to think of science as just a lifestyle choice, no more valid than any other, and spiralled itself down eventually to the Sokol hoax, in which denying the reality of the physical world was seen as a sensible viewpoint.

    If you want to run with the big dogs on issues like this, you need to up your game. I’d love to see you do it. If you spend your energy on other topics, then I wish you success in those instead.

    • Charles, stop using my name like that Charles. You risk sounding like a prick. Charles, most of the things I mention here can be found using a Google search, so please do not berate me to help you do your research if you really want to challenge it. Charles, I also do not appreciate your insinuation on my background having to do with the verity of the content. In fact, Charles, you still mistake what I say about science as an institution (and the scientism that comes with it) vs. scientists as individuals. Science as an institution is wealthy and white, especially compared to the people it has historically victimized. Interesting to see which science needs grant support and which gets corporate funding, and it’s worth noting which of the two has less clout than the other. Also like how your argument about inaccessibility of science journals is “well MOST journals are accessible for free and accessible if only you move to a place with an academic library.” As reasonable as you are pretending to be, I find it hard to believe you are arguing in good faith. Most of the points you bring up here are already addressed in the extremely long comment thread with Cynthia, above.

      • OK, sorry about the repetition, that does look silly. One more proofreading after some changes could have helped.

        “…please do not berate me to help you do your research if you really want to challenge it.”

        It’s not my research, it’s yours. If someone wants to make a point, it is up to that person to support it. If I Google something, how would I know which of thousands of results you were using? How could I tell what you were saying, and on what it was based?

        All you leave for me now is guesswork, and it looks as though you’re referring to your contention that science has ignored the health effects of pesticides on Latinos in the Central Valley.

        This actually untrue, as I’ve already explained. It’s an active area of study–try the Medline search. I knew about already because I know a scientist who is trying to understand the connection between certain pesticides and breast cancer. But Medline makes it easy to get a quick view. Perhaps you’re attempting to say something more coherent, such as, “it took too long for this to be studied scientificially,” which could be interesting, if given with good evidence. But all your readers have to go on is what you actually did say, which seems to be that science still hasn’t looked at it. And that is incorrect.

        “Science as an institution is wealthy and white…”

        You have not defined what you mean by “science as an institution,” so it’s hard to tell exactly what you mean. Who or what is wealthy? The top scientists? Companies and their leaders? Decision makers at government funding institutions? Or what? And “white” will only apply mostly to the US, Europe, and Australia; India and China have gotten good at science and are getting better; Japan has had good science for a long time. Some of their leaders may be wealthy, especially by local standards, but they’re not white. What is supposed to be the consequence of this?

        “Interesting to see which science needs grant support and which gets corporate funding, and it’s worth noting which of the two has less clout than the other.”

        Less clout where? In the medical scientific literature? Have you ever looked there? Because if that’s what you mean, it kind of looks like you’re just making this up.

        “Also like how your argument about inaccessibility of science journals is ‘well MOST journals are accessible for free and accessible if only you move to a place with an academic library.’”

        82% of the US population lives in an urban or suburban setting (according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_the_United_States) so most people can get to an academic library; they either don’t know this, or don’t bother. Like a lot of people, I want to see everything online. But, meanwhile, it’s all available. “Convenient” is another question, but it’s available.

        You’ll probably be annoyed with me by now, but neither of us will lose sleep over that. I don’t think you’re dumb, or evil, or whatever; I just think you have a lot to learn, and sugar-coating that could dilute the message. I like the fact that you care, and I know, probably far better than you do, what kinds of problems we have in science today, including the way the profit motive skews things. (If you haven’t seen it already, you could try looking into publication bias in clinical trials.) If you’re truly interested in this, your friend Cindy has a reasonable, informed viewpoint, and could help you understand a great deal.

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