I haven’t posted anything in basically forever; however, there seems to be some strange, totally coincidental relationship between my reading Steven Novella’s blog and finding something to bitch about. In this particular case it has to do with the perception certain groups of people have toward science. Basically the IFLScience crowd. Wonderful example is this quote, defending science against accusations of colonialism:
Science is transcultural. Science is, I would argue, anti-culture, it is inherently, therefore, anti-colonial. That is because the very essence of science is to seek objective truth that is separate from the assumptions of any particular culture. Science is about breaking cultural assumptions, dethroning authority and tradition, and using a transparent and egalitarian process to figure out what is really true.
Science, rescuing us from the dark ages of ideology and superstition, transcending cultural constructs and finding objective truth. Sure, there are issues with scientists having personal biases, and maybe there have been past issues with racism in the social sciences, but, apparently, science (transcendental process that it is) eventually sorts those out. And to think these same people accuse the religious of being unquestioning slaves to ideology :D! Writing this is forcing me to read that quote over and over, and each time it’s more absurd.
The* scientific process is social activity. These people, being conscious, will acknowledge that science is done by scientists, and that scientists are human beings; however, they stop here, accepting scientists as flawed individuals rather than as members of a community. There is no such thing as social activity isolated from other parts of society – every institution, belief system, social construct, etc is attached to the others in dynamic, reciprocal relationships. Religious beliefs, to pick a case, both affect and are affected by culture at large. Scientists necessarily carry in cultural attitudes that, for example, determine the questions asked and the interpretation of results; psychological disorders are normative. Seeing cognition as computational rather than embodied has major research ramifications. Investigating climate change within capital’s worldview is inherently apologetic. The invention, design (what is intelligence?), and meaning (is there one?) of IQ tests is inseparable from cultural attitudes. These are not individual biases that can be cleared up through replication, or new science, but rather necessary parts of the activity itself.
And this is quite restricted. Not only are the attitudes of the scientists themselves, simply by being part of a society, tying culture to science, but the attitudes of the broader population also affect the activity. Academic institutions are increasingly run like corporations, decisions made by boards who are interested in brand and finances rather than education, and research subject and tenure becomes about bringing in grant money. There is immense pressure to publish, and to publish new things – there are reproducibility issues in every scientific field, both because it is not career rewarding to attempt reproduction and the statistical manipulation (ie p-hacking) which is the result of this pressure. Or maybe it is important, for funding, to get a certain result – long history of this in tobacco research. Scientists will, for the same reasons, trump up their results when preparing the press release – a press release which will be further trumped up by the university or institution itself – and talking to media.
Oh, and what about the media? The media is a corporate enterprise as well. Stories get published if they are exciting – what causes cancer today? What bullshit did Elon Musk spew this morning? What are the climate doomsday predictions of the week? Not only that, media that does not ‘play ball’ with a certain narrative is not going to be granted access to those stories. Or maybe it is just the owners of the media conglomerates who make staff decisions, and tell stories, based on their personal interests. Fox News, anyone? Even public radio, funded as it is by large institutions, corporations, banks, and private donors, does not run stories critical of liberalism- acceptance of classical liberal values is more or less identical between NPR and Fox. And there is certainly no history of political leaders enlisting the services of scientific data, or scientists themselves.
I keep rambling on, but the point should be clear: anyone who thinks science is ‘anti-cultural’ is out of their fucking mind.
*For sake of argument I’m going to pretend some monolithic science makes sense