Friday, November 8, 2013

Blinded by Science

"I feel for all faiths the warm sympathy of one who has come to learn that even the trust in reason is a precarious faith, and that we are all fragments of darkness groping for the sun.” - Will Durant

             The accomplishments of Western science and technology can be described as one of its greatest achievements.  Although all societies have developed technologies, none has reached the level of the Western world.  MIT professor Thomas Kuhn asserted that, “The bulk of scientific knowledge is a product of Europe in the last four centuries.  No other place and time has supported the very special communities from which scientific productivity comes.”  p. 168  The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.   Scientific knowledge has been accumulated through the centuries by a civilization that was open to often unappealing conclusions.  Much is often made of the conflict between the church and the scientific community, however historically the church has often been the key supporter of scientific research.  The Bull of Pope Alexander IV in 1255: “The science of the schools of Paris is in the Church like the Tree of Life in the terrestrial paradise, a shining lamp in the temple of the soul. . . . It is at Paris that the human race, deformed by original sin and blinded by ignorance, recovers its power of vision and its beauty, by the knowledge of the true light shed forth by divine science.”  p. 197 Dawson   Kuhn is essentially correct, however, the foundations of western science were based on previous civilizations.  The modern scientific method, upon which much of Western science rest was first developed in the Muslim world, especially in the works of Alhazen in the eleventh century.  

            To describe something as “scientifically proven” gives it tremendous status similar to describing something as being the “gospel truth” in previous centuries.   As a result many fields that could more properly be described as philosophy have adopted the trappings of science to increase their status.  The Twentieth Century has seen the blossoming of many academic disciplines masquerading as science.  Many people believe that these new “sciences” can be used to organize society on a more rational basis.  The idea of governing a state by scientific principles was popularized during the Enlightenment.  The French philosopher Aguste Comte (1798-1857), who is generally described as one of the founders of sociology, proposed in his “Plan of the Scientific Work Necessary for the Reorganization of Society” that, “Men who make a living out of methodically forming logical theoretical combinations, that is the scientists engaged in the study of the sciences of observation, are the only ones whose type of ability and intellectual culture satisfies the necessary conditions (to form theory for reorganization of society).” P. 75  Comte Early Political writings  As George Roche has stated, “Many have dreamed of a brave new world built on purely ‘scientific’ principles.  At last, they say, men could escape chaos and manage their affairs with rational, objective standards.  All conflict and deprivation would disappear.”  A World Without Heroes, George Roche, Hillsdale College Press, 1987, Hillsdale, Michigan, p. 317

            The idea of organizing society on science and reason certainly has its appeal.  Early in the twentieth century Winston Churchill wrote, “One of these days the cold bright light of science and reason will shine through the cathedral windows and we shall go out into the fields to seek God for ourselves.  The great laws of Nature will be understood - our destiny and our past will be clear.  We shall then be able to dispense with the religious toys that have agreeably fostered the development of mankind.”   (Buchanan p. 399  Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War)  Entertainer Bill Maher described a viewpoint that is held by many of the elite when he said on a national television show, “Half this country wants to guide our ship of state by a compass.  A compass, something that works by science and rationality, and empirical wisdom.  And half this country wants to kill a chicken and read the entrails like they used to do in the old Roman Empire.” (CNN Larry King Live, July 22, 2004)     Maher understandably ignores the fact that several societies attempted to guide their ship of state by a compass in the twentieth century with disastrous results.

            There are several reasons why the dream of a world based on “scientific” principles cannot be realized.  The primary reason is that it is based on the assumption that the “scientist” is a dispassionate, objective, rational observer and not a flawed human being. Irving Langmuir, the 1932 Nobel prize winner in chemistry, coined the phrase “pathological science” to describe a process in science in which “people are tricked into false results ... by subjective effects, wishful thinking or threshold interactions"   According to Langmuir, “These are cases where there is no dishonesty involved but where people are tricked into false results . . . being led astray by subjective effects, wishful thinking or threshold interactions.”  (The War Against Boys, Christina Hoff Sommers, Touchstone Books, New York, 2000, p. 100)  Gary Taubes claimed in a 1994 Atlantic article that the history of science is, “littered with examples of . . . ‘pathological science.’”  In addition to what is described as “pathological science,” there is the intentional distortion of research results to achieve a desired outcome  This is termed scientism, defined by Stephen Carter as, “manipulation of the scientific evidence and the scientific method to reach the desired results.”  Carter describes it as an “effort to disguise as science things that have little to do with science, in the hope of making them look more attractive.” Civility, Stephen L. Carter, Basic Books,  New York, 1998,  p. 204  Judith Reisman points out that, “intentional misrepresentation in science is not an isolated aberration.” Kinsey, Sex and Fraud, Dr. Judith A. Reisman, Lochinvar-Huntington House Publication, 1990, p. 15

            An additional impediment to achieving accurate outcomes in research is described by philosopher Herman Kahn as "educated incapacity."  Kahn defined this as, “a concept which maintains that on the average one's ability to understand and solve real-world, practical policy problems declines as one's level of education increases.”  Kahn explained that our government is increasingly staffed by people with little or no “real-life" experience.  They have little knowledge of how the private sector works and are often hostile to its welfare.  Kahn explained that as our society becomes more prosperous those afflicted with “educated incapacity” have become more numerous.  The Coming Boom, Herman Kahn, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1982, pp.188-189  The concept of  "educated incapacity" can be applied to all fields of social research.  C.G. Jung described how education often became divorced from reality, “Scientific education is based in the main on statistical truths and abstract knowledge and therefore imparts an unrealistic, rational picture of the world, in which the individual, as a merely marginal phenomenon, plays no role.  The individual, however, as an irrational datum, is the true and authentic carrier of reality, the concrete man as opposed to the unreal ideal or normal man to whom the scientific statements refer.”  C.G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self, Mentor Book, New York, 1957, p. 20

            As opposed to genuine science which strives to determine the truth by weighing evidence, scientism has a low tolerance for individual who find evidence opposed to the prevailing ideology.    As an example, social science researcher Mohammedreza Hojat published an article protesting a “the conspiracy of silence (that) prevails among scientist on the importance of mother hood and the family.”   Hojat claimed that , “a new cultural mentality of political correctness “ prevailed in academia - enforced by “interest groups, including extreme feminists or those who personally prefer a nontraditional lifestyle” - makes it all but impossible to discuss the adverse effects of nonmaternal child care.  He further complained that prominent academics have even suggested “that research on detrimental effects of nonmaternal care must be interrupted or abandoned.”  Psychologist Penelope Leach asserted “there is a cover-up going on.”  There’s No Place Like Work, Brian C. Robertson, Spence Publishing, Dallas, 2000, p. 29  Dr. Charles Socarides described the consequences of  opposing the redefinition of homosexuality in the psychiatric profession. “Those of us who didn’t go along with the political redefinition were soon silenced at our own professional meetings.  Our lectures were canceled inside academe and our research papers turned down in the leading journals.”  The Death of the West, Patrick J. Buchanan, Thomas Dunne Books, New York, 2002, p. 196  In 1983 anthropologist Derek Freeman published Margaret Mead and Samoa, a book demonstrating the Margaret Mead had been incorrect in her finding on Samoan culture.  The 1983 general meeting of the American Anthropological Association did not reassess Mead’s finding but condemned Freeman.  If scientific findings conflict with modern ideology they must be suppressed.  Neuroanatomist Laura Allen claims that she was warned not to continue her research in physiological sex differences because they say “It’s too provocative.”  Attorney Gloria Allred asserted that this research should not be done because, “This is harmful and dangerous to our daughters’ lives, to our mothers’ lives, and I am very angry about it.”  p. 89 The War Against Boys.

            People with specialized knowledge are a necessity in our complex modern society.  However, when they claim expertise in fields where they only appear to have special competence they frequently produce more harm than good.  Eva Etzioni-Halevy has written that, “the value judgments of social scientists, of experts in the humanities . . . though they sometimes assume the mantle of scientific knowledge, in fact have no greater validity than anybody else’s value judgments.”  p. 43   Their value judgments may in fact be less valid as Irving Kristol described in his comments on the “common people” who are “not uncommonly wise, but their experience tends to make them uncommonly sensible.  They learn their economics by taking out a mortgage, they learn their politics by watching the local school board in action, and they learn the impossibility of ‘social engineering’ by trying to raise their children to be decent human beings.”  Neo Conservatism p. 134  Historian Lewis Feuer concluded that "The Intellectual Elite in both the United States and Europe has a record of recurrent misjudgment and misperception of social reality.  Its members have yielded to wish fulfillment, emotional indulgence and even insincerity while claiming to the public at large that they were inspired by scientific reasoning.”  Political Pilgrims, Paul Hollander, Harper Colophon Books, New York, 1981, p. 53  Malcolm Muggeridge was astounded by the behavior of Western intellectuals who visited the Soviet Union at the height of the Stalinist repression, “The almost unbelievable credulity of these mostly university-educated tourists astonished even Soviet officials use to handling foreign visitors…”  Political Pilgrims, Paul Hollander, Harper, Colophon Books, New York, 1981, p. 102  Eva Etzioni-Halevy  has concluded that , “Western intellectuals . . . are prophets who have failed.  They have failed in that their knowledge and advise has itself created problems for society.  When their knowledge has been applied, and their ideas have been put to the test of actual practice . . . they have frequently proved disappointing.” The Knowledge Elite and the Failure of Prophecy, Eva Etzioni-Halevy, P. 2  Etzioni-Halevy was being generous.  Their ideas have often been more than disappointing.  They have been disastrous. 

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