You Have to Science the Scientists
Updated: Oct 31, 2020
The word "science" has developed an ambiguous definition in recent years. It now means two different things, depending on who is using it. In its original definition, science is a method for acquiring knowledge. It's a process. It's something you do. But in its "newspeak" definition, it's more like a social class - or even a religion. Many people are now throwing the word "science" around, as if it were some kind of magical Harry Potter spell to instantly win an argument automatically, without engaging in the actual process that the word is originally supposed to mean. For example: "Trust the science!" "I trust the science!" "I trust the scientists!" "Listen to the science!" "My opinion is based in science!" "The science supports my opinion!" "The science agrees with me!" "All the scientists agree with me!" "You're anti-science!"
"You're an anti-science moron!" And just like that, they've won the argument!
Swish! When someone uses this spell, they're trying to avoid debating with real, point-by-point logic. They're not scientists. They're not science-minded. Their accusation of "unscientific attitudes" on your part is pure projection of their own aversion to science. The louder someone screams the word science, the less the likelihood that they actually understand what it means. What Is Science? Science is inquiry. It's the honest search for knowledge. It's the process of looking at reality, reporting what you find... and then looking again. And again. And again. Science is an intellectual disposition involving humility, curiosity, open-mindedness, judiciousness, introspection, empiricism, and rationalism.
The problem with the "Science Spell", of course, is that the caster believes themselves to be exempt from further inquiry and debate - which is an attitude diametrically opposed to actual science. They think they're done. The Spell is an avoidance tactic, designed to absolve the caster of the responsibility to actually do science.
Science is hard. Science is tedious. Science is humbling. It requires the surrender of ego. It's much, much easier to throw a "study" at someone and then merrily move along, than to actually sit and evaluate the logic of their arguments. It's much easier to put all the onus of knowledge on an elite class of smarty-pantses, and simply parrot whatever they say that agrees with one's current worldview, than to take responsibility for one's own epistemology. The investigations of others can be useful. Reading their conclusions can be informative. But it doesn't mean you're done. If you want the right to call yourself "science-minded", then you can't just accept "science" as a noun, unless you also use it as a verb. You have to science the scientists. You have to apply the Scientific Method to their work. The fact that they "are scientists" does not mean that any particular conclusion of theirs is valid. Science is not an identity, and it's not an institution, and it's not a social class. It's a method. Even if someone "is a scientist", their conclusions still have to follow the Scientific Method, or they're not scientific. And in order to be confident that THEY followed the Scientific Method in coming up with THEIR work, YOU have to use the Scientific Method ON their work. Science it. Look at their work, and ask yourself: Did they follow the Method? Consistently? Are there any potential confounding variables that they didn't think to account for? Were their data collection processes scientific? Do their conclusions actually follow FROM the data they collected? Or might there be flaws in the reasoning by which they extrapolated those conclusions from that data?
These are all questions that YOU have to ask BEFORE you can accept a study or a paper as scientific. IF you want to actually... be scientific, that is. If you just want to call other people "anti-science morons", to feel good about yourself and continue avoiding reckoning with the inconsistencies of your world paradigm, then by all means, keep accepting without skepticism whatever papers reinforce your existing belief system. But if you want to call yourself pro-science, then you have to science the scientists. And you should never accept the findings of any scientists until you've scienced them. "But if a paper appears in a prestigious scientific peer-reviewed journal, then it's trustworthy! We can trust that the scientists followed actual science, because the curators of the journals have stamped it with their own approval!"
Why trust the journals? How do you know you can trust The Lancet? Or the New England Journal of Medicine? Or any of them? Again, you're right back where you started. You have to science the journals. You can't just start out with the premise that a particular societal institution follows the Scientific Method consistently, or even has basic moral and intellectual integrity at all. Not if you want to be scientific.
The scientific integrity of this or that Journal is not a "given." It's not a metaphysical building block of the universe. It is not a valid philosophical premise to accept as self-evident without rational scrutiny. You have to actually science it, in order to know whether it's there or not. Is there any scientific proof of the integrity of Journal X?
Who runs it?
Who sits on its editorial board?
Who curates it?
Who funds it?
"We can trust the journals because they're backed by academia! By accredited colleges and universities!" So? What scientific proof do you have of their integrity?
Let's ask the same questions all over again:
Is there any scientific proof of the integrity of University X?
Who runs it?
Who sits on its board?
Who funds it?
Do we know that they actually maintain loyalty to the Scientific Method, above their own personal biases and agendas?
Do we know that they're not compromised by financial incentives?
Do we know that they don't have conflicts of interest?
The answer to these last two questions is an enormous NO, as we've explored in a previous post: "Why Can't Science Be Corrupt?"
"The fact that they're all members of the societal institution known as "Academia" makes them fundamentally trustworthy!"
And this is where science becomes a religion.
If a we define a religion as anything that has:
(A) a set of beliefs
(B) a class hierarchy
(C) an elite class for enforcing the consistency of those beliefs...
...then scientistism meets the criteria for a religion.
And like any religion, it's led by a priesthood. This particular priesthood is called The Academy.
And it has four pillars: 1. Accredited colleges and universities (with extra authority in the oldest, wealthiest ones),
2. Government agencies (those in blue states and U.S.-allied countries),
3. Acronym associations with the word "Science" (or some related word, like "Medical") in their name (but only the ones with recognition from the other three pillars),
4. Mainstream (corporate-funded) media (like the New York Times and NBC). Universities +
The good-guy ones, of course. Not the bad-guy ones. Together, they form the Academy - the priesthood of scientistism.
Every priesthood claims a monopoly on interpretation of Truth, and the exclusive privilege of arbitrating it for the masses. And the Academy is no different.
How does the Academy work?
Every human being is either a Member of the Academy, or a Non-Member.
If you're not one of them, then the most you have the right to do is parrot what they've published. You don't have the right to theorize on your own, nor analyze on your own, and you certainly don't have the right to question or dispute what they've published. The declarations of a member of the Academy can only be disputed by another member of the Academy - and even then, not all members are equal, and truth is subject to a prestige-hierarchy based on the age, name-recognition, public admiration, and, most importantly, financial wealth of the university with which the member is most closely affiliated.