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"These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own." G.K.Chesterton

"You cannot grow a beard in a moment of passion." G.K.Chesterton

"As you perhaps know, I haven't always been a Christian. I didn't go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that."C. S. Lewis

"I blog, therefore I am." Anon

Monday, July 07, 2003

"Trust me, I'm a scientist... "

Science in the modern era is an icon, cast as impartial and objective ("Just the facts, ma'am!"). It is revered as the only rational basis for decision making and the discovery of truth, with experts who know the science as the prophets who must be trusted. Science is not just seen as the very useful tool it is, a servant of humankind, but is itself enthoned as a god to be worshipped. It is not just "physics", but "metaphysics".

Thus, on the Internet, one is confronted with hordes of [usually young and male] atheists, "freethinkers", "rationalists", skeptics, debunkers and philosophic naturalists who serve at the worker ants - the true believers - in the war against God, religion, superstition and pseudoscience. The targets of their zeal are many but they are particularly focussed upon Christianity and the Bible and the related issues of "creationism" and the concept of Intelligent Design. To these new inquisitors, the self proclaimed guardians of secular orthodoxy, science has become scientism and evolution has become evolutionism but to even suggest this to them sends them into frenzied paroxysms of abuse and rage.

An essential part of this mentality is the seemingly unchallengeable concept of "sound science".

As Dr Sue Mayer points out, however:
... the phrase "sound science" has become a rhetorical device to support a particular ideology - a political tool to control technological advance. The "science" of those experts who support this ideology becomes mandated as "sound science" while that of critics who take a different view is marginalised... "Sound science" is shaped not by scientifc facts but by its political, social, economic and cultural context.
(Science: can we trust the experts, London, Hodder and Stoughton, 2002 pp 1-2)

So, can the scientific community be trusted to police itself and guard against unstated ideological and metaphysical assumptions?

According to Dr Doug Parr the answer is "Probably not..."

"Within each academic scientifc discipline similar attitudes to the unknowns in the discipline are likely to prevail because of common training, research methodologies and research foci. Thic comes about because of the necessary focus for making progress on research and through the formation of disciplinary "walls", ranging from which journals will publish particular research through to career progression within academic institutions." (Science: can we trust the experts, p71)

Which brings us back to that holy grail of scientism - peer review.

[Peer review is]... a quasi-sacred process that helps to make science our most objective truth teller...But we know that the system of peer review is biased, unjust, unaccountable, incomplete, easily fixed, often insulting, usually ignorant, ocassionally foolish and frequently wrong. (the editor of Lancet in the Medical Journal of Austalia, 21 February, 2000)

"Basic scientifc knowledge is typically fragmented into little islands of near conformity surrounded by interdiscipinary oceans of ignorance."
(John Ziman, Emeritus professor of Phyiscs, nature, 382, 29, August 1996.)

Such conformity and ignorance of things outside of one's discipline means that, beyond a limited narrow focus, peer review is not much use a touchstone for truth, though it does make it an excellent means of maintaining the dogma of the ruling orthodoxy.

9:29:00 am