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Science and scientism

There’s no special reason a scientist should have anything very comprehensive or profound to say about knowledge and reality, any more than a lawyer as such is likely to have deep thoughts on the nature of social order. A working professional needs an implicit theory that puts his work in a setting that enables him to make sense of it, but the simpler the setting and the less effort it takes to understand it the better from the standpoint of his normal activities. Such professional deformations are likely to be exaggerated in the case of positions adopted by professional associations such as the American Bar Association, which decide things based on immediate needs and conventional ways of thinking, and so are not much interested in remote and difficult inquiries.

With that in mind, there’s nothing out of the ordinary about a recent article in Science, the weekly journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, that explains the public tendency to accept or reject positions commonly accepted among scientists by reference to what the public thinks is common sense, or known from other reliable sources, as a “cognitive bias” rooted in childhood. The piece is worth reading to help orient oneself in connection with current claims that today there’s a war on science or some such. To all appearances, it’s less a war about science as such than whether characteristic views of scientists should be the supreme guide to thought, or whether the public should take them into account but form their own views. Some unfavorable comments on the piece that on the whole seem sensible to me can be found here and here.

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