Nowadays, we are often told “The Science is SETTLED,” as though Science is ever finalised or certain. To go with it, those who have concerns or alternative views and arguments are marginalised and too often smeared, scapegoated or even outright slandered. Sometimes — as Dallas Willard warned regarding moral knowledge — in this rush to judgement, legitimate knowledge is derided, denigrated and dismissed, leading to manipulation and indoctrination. Then, of course, wide swathes of the media and many educators will often jump on the bandwagon. As a result, policy and government become increasingly divorced from due prudence, leading to ruinous marches of folly.
How can we rebalance the situation?
First, as the media are the main conduit of indoctrination and manipulation, we can learn to discern manipulation, marginalisation, scapegoating and polarisation, and rebalance our thinking. For example:
However, there is usually a deeper problem, scientism. Even Wikipedia half-concedes:
Scientism is the view that science and scientific method are the best or only objective means by which people should determine normative and epistemological values, or that the natural sciences constitute the most authoritative worldview.
While the term was originally defined to mean “methods and attitudes typical of or attributed to the natural scientist”, some religious scholars (and subsequently many others) also adopted it as a pejorative with the meaning “an exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science applied to all areas of investigation (as in philosophy, the social sciences, and the humanities)”. The term scientism is often used critically, implying an unwarranted application of science in situations considered not amenable to application of the scientific method or similar scientific standards.
The problem they are dodging? The claim that the [core] Sciences monopolise knowledge or so dominate it that they have a veto over other alleged sources of knowledge (especially “religion” . . . actually, philosophy) is an epistemological claim not a scientific claim. That is, it is a philosophical assertion and one that is self referential and self defeating. Instead, we must acknowledge that there are many, diverse ways to achieve well warranted, credibly true (so, reliable) belief, aka, “knowledge.” Once that is done, scientism collapses.
Going further, even on matters of Science proper, there are many different degrees of warrant. Capably made, accurately reported and recorded observations and summaries of their reliable patterns are highly certain, e.g. pure water at sea level on Earth where the pressure is 760 mmHg, boils at 100 degrees Celsius. Similarly, many scientific or engineering models within regions of validity give reliable, accurate results good enough to trust with life and limb, e.g. bridge designs, airliners, well established, low risk medical treatments.
However, science is always open ended, never settled with finality. That is, Science faces the pessimistic induction. For, as we examine the real — not introductory textbook — history of Scientific Theories, there is a consistent . . . reliable! . . . pattern of discovering unexpected limitations, having to correct or even outright abandon. Even, when terms are carried over, their meaning shifts significantly. For instance, Aristotelian and Ptolemaic concepts held sway for many hundreds of years in Physics and Astronomy, but were overturned by the Newtonian Synthesis. Then, between 1880 and 1930, Newtonian Dynamics ran into Quantum and Relativity issues. These have been developed for a century but embrace fundamental mutual contradictions. And that is the hardest science of all, Physics. We need only mention Phlogiston and Plate Tectonics to indicate how widespread the pattern is. And BTW, no computer simulation is an observation.
Science is never finally settled and when anyone says that it is settled on a matter, grab your wallet before it gets picked. Indeed, that is a good test to detect question-begging and undue marginalisation. For, one who appeals to Scientific consensus as settling a matter clearly fails to understand strengths and limitations of scientific methods and techniques of inquiry. Red flag issue.
Similarly, there is no one size fits all and only science method. The well known schoolbook “method” is in fact generic and is little more than common sense. People who do not claim to be doing science (and aren’t) will often use similar approaches, e.g. in history or Management etc. They observe, look for patterns, make educated guesses, elaborate predictions, test and evaluate for reliability.
Then, there is the rather fuzzy border between “Science” and “Pseudo-Science.” Given the issues on methods and limitations of warrant, it should be no surprise to see that there is no reliable demarcation line between science and pseudo-science. There is sloppy science, yes. There is “cooking” of results in professional work just as in school science labs, yes. There are mistakes or even blunders, yes. There is outright fraud, yes. But, again, absent careful evaluation on merits, beware of branding sober minded movements and critics of “consensus” claims with the scarlet label, pseudo-science.
That points to the problem of improper marginalisation.
When serious people present serious evidence and analysis, do not be quick to dismiss because they don’t line up with what officialdom and its media promoters present as the settled consensus. Especially, if there is any name-calling involved. Speak to the merits not the personalities, acknowledging limitations up to and including the pessimistic induction. Be willing to acknowledge when there is some plausibility or warrant for what you may not agree with and balance conclusions on the merits.
Never lock policy into such a claimed consensus of settled science. Instead, bring the various parties to the table, document their views and see if a negotiated statement of balance can be composed. If not, try with two more panels with different people and base conclusions on the span of views.
Not perfect but likely to be better balanced. END