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Darwinism and academic culture: Skepticism not allowed?

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A friend draws my attention to an essay published in Nature (458, 30 (5 March 2009) | doi:10.1038/458030a) by a sociologist, who advises that we cannot live by skepticism alone.

Scientists have been too dogmatic about scientific truth and sociologists have fostered too much scepticism – social scientists must now elect to put science back at the core of society, says Harry Collins.

Harry Collins is director of the Centre for the Study of Knowledge Expertise Science at Cardiff University, UK. He is currently working on a book about tacit and explicit knowledge.

As another friend points out, this guy’s views are chilling:

One can justify anything with scepticism. Recently a philosopher acting as an expert witness in a court case in the United States claimed that the scientific method, being so ill-defined, could support creationism. Worse, scientific and technological ideas are nowadays being said to be merely a matter of lifestyle, supporting the idea that wise folk may be justified in choosing technical solutions according to their preferences — an idea horribly reminiscent of ‘the common sense of the people’ favoured in 1930s Germany. Some social scientists defend parents’ right to reject vaccines and other unnatural treatments because a lack of danger cannot be absolutely demonstrated. At the beginning of the century, President Thabo Mbeki’s policies denied anti-retroviral drugs to HIV-positive pregnant mothers in South Africa. Some saw this as a justified blow against Western imperialism, given that the safety and efficacy of the treatment cannot be proven beyond doubt.

Well now, some responses:

1. The scientific method can support any evidence-based view, and that would include creationism (= the Big Bang, for example).

2. Common sense and skepticism are the best deterrent to fanaticism based on ideological certainty. Fanaticism based on ideological certainty has killed far more innocent people than common sense or skepticism.

3. Compulsory vaccination is a bad idea because most people will simply choose to be vaccinated, which greatly reduces the prevalence – and danger – of an illness, which usually means that even the people who don’t get vaccinated are much less likely to get it. So there is really no need for strong arm tactics.*

The fact that advanced modern societies can consistently exert more technical power over the average person than traditional ones is all the more reason to be cautious about how that power is used, and the outcomes of its use.

4. I think that Mbeki’s policies re anti-retrovirals must have been hatched on some planet other than Earth. But he is the head of state of South Africa. If South Africans do not care enough to do something about this problem, I would recommend that (1) we consider the possibility that they know something we don’t; and (2) those of us who care should design inputs into the situation that do not cause more hostility to us than to him (easy outcome, unfortunately, as the history of imperialism has shown).

In my view, there is currently way too little skepticism today, rather than too much.

Indeed, another friend writes to say that Collins’s views sound like “consensus science” in the sense that outsiders have no access to truth, and have to rely on the votes of current science establishment figures. And they must not be skeptical. As my friend points out, this approach “closes the door to effective critiques, because the standard is “expertise” rather than evidence.”

*I remember when the Salk vaccine against polio came to Regina, Saskatchewan, in – I think – 1955. I was a small child in a lineup in front of the school house stretching way down the street, whining, “Mommy, I’m scared! I don’t want a needle!” My mom was carrying my brother and holding my younger sister’s hand, and she told me, “Just be quiet! You don’t want polio either.”

As per usual, it did not take long for average Canadians to figure out what science advances were really of use to us.

Also just up at The Post-Darwinist:

“Junk” DNA: Darwinism’s Last Stand?

Creationism: Creationists visit temple of evolution

Design: A military perspective

Darwinism and popular culture: Noticing the growing uproar

I explained my purpose. You ignored it. Failure to understand what one reads is another thread shared by these two massive blunders of establishment "science." ungtss
You don't want to push AIDS denialism, but you will make two more posts about it. Thank you. Nakashima
Here's a useful article: http://duesberg.com/papers/chemical-bases.html The reason I bring this up is not to push "AIDS denialism" but only to illustrate the fact that scientific skepticism is important in all fields of research, and to point out that the scientific establishment has the same herd-like "how can you be so ignorant and immoral as to disagree with us who are the bearers of the torch of truth!" mentality in many areas of research. ungtss
O'Leary -- agree -- there are more problems with the definition, however. In the developed world, AIDS is defined as "any of a number of preexisting diseases indicative of a suppressed immune system, plus HIV." HIV is defined as the cause of AIDS. But there are hundreds of thousands of cases of those same diseases and same suppressed immune system without HIV, and there are hundreds of thousands of cases of HIV which never turns into AIDS. if HIV weren't defined into "AIDS" in the developed world, there would be no reason to link the two -- much less link them causally. That right there is cause for skepticism. The common denominators for AIDS is and always has been chronic drug use, Factor VIII clotting agent used in transfusions, chronic bacteria infections, and retrovirus inhibitors (which are, for all intents and purposes, AIDS treatment drugs, which are themselves immunosuppressive -- and ultimately fatal -- chemotherapy). There are dozens of published papers demonstrating this, and not a single paper demonstrating how HIV actually, physically, causes AIDS. The dynamics of HIV/AIDS are the same as those underlying evolution. There is a powerful academic establishment whose livelihood depends on federally funded research into a particular area. Massive holes in the paradigm itself are shunted under the rug by the "experts" because the "experts" are committed to a particular paradigm and can't afford to be questioned for purposes of cognitive dissonance and/or personal finance. Alternative research programs are denied financing on the basis that "we already know this other thing is true, so it would be a waste of time." Same as ID. ungtss
Mr Ungtss, In the absence of a test for the HIV antibody, there is a possibility of a false positive from the Bangui scoring of other symptoms. That doesn't change the basic science that HIV causes AIDS. Pleasse don't take UD down the path of HIV denialism. Take it up with Tara Smith at Aetiology. Nakashima
NSM2, thanks for update re politics in South Africa. I guess Collins and I didn't get the memo, and sorry for any resulting confusion. ungtss, I share your concern with how diseases are defined in places - I do not mean South Africa here - that do not have up-to-date medical care. This is a point I have made earlier: 1. Absent lab tests for a specific virus, bacterium, or parasite, it can be difficult to determine the specific patient's main problem [= why is he, in particular, SO sick right now?]. 2. Poor, malnourished people who drink untreated water may have more than one disease state. Fixing any such state may give them a better chance against the rest - even if that infestation is not the main problem. Thus, clinical results may not be as useful a guide as they would be in places where lab tests have identified a culprit and the prescribed medication is specifically targeted at same. In places where accurate diagnosis precedes treatment, if the med is - or is not - not working, we have a body of evidence about which we can ask targeted questions and do further research. I think the only solution is reducing the cost of lab tests to levels affordable worldwide. O'Leary
The HIV/AIDS hypothesis (underlying retroviral treatments) deserves a lot of skepticism. One look at the Bangui definition of AIDS (here) makes it clear that AIDS in Africa is ridiculously poorly defined, such that one can have "AIDS" just from sleeping on the floor, drinking from the dirty river, and not having enough food for the season. Duesberg.com has some excellent published papers attacking the poor science underlying the HIV/AIDS hypothesis. ungtss
Mrs O'Leary, I think someone would have to be wilfuly obtuse to equate creationism with the Big Bang. If the reference is to Steve Fuller's testimony at the Kitzmiller vs. Dover School District trial, he was not being skeptical that science might include the Big Bang. Nakashima
Just a couple of things on your remarks about Thabo Mbeki (I'm South African). "4. I think that Mbeki’s policies re anti-retrovirals must have been hatched on some planet other than Earth." Agreed. "But he is the head of state of South Africa." Actually, Jacob Zuma is the current president of South Africa, and Kgalema Mothlanthe played an intermediary role when Thabo Mbeki was asked to resign last year. "If South Africans do not care enough to do something about this problem," This is a bit like saying that America should have pulled out of Iraq already if they're so unhappy with the war. Politics is a rather complex thing. Just two more points: 1.The official position of the ANC, is the mainstream position and Zuma is not a denialist as far as I know. 2. A while ago Manto Tshabalala-Msimang ,health minister at the time, said some supremely silly things about Aids. She has since been replaced. NSM
This is someone that would have gained in reading the philosophe of science Feyerabend or at least open a book on the history of science. Consensus and lack of skepticism is the death of science. As for the 1930's reference, beside being another instance of "Godwin law", what "commun sens vs science" is he refering to: the developement of eugenics? death camp logistics? Kyrilluk

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