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A cell biologist’s riposte to scientism in general

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We just noted statistician Peter Klein’s riposte to Steve Pinker’s scientism.  Here is a riposte to scientism in general, by cell biologist Jalees Rehman at Three Quarks Daily:

As a scientist who investigates signaling mechanisms and the metabolic activity of stem cells, I am concerned about the rise of some movements that fall under the “scientism” umbrella, because they have the possibility to impede scientific discovery. Scientific progress relies on recognizing the limitations and flaws in existing scientific concepts and refuting scientific views that cannot be adequately explained by newer scientific observations. An exaggerated confidence in the validity of scientific findings could stifle such refutations. For example, some of the most widely cited scientific papers in the field of stem cell biology cannot be replicated, but they have had an enormous detrimental impact on the science and medicine, in part because of an exaggerated faith in the validity of some initial experiments.

Wouldn’t be unusual, actually. A whole research group has got started to try to replicate “edgy” (= doubtful) social psychology findings, because so many could not be replicated by peers. Rehman adds,

Increasing numbers of scientists are recognizing that current approaches to interpreting and publishing scientific data are severely flawed. Exaggerated confidence in the validity of scientific findings is frequently misplaced and claims that scientific results represent objective truths need to be re-evaluated particularly when a high percentage of experimental results cannot be replicated by fellow scientists. In this particular context, the views of scientists who are trying to learn lessons from the failures of the scientific peer review process are not so different from those of “scientism” critics.

He goes on to an interesting discussion of the term “scientism,” which he believes to be unhelpful.


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