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Reactions to Scientific Method Is a Myth

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In case you wondered what would happen when postmodernism gets science by the throat:

Myth? Yes, as in here.

Discover Magazine thought they should make it clear:

Now for the good news. The scientific method is nothing but a piece of rhetoric. Granted, that may not appear to be good news at first, but it actually is.

No, it isn’t good news, unless we believe that evidence is whatever the Party says it is. But, in fairness, many science writers are not far off that.

The scientific method as rhetoric is far more complex, interesting, and revealing than it is as a direct reflection of the ways scientists work.

Science fiction functions that way too, but then it claims no authority beyond the box office.

Rhetoric is not just words; rather, “just” words are powerful tools to help shape perception, manage the flow of resources and authority, and make certain kinds of actions or beliefs possible or impossible.

Elsewhere, it is called propaganda.

That’s particularly true of what Raymond Williams called “keywords.” A list of modern-day keywords include “family,” “race,” “freedom,” and “science.” Such words are familiar, repeated again and again until it seems that everyone must know what they mean. At the same time, scratch their surface, and their meanings become full of messiness, variation, and contradiction.

The scientific method was supposed to impose order by insisting on some concrete relationship to evidence-based thinking. If that’s not happening and no one think it needs to happen, why force the taxpayer to fund science?

Still, the scientific method did what keywords are supposed to do. It didn’t reflect reality — it helped create it. It helped to define a vision of science that was separate from other kinds of knowledge, justified the value of that science for those left on the outside, and served as a symbol of scientific prestige. It continues to accomplish those things, just not as effectively as it did during its heyday.

Could that be in some way related to

If we return to a simplistic view, one in which the scientific method really is a recipe for producing scientific knowledge, we lose sight of a huge swath of history and the development of a pivotal touchstone on cultural maps. We deprive ourselves of a richer perspective in favor of one both narrow and contrary to the way things actually are.

Is there a way things actually are? That is precisely what comes to be doubted.

Surely that’s the price that one pays to protect—and publicly fund—evolutionary psychology, crackpot cosmology, Darwinism (the single greatest idea ever invented, according to fans, and a host of other beliefs that would not otherwise make the cut.

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I get the mail around here, so here are some other comments that came in, including a quotation from C. S. Lewis:

The physical sciences, then, depend on the validity of logic just as much as metaphysics or mathematics. If popular thought feels ‘science’ to be different from all other kinds of knowledge because science is experimentally verifiable, popular thought is mistaken. Experimental verification is not a new kind of assurance coming in to supply the deficiencies of mere logic. We should therefore abandon the distinction between scientific and non-scientific thought. The proper distinction is between logical and non-logical thought. ( De Futilitate)

Tell that to the post-moderns in science, Jack. Logic is just something else that needs debunking.

Also: from another correspondent,

As a rule, I begin my lectures on Scientific Method by telling my students that scientific method does not exist. I add that I ought to know, having been for a time at least, the only professor of this non-existent subject within the British commonwealth. —Realism and the Aim of Science, Karl Popper, p. 5.

But then he also proposed falsifiability, with which the postmoderns have waged war ever since.

Maybe it comes down to this: The scientific method exists if and only if it is smoke, mirrors, and glam noises aimed at getting an otherwise questionable or downright ridiculous thesis lodged as “science” in people’s minds. That’s so post-modern it deserves its own TV series, with branded products rollouts.

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9 Replies to “Reactions to Scientific Method Is a Myth

  1. 1
    Mapou says:

    Paul Feyerabend, the great German philosopher of science, was a strong critic of the scientific method. Everyone should read his “Against Method’ where he demolishes the elitism of the scientific community. My favorite quote from the book is this one:

    “…the most stupid procedures and the most laughable result in their domain are surrounded with an aura of excellence. It is time to cut them down to size and to give them a lower position in society.”

    Science is just a form of learning via trial and error. Everybody does it from birth. There is no special scientific method. It’s all hot air from the usual elitist suspects.

  2. 2
    daveS says:

    I’m a little confused by this post, but the scientific method is indeed a myth, correct?

  3. 3
    Mapou says:

    Let me pull a bornagain trick and copy and paste a quote from Feyerabend’s Against Method:

    A science that insists on possessing the only correct method and the only acceptable results is ideology and must be separated from the state, and especially from the process of education. One may teach it, but only to those who have decided to make this particular superstition their own. On the other hand, a science that has dropped such totalitarian pretensions is no longer independent and self-contained, and it can be taught in many different combinations (myth and modern cosmology might be one such combination). Of course, every business has the right to demand that its practitioners be prepared in a special way, and it may even demand acceptance of a certain ideology (I for one am against the thinning out of subjects so that they become more and more similar to each other; whoever does not like present-day Catholicism should leave it and become a Protestant, or an Atheist, instead of ruining it by such inane changes as mass in the vernacular). That is true of physics, just as it is true of religion, or of prostitution. But such special ideologies, such special skills have no room in the process of general education that prepares a citizen for his role in society. A mature citizen is not a man who has been instructed in a special ideology, such as Puritanism, or critical rationalism, and who now carries this ideology with him like a mental tumour, a mature citizen is a person who has learned how to make up his mind and who has then decided in favour of what he thinks suits him best. He is a person who has a certain mental toughness (he does not fall for the first ideological street singer he happens to meet) and who is therefore able consciously to choose the business that seems to be most attractive to him rather than being swallowed by it. To prepare himself for his choice he will study the major ideologies as historical phenomena, he will study science as a historical phenomenon and not as the one and only sensible way of approaching a problem. He will study it together with other fairy-tales such as the myths of ‘primitive’ societies so that he has the information needed for arriving at a free decision. An essential part of a general education of this kind is acquaintance with the most outstanding propagandists in all fields, so that the pupil can build up his resistance against all propaganda, including the propaganda called ‘argument’. It is only after such a hardening procedure that he will be called upon to make up his mind on the issue rationalism-irrationalism, science-myth, science-religion, and so on. His decision in favour of science – assuming he chooses science – will then be much more ‘rational’ than any decision in favour of science is today. At any rate – science and the schools will be just as carefully separated as relig’ ion and the schools are separated today. Scientists will of course participate in governmental decisions, for everyone participates in such decisions. But they will not be given overriding authority. It is the vote of everyone concerned that decides fundamental issues such as the teaching methods used, or the truth of basic beliefs such as the theory of evolution, or the quantum theory, and not the authority of big-shots hiding behind a non-existing methodology. There is no need to fear that such a way of arranging society will lead to undesirable results. Science itself uses the method of ballot, discussion, vote, thou-h without a clear grasp of its mechanism, and in a heavily biased way. But the rationality of our beliefs will certainly be considerably increased.

    Source: Paul Feyerabend.

    As seen above, Feyerabend had major guts. Needless to say, he was vilified by the scientific community.

  4. 4
    News says:

    DaveS at 2: Maybe there is a scientific method, just like there is a method of losing weight. And if people would stick to it, it might work. But they don’t, and they don’t.

  5. 5
    asauber says:

    Coupla Mazto Balls Hanging Out There…

    1. What distinguishes a human being, that it can be identified as such?

    2. What distinguishes science, that it can be identified as such?

    Andrew

  6. 6
    Zachriel says:

    The scientific method is a collection of various practices, but there are common characteristics.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_method

  7. 7
    Vy says:

    Someone had to eventually cite Wiki. Oh well.

    It looks like evolution has been at the “Refine, Alter, Expand or Reject Hypotheses” stage since forever.

  8. 8
    Mung says:

    The scientific method fits into a neat hierarchy. That’s how we know it evolved.

  9. 9
    Robert Byers says:

    Wekk written thread. YES science fiction and propaganda work as they invoke how the method should work. These guys writing in the magazines I mean.
    Its just Sherlock Holmes doing a better investigation then Scotland yard.
    Its just people figuring things out and proving it.
    Yet the people fail or the people fail to do the method.
    There is no sci method.
    Its a myth. Its used to today to silence thoughtful people questioning some conclusion SCIENCE has made. Really science didn’t but a few people in obscure subjects.
    Creationism fights incompetent people and not methodologies.
    Evolution fails because it fails method.
    It doesn’t make its case on biology evidence. Some ID critics also fail for the same reason off the record.

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