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Riposte to Steve Pinker’s scientism


Recently, we noted Harvard cognitive psychologist Steve Pinker’s defense of scientism here.

Scientism, as described by a proponent, Duke University philosopher Alex Rosenberg, is the view that “Science provides all the significant truths about reality, and knowing such truths is what real understanding is all about.*

Over at the Circle Bastiat, statistician Peter G, Klein offers,

Pinker’s position seems to me to confuse — if you’ll forgive the statistics jargon — point estimates and standard errors. In other words, scientists today assert that X is probably true, and that therefore people should act as if X is true. They confuse skepticism about acting on X as a confident belief in Y, while actually people are just unsure about X. I made this point in a post on climate science. The “best available scientific evidence” may suggest this or that, but it hardly follows that people should base their decisions on that evidence (or that it should guide government policy). Next week’s scientific consensus may be entirely different.

*Alex Rosenberg, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions (New York: W.W. Norton, 2012), pp. 6-7. One senses that the attraction of such a view is most apparent to people who belong to disciplines that are not wisely approached as sciences or not really sciences —but those people wish to consider themselves scientists, for self-esteem, for some reason. Thoughts?

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose


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