10 July 2013

Mailbag: The Myth of the Scientific Method


HB writes:

The book “Scientific Literacy and the Myth of the Scientific Method,” is this good?  The kids are reading a couple of science books this year—one very slanted creationist view of proofs and the other is an evolutionist’s view of the seas.  I didn’t know if this book might be helpful to me to kind of having a bigger view of “science” in general and the approaches used.

I whole-heartedly endorse  Henry Baker’s “Scientific Literacy and the Myth of the Scientific Method,” though I think that Kuhn’s “Structure of Scientific Revolutions” is more thorough and considerably deeper.  That said, it was Baker’s book that first challenged my general trust in science—I read it as part of research for a term paper I was writing for a college Ethics class a couple of year ago.

The main thing I would take away from both books is that scientific knowledge simply cannot be trusted.  I make use of Vox Day’s Science/Engineering dichotomy, and would generally assert that once a discipline shifts from a primarily theoretical approach to a set of consistently replicable rules, it ceases to be science and instead becomes engineering, hence my belief that scientific knowledge, as it were, cannot be trusted.

As I noted in the prior post, economics is not really science as much as it is philosophy (though some branches appear to be nothing more than a statistical analysis of history).  In many ways, most other sciences, particularly social sciences, seem to be basically the same as economics in this regard.  Really, even a lot of harder sciences, like biology and anthropology/archaeology, have a whole lot more in common with philosophy and religion* than they do with the engineering disciplines of chemistry and physics.

Really, once you look at most, or even all, of the scientific disciplines, it should become quite clear that most scientists are either stupid or charlatans, and most of that which is passed off as certain knowledge is anything but.  Thus, putting your faith in science, or at least putting any degree of faith in the proclamations of scientists, is a very naïve thing to do.  Truthfully, we don’t know as much as we think we do.

Also, most of what we know, in a scientific sense, isn’t even true in an objective sense.  Scientific truth is intrinsically tautological, and those tautologies are only useful if they lead to accurate real-world predictive models, of the sort that we can plan our lives around.  The technical term to describe the system of said reliable predictive models is—you guessed it—engineering.  But I’ve already discussed this in depth before, and so I won’t repeat myself here.

At any rate, I think it’s a wonderful idea to have a broader view of science in general, and I thus recommend not only the books I’ve mentioned above, but also looking into epistemology and the philosophy of knowledge.  Frankly, I’m surprised people view science as anything other than trivial nonsense.  But I guess I shouldn’t be all that surprised that human pride still plagues us to this day.

* Both biology and anthropology take a lot of things on faith.  For example, there is quite a bit in biology that is predicated on the completely unproven theory of evolution by natural selection.  This bias is even found in anthropology as well, which is why most analyses assume that earlier man was “primitive,” which is to say less intelligent than modern man, since mankind would still be evolving from a lesser state to the modern state.  You may recognize this as a rather progressive vision.  I think this assumption of man’s evolution towards a superior state may help to explain why progressives were once remarkably infatuated with genetics and eugenics, and why most genetic engineers seem to be progressive in their politics.  There is a lot that can and should be said about anthropology, but that will be reserved for another post.