Thursday, 26 July 2007

parents just don't understand

Thank you, Paul Kurtz, for founding the Center for Inquiry. Thank you for restoring my confidence in science (and a little more confidence in scientists themselves). I feel like I can finally be comfortable saying that science is not itself a religion, a faith followed by educated 19th-century men. When scientists let science do the work it is supposed to do (namely, adhering to the scientific method without a care as to whether your hypotheses are correct or incorrect), it is a very good thing, a very rational thing.

I realize that much of my dislike of science has stemmed from a dislike of particular scientists.

First, the holier-than-thou group: because they study science and the 'real world', they think that they are better (i don't know how - morally? physically? mentally?) than us lowly scholars of literature and culture. They talk down to us, they lack interest in our own observations, they lose themselves in experiments, dreams of saving the world. The problem with these people is that they lack a certain respect for cultural awareness, social history, communication and persuasion of the masses. Societal change can only operate through a societal conversation. Without the knowledge of how people communicate, persuade, interact, and how they have done so over time, how can one expect to implement whatever precious discoveries one has made? In their wonder at the beauty of nature, moreover, they sometimes lose a sense of the beauty of humanity, the beauty of personalities and social bonds, the thunderstorm of the creative mind. Good poetry, an ancient piece of glassware, can be just as awe-inspiring as the proton pump that allows Venus flytraps to snap shut so quickly.

The second group of scientists that irk me are those who have something seriously invested in the results of their experiments. These people aren't really doing science, yet they feel free to design their experiments or skew their reporting of their results in such a way as to draw conclusions that are unrealistic for the scope of their experiment. Most of these people are social scientists, I suppose. For example, though, the still unsolved claim that abortion raises a woman's risk of getting breast cancer. (oh and check out this creepy as hell website)

The third group, particular to my field of study, is the group who (badly) tries to use scientific method in the humanities. Many of these people would fall into the second group (biased scientists), and think that they can "prove" things about literature, societies, cultures, by use of hypotheses and tests. Why do they irk me? Some don't know how to run an 'experiment' on literature, or history. I'm still not convinced that the scientific method can be used to study the psychological or cultural aspects of our world. (Here I think of the colometric studies of 19th-century German scholars that prove whether text manuscripts are accurate or not). The other reason why they irk me is that, due to the nature of the field itself, these scholars cannot act like other scientists - they cannot collaborate with their peers, they cannot expect to publish a study which culminates in negative or inconclusive results. Just once, I would like to read an article that proves to me that Plato's chronology can't be pinned down. Just once.

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