The transformation of Science into Scientism

A treatise on the corruption of science itself by an anonymous gentleman on 4chan:

One of the most upsetting things that has come from the ongoing and corrosive seep of politics into various walks of life has been the death of question-based science. Science should be about questions, always questions, great or small. Sometimes you get an answer, but more often then not you just have more questions. You never really figure anything out, you just build a longer and more illuminating chain to the current questions. Several talented scientists of the past were quick to state that, for all their experience and understanding, they were still like children poking away at the edges of a puzzle box.

Over the last several decades, however, there seems to have been a shift. It’s silly to think it just suddenly cropped up, and it did not, but like many things, it’s easier to see once things hit a critical mass. Science is now a commodity, and a valuable one at that. People don’t want questions, they want answers, and what’s more they expect a certain kind of answer. More concerning even than that, however, is they expect certainty. Science is being held up to such a strong and focused dogma that, once a statement is made, continuing to investigate is viewed as foolish at best, and at worst actively crushed. Questions are being slowly restricted so that they will provide only the wished for answers.

The statement “the science is settled” trumpeted about climate change is a good example of this. Science is never settled, about anything. While crackpots and bad data and investigation abound, questions themselves are never invalid, even if they lead to already found answers. Scientific investigation is too quickly becoming a tool for both political and ideological advancement, among others, and it’s eating away into the basic structures that have allowed the west to become the dominate force on this planet for hundreds of years. If we cannot advance, then we decline, it’s sadly that simple.

science The rise of the celebrity scientist is also a sad symptom of all this. Science is a stumbling, grasping thing, and can’t be reduced to any one soundbite. What’s more, no individual is, inherently, able to speak for an entire subject, let alone scientific inquiry as a whole. Some are able to ask the questions that lead to more impressive results with greater repetition, but scientific discovery is valid if it comes from a multi-million dollar lab or someone’s back yard.

What’s more, being pushed into the public eye, and needing to preserve a set persona also means that these individuals become progressively easier to influence, and have increasing challenge to preserve their sense of impartiality. It may stem from a wish to continue to have a forum for their message, or it may have more base roots, but the result is the same, someone slowly stops being a scientist, and starts to become a commentator.

The process is sadly simple. A movement or ideology seeks legitimacy in the eyes of the masses. In the past, they would go to the church, but now go to the universities. By finding someone who supports their message with “hard science”, true or not, they may claim both that they are the logical choice, and that their opponents are illogical outliers. As their star rises, so does their chosen speaker, and vice versa, with the stronger influencing the weaker as time passes. The end result being scientists who tour more then they question, and movements with dogmatic volumes of the one, real Truth.

The reason this matters, and the reason to bring it up even though many already know it, is that it has a direct reflection on a lot of the turmoil bubbling from so many places. Science is being co-opted and corrupted by too many opposed agendas and viewpoints, and it’s causing the public at large to start pulling away from and even rejecting the scientific community as a whole, let along scientific inquiry itself.

It’s already started. Everything from the environment to genetics is being called out for pushing what is often viewed as a thin political agenda. On too many occasions people have called out misinformation and, at times, outright lies, only to be silenced with the force and speed of religious heresy suppression. It’s causing a slow rise of mistrust and rejection, and eating in to the legitimacy of scientific inquiry in the eyes of the world.

I fear the most that it could cause a full reversal. The west and survived, and thrived, on the advance of investigation and scientific development, and with many aspects of modern life already starting to look a little shaky, a sudden rejection of these ideals could cause a backlash on par with the dark ages. Science, itself, isn’t at fault, it’s those seeking to pervert it, from within or without, to push agenda that are at fault, but it’s the discipline as a whole that is going to bear the brunt.

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