Science can be understood and criticised on a variety of levels. The three most interesting ones are:
- Science as cf. Harari (2014)
and ecological collapse.
embodying values and motives like curiosity and acceptance of failure,
disassociation from social context, objectification of nature, hubris
(e.g. economics, eugenics). Helps explain large-scale historical
trends like the rise of capitalism
- Science as Models and Theories are chosen due to, amongst other factors, Ideology and Power, e.g. race theory as a justification of slavery; and how some disciplines and paradigms dominate others in forms of Epistemic Colonialism. , a network of meanings and power positions. Helps explain how
- Science as an , part of and representing a wider ; captured by external actors that direct funding and governance according to their interests. Helps explain inequality along the lines of, amongst others, sex, gender, race, class, able-bodiedness, and ensuing biases that cement or increase inequality; stability of s even when they have become empirically unproductive.
Science’s characteristics on these three levels lead to the marginalisation or ineffectiveness of voices that are critical of science’s societal or ecological impact (e.g. economics) or the effectiveness of science to influence wider trends (e.g.) – until the consequences can’t be ignored anymore.
In addition, they are causing not only social inequality (and hence
injustice), but also “epistemic injustice”:
Theories get selected
due to social and motivational factors like status seeking or
Ideology, not only
for their scientific merits.For a concrete example, see
These factors are not correlated with empirical success, and if they are unevenly distributed between competing of models and theories, the choice between them becomes skewed.Solomon (2001), 76 ff.
This is often the case when non-scientific interests promote models and theories (e.g. in economics) that support or justify their political, social or economic agenda. This not only strengthens these interests’ power, but also weakens science.
To remedy these issues, science has to be transformed as an
institution, which would also change discourse and culture in the long
run. But that has to be achieved against capturing interests, which is
very hard.Acemoglu (2006)
But while there is a deep tension between science‘s truth
and status claims and the relativisation of any scientific truth,
“scientism”, an alleged ideology of scientific overreach, is a straw
man: The above problems with science can and should be researched and
understood scientifically themselvescf. Dennett (2004)
– if its scope and critical potential are freed from ideological shackles and hubris about its presumed objectivity, there arepace Haack 2017
no a priori limits to what is a proper object of scientific inquiry.
In focusing on criticisms of scientism, people avoid thinking about and doing the hard work that is really required, which is institutional reform – or a revolution to change science’s environment so it has to adapt.
- Acemoglu (2006): “A Simple Model of Inefficient Institutions”
- Dennett (2004): “Commentary on John Dupre’s Human Nature and the Limits of Science”
- Haack (2017): Scientism and its Discontents
- Harari (2014): Sapiens
- Lewis and Maslin (2018): The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene
- Solomon (2001): Social Empiricism