Monday, August 20, 2007

When did objective knowledge die?

Every now and again, usually on Monday mornings, I find myself pondering the same question. As I travel into work and digest the daily news I cannot stop thinking, what has happened to intellectual honesty? Whether it is the political gamesmanship being played out right now about tax and spending, or the whole environmental climate change agenda, there seems to be this dominance of intellectual dishonesty, often deliberate sometimes unwitting.

Take the "Camp for Climate Change" and its reporting this morning. We come, they say, "armed only with peer reviewed science". How wonderful that sounds, but how meaningless it is when presented as such. For they are in fact saying, "we come with what a lot of people believe to be the case therefore it is an unquestionable truth". Yet it is not truth at all. Even if we put aside the populum and verecundium fallacies they’re making, all they actually come armed with is hypothesis, not truth.

What is worse though is that our current cultural climate is such that to question the use of phrases such as "the science is unequivocal" makes one automatically a denier. In the eyes of the pseudo-scientific rabble you are denying the “inconvenient truth”. To question the intellectual honesty and the reject the politicisation of science, does, fro them, make you a fool; a killer of the planet; or a raving mad oil loving neocon. They don’t play the ball and instead always play the man.

How on earth did we get to this point? How did Enlightenment reach the point where not only is it hated for what it has achieved, but that it is cynically used against itself in the pursuit of near puritanical and flat earth ends? They come armed with intellectual dishonesty and they tackle those that point it out with yet more intellectual dishonesty. What exactly was the tipping point that killed humanity's pursuit of objective knowledge?


Anonymous said...

In the battle of scientific ideas, I wonder what Karl Popper would have made of the anti-flying activists that were armed to the teeth 'only with peer reviewed science', or The Science as they like to see it?

Being equipted with the latest 'unequivocal' truth, that's backed by The Science, actually fails Popper's falsifiabiliy test. Whatever the activists science told us, it cannot be scientifically disproved at this present time. It's precisely the same reason why Creationist science is rightfully viewed as unscientific, because it cannot be falsified.

Rich Tee said...

Simple answer - post-modernism. It was people like Foucault, Baudrillard et al who argued that science is just another belief system like religion.

It was interesting watching Richard Dawkins arguing with a sociologist on "The Enemies of Reason" on Channel 4 last week. Unfortunately Dawkins' relentless attacks on religion does make him look exactly like the zealots he is trying so hard to shoot down.

Unfortunately I missed yesterday's episode because I was down the pub.

Rich Tee said...

Probably also need to add that people became cynical of science in the twentieth century because they realised it had its downsides eg. atomic bomb, eugenics, pollution, and its general inability to solve problems like world hunger etc.

Rowan Bas said...

Objective Knowledge was taught thousands of years ago. This was taught by the Heavens but it didn't prosper.