What makes a claim or practice scientific? We’re bombarded daily with reports of promising new medical breakthroughs, troubling socioeconomic trends, path-breaking technologies, but rarely do we delve into the relevant details to find out what these findings actually claim. Would such examination really make much of a difference in our understanding? Does the qualifier “scientific” negatively or positively predispose our critiques? What is a relevant detail anyway, and how would we recognize one if we found one?
Assuming a genuine interest in the science itself, most research today would leave many of us at the same confused starting point despite our desire to understand the technical aspects. Scientific research has become so specialized that even those competent in the sciences have difficulty wading through the particulars. So answering the question of what qualifies as genuine science can itself be as elusive as the claims and practices themselves. But this still remains a distant concern given a more fundamental set of obstacles, and the prognosis unfortunately is not all that encouraging.Continue Reading
Leon Wieseltier’s September 3rd article in the New Republic, Crimes Against Humanities, takes Steven Pinker to task for his August 6th piece, Science Is Not Your Enemy. Wieseltier is loath to surrender the humanities to the colonizing forces of science while Pinker insists that his mission is peaceful if not illuminating. Like most disputes in the academic world this one has its precursors. So what’s all the fuss about?
The sciences and humanities have a longstanding history of territorial disputes over tracts of intellectual space, with each side believing its borders to be well-defined, or at least secure enough to guard against the barbarian hordes. Periodically, one side will claim newfound territory at the expense of the other, provoking defensive posturing that often begets an acute case of amnesia; postmodernist intrusions into the sciences by their colleagues in Science and Technology Studies is just one example.Continue Reading
H.L. Mencken was less than enthusiastic about the democratic process, with particular misgivings for its American variety. Much of his contempt rested on its putative constituency. He bristled at the notion of championing the common man yet never took favor with high society. He detested populism, religious fundamentalism, pseudoscience, and anything that smacked of anti-intellectualism.
Mencken’s most memorable journalistic contributions came from his daily reports on the Scopes “Monkey” Trial in the 1925 court case against high school teacher John Scopes, who was accused of violating Tennessee State law (Butler Act) for teaching evolution. Mencken’s satirical style penetrated in a way that forever branded fundamentalist Christianity as a base superstition for the frightened and ignorant.Continue Reading