What makes a claim or practice scientific? We’re bombarded daily with reports of scientific studies advancing medical breakthroughs, revealing the latest in socioeconomic trends, touting the significance of new technologies, but rarely do we take the time to delve into the relevant details to find out what it is these findings actually claim. Would the details really make that much of a difference in our understanding of the science? Does the qualifier “scientific” evoke a positive or negative image in our minds? What is a relevant detail anyway, and how would we recognize one if we found one? Even if we took the time, the jargon, theories and methodology would likely leave many of us just as ill-informed. 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 being genuinely scientific can be as elusive as the scientific claims and practices themselves.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’ sacred ground to the colonizing forces of science while Pinker insists that his mission is a peaceful one. Like most disputes in the academic world this one has its predecessors. 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 and acute cases of amnesia. For instance, those in the humanities quickly forget the postmodernist intrusions into the sciences by their colleagues working in Science and Technology Studies to give just one example.Continue Reading
H.L. Mencken was known to be 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 were his daily reports on the Scopes “Monkey” Trial. His satirical style penetrated in a way that forever branded fundamentalist Christianity as a base superstition for the frightened and ignorant. He portrayed the American psyche as an exasperating celebration of idiocy. His visceral disdain for an American peasantry, and the charlatans who fed on that bounty, defined him as one of the more acerbic but perceptive cultural commentators of the twentieth century. Mencken was the cynical Mark Twain of his time as exhibited in this sardonic rebuke:
As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron. (July 26, 1920)