On Science

Posted by

This is a useful article on the invalidity of the criticisms of science emerging from post-modern thought.

Rational criticisms of scientific bias are reasonable and should be acknowledged.  We are just beginning to find out, for example, how much disease research has been done on male subjects, with the assumption that the findings will transfer to females.  Unsurprisingly, given our profound genetic differences, much of it doesn’t, and women have been getting a bad deal in healthcare as a result.

This is simply bad science.  It means that the sexist biases of the researchers affected the validity of the results.  The solution is not to abandon science as ‘relative’; it is to redo the research with the bias removed, i.e. to include female subjects, so that the data we have is better and more accurate for female healthcare.  That’s how science works.  It self-corrects over time.  Today, it doesn’t deal in absolutes or ‘facts’; it deals in hypotheses, weak theories and strong theories.  A strong theory is simply a model of some aspect of reality that can be reliably tested with the same results, whether the tester is a privileged white western male scientist or a Chinese vegetarian nun, and which has good predictive value.   Apples fall rather than flying upwards.  Females, not males, gestate young.  Climate science predictions are coming true.  Vaccinations will prevent you from getting polio, smallpox and measles.  If you do the calculations correctly, you can put a rocket on the moon, or a lander on a distant comet.  Although we can only know the world through our perceptions, strong scientific theories are very good approximations to whatever reality is out there, and they transfer between cultures.  They are both intersubjective and cross-cultural; they are the least relative, least socially constructed and most objective forms of knowledge available to us.  And most importantly, they can always be improved on.  Science is incremental.

Of course science can be abused in the service of money and power.  Ben Goldacre’s AllTrials campaign against publication bias in pharmaceuticals tackles exactly this; many pharmaceutical companies do not publish failing trials, and this makes the performance of their drugs in trials look better than they really are.  Forcing them to publish all trials, whether successful or not, obviates this.

There are wider political questions to be asked about how women’s reproductive healthcare has been hijacked by a medical industry that has become increasingly profit-focused; but they shouldn’t deter us from demanding good science focused on women’s health.

But none of this, by any stretch of the imagination, invalidates the scientific method, or relegates it to the realm of the socially constructed.

Science, by comprehensively demonstrating that there are better and poorer models of reality, that not all opinions have the same validity, should have put the kybosh on postmodernism’s extreme relativity by now.  But somehow postmodernism keeps scuttling around, like some determined cockroach.

Here’s Chomsky, speaking truth to obscurantism:

Noam Chomsky Calls Postmodern Critiques of Science Over-Inflated “Polysyllabic Truisms”