Wednesday, January 23, 2008

"Scientific Authority" an Anti-Concept

The Jan 22nd, Junkscience.com links to an article at Spiked by Frank Furedi. Mr. Furedi makes many good points about how science is morphing into dogma and I recommend reading the whole thing. Gus Van Horn posted on this article Friday here and I agree with Gus's assessment of it. But I want to focus on a specific concept Mr. Furedi cites.

In his essay, Mr. Furedi mentions the use of the word 'scientific authority.' This term is a cognitive anti-concept. It is trying to package together two ideas that do not belong together, that are essentially different. In terms of essentials, the essence of science is reason and the essence of authority is power. So packaging the two together will give us science where truths are determined by force, that is, where reason has been forced out.

In science there are hypotheses and facts that are either true, false or not yet determined either way. There are no authoritative facts or hypotheses. A scientist can be an authority in a given field. But his facts and theories do not give orders to other facts and theories or lord over them. He discovers what is true by whether or not it corresponds to reality. He discovers this relationship by means of testing and experiment, not by demanding reality conform to his theories. Authority is a political concept. It does not belong in science.

But what does putting it there do? Its purpose is to destroy a valid meaning and replace it with a new meaning. The valid meaning to be exorcised is scientific knowledge. The new intended meaning is scientific belief. The coiners of the term 'scientific authority' want their reality to be accepted in the same way religious people accept as true the tenants of their religion as revealed by religious authorities. Religious authorities don't have to prove their tenants. They are accepted on faith. The new 'authority' scientists want the same luxury. They can have it if they can get society to accept the notion that knowledge doesn't exist, only beliefs do. Therefore, the beliefs that governments are to consider important and thus enforce, are not those that have truth, but those that have "authority." The concept 'scientific authority' achieves that goal by defining out of existence the idea of scientific knowledge and replacing it with scientific beliefs.

One of the reasons this seems to be working so well is the fact that Americans still have respect for science and its ability to discover the truth about reality. It is this positive respect for the concept scientific knowledge that is used by the pushers of 'scientific authority' to smuggle into the minds of the public the idea that science deals in beliefs that have or don't have authority. If someone asks about a scientific hypothesis or theory, they must be referring to beliefs they'll be told. Provable knowledge? There is no such thing they will intone. (The concept belief is such a mixed bag, it means different things to different people, it needs a post of its own which I will attempt soon.)

The IPCC has been declared the 'authority' on climate change we are told. They have 'revealed' the reality that it is all man's fault and will lead to disaster for life on Earth unless we all make sacrifices. Those who disagree are not called critics which is what they are, but "skeptics", "deniers" and "doubters." Just like the dark ages. It's my guess that if the greenies could burn a Richard Lindzen or John Christy at the steak, they readily would. But I digress.

In his excellent lecture series Clarity In Conceptualization: The Art of Identifying Package-Deals, Peter Schwartz pointed out that package-deals and anti-concepts are spread through a culture like drugs, by two kinds of people, pushers and users. The pushers would be university professors of philosophy and maybe social sciences and the users pretty much everyone else who unquestioningly accepted the concepts. I entirely agree with this assessment.

So when I hear or read a scientist, reporter or politician using the term 'scientific authority' I know I'm listening to a user I can no longer trust for credible info.
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