Ragism, Tagism, Bagism, This ism , That ism… Ism Ism Ism. Conversation circuit breaker: Scientism

Adam Frank writes on NPR, about Scientism.

But his dog’s breakfast of self-contradicting, ground shifting definitions is pure “proof-in-the-pudding” that this term ought to be avoided at all cost, for its total lack of value in any serious discussion of science, philosophy, consciousness, etc. Let’s do a survey of the bad in this article:
1.  “Scientism is getting a lot of play these days. It’s a difficult word to pin down because it takes on a wide range of meanings depending on who is throwing it around. According to , scientism is:

    ‘an exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science applied to all areas of investigation (as in philosophy, the social sciences, and the humanities).’

Thus, scientism is the “science can explain everything,” (or, at least, “science explains everything important”), kind of position some folks take in arguments about religion, philosophy, the value of the humanities, etc.”

Let’s start on a good note:  It is true,the meaning of “scientism” is contingent on who is using it, and for what purpose. That is because it is a pure propaganda word.  A conversation stopper.  A rhetorical parry to distract from the pursuit of discussing the merits: is this true or not? How do we know? Does the method work IN THIS CASE?

“Exaggerated”… who’s making the determination of what is the “appropriate” amount of trust in efficacy of science? This is an appeal to invisible authority.
Scare quotes around “science explains everything important”  Who makes this claim?  Only people claiming that scientism exists, as far as I can see. Straw man!

2.  “What Pinker fails to see in this passage is that it is precisely the enormous power and the enormous success of science that put it in a unique position for misuse by those who claim to speak in its name” 
This addresses the misuse of a tool, not the value of the tool.  This does not address the question “does the method arrive at better “truths” than guessing, superstition, etc.”  That is OK… because discussers of “scientism” never want to talk about that.  They want to talk about definitiosn of scientism and how bad it is…. ewww.

Wait… maybe they’re saying they want to make science seem like religion, wherein institutional abuse of power in the name of “God” is common.  It is a last ditch ploy by the “faithful” to try to save their sinking asses by dragging others down with them.
3.  “The efficacy of science generates a powerful attraction for advocates of (often unspoken) philosophical assumptions. These are people who seek to cloak their beliefs in the legitimacy of the scientific enterprise. This is where scientism raises its ugly head.”
 The first half of this sentence almost seems like a criminal or mental diagnosis.  Who are these aberrant sickos attracted to “efficacy?” And why won’t they speak their hideous assumptions? (i.e. the assumptions that I, the scientism boogeyman, asserts they have.  Why won’t they cop to the straw man I see so clearly?)

 So… scientism is a method used by the wolves, seeking cover under sheeps clothing?  So, it’s not SCIENCE that is bad… it’s not an exaggerated trust in the efficacy of science, but it is a cheap tactic by those who willfully misuse the “appearance of authority” of science to attempt to foist bullshit on others?  I would agree, but would call that hucksterism, fraud, and a dozen other words before I went inventing the term “scientism.”
 4. “But his easy dismissal of scientism as a “boo-word” misses the point that science gets used within culture for more than just legitimate purposes.”
 Again, this is not what the author defined “scientism” as early on.  Here, he seems to define “scientism” as  “The misuse of science in culture for illegitimate purposes.”
The “normative” talk about “misuse” and degrees of legitimacy does not bear on the tool and its efficacy.  Early on he said scientism is “an exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science”

So where does “scientism” reside?  In the purveyor of bullshit, trying to hitch a bit of vicarious cred from the words “science” and “doctor” and “study”?  Then advertising is guilty of constant “scientism.”   Does it reside in the RECEIVER, who abjures USING scientific skepticism and accepts, at face value, anything that arrives in a lab coat? I believe we have a word for that:  misplaced credulity, superstition, blind faith.
5. “Part of this misappropriation comes from thinking that, since science is so good at providing explanations, explanations are all that matter. It’s an approach that levels human experience in ways that are both dangerous and sad.”
So the author is feeling a little put off that his experiences aren’t receiving the attention they should because everyone is focused on explanations of common occurrences and measurable effects, etc.?  It sounds like he is expressing a degree of jealousy that his (and his ilk’s) claims of “other ways of knowing” aren’t being respected.  Could it be because they can’t demonstrate or discuss these other ways of knowing sensibly, consistently? 

But worse, is the author offering yet another definition of Scientism, and if so, WHO is the proponent of it other than those people ASSERTING scientism exists? I know NO scientist (or “regular person” who abides by a scientific approach to the world) who says “Explanation is all that matters.”
6. “Pinker is quite right that scientism is not a coherent doctrine. But that doesn’t mean the term is empty.”
This is bass-ackwards linguistics and etymology.  Someone with a bias against science coins the phrase, and now we all have to try to squeeze meaning from it??  Why not put a name to an explicit phenomenon and stick with it.  What is the word for misuse of science?  What is the word for deceiving by operating under the credibility of a legitimate body of knowledge?  What is the name for preying on suckers?  We do NOT need to invent Scientism and allow it to be used as a club.  There is precedent in the creation and use of the term “atheist” and as rhetorical tactics go, it’s pretty powerful.   But let’s recognize it for what it is:  The coining of a new word as a rhetorical tactic to seek purchase when other means of argument are failing.  Conversation diversion, and stoppage over fear of some perceived negative trait.  Scientism is bad… he is a scientist.  He is bad.  Q.E.D.
7.  The signoff:  — “You can keep up with more of what Adam Frank is thinking on Facebook and on Twitter.”
No.. no, i don’t think I can because this mush is not followable.  If you find his writing appealing or meaningful, you may have confirmation bias that seeks support for your innate assumption that there IS some thing, or behavior, out there called “scientism.”  Let me reiterate… there may be a thing out there… an experience… or a tendency by some to limit their experience by using an analytical method over an intuitive approach.  But we don’t need to invent new buzzwords to talk about it.  THIS word is not going to help describe that thing, clarify anyone’s thinking or advance your end goal.  All it does is serve as a weapon hurled against science, in an attempt to equate science with religion and to stop or derail discussions onto a self-serving siding, where nothing moves forward.

Think about it… if you’re confronted by someone doing something, would you rather say “Hey.. that’s “scientism”! Stop it.” or would it be more effective to clearly discuss the specific thing being done?  You are misrepresenting data.  You are making claims you cannot support. Your certainty minimizes my concerns and experience.You’re a fraud.  

ANY of these would be better than reaching into your arsenal and deploying the utterly destructive “S” bomb. 


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s