If you spend any time on Facebook, you probably see feeds that say, “Science says this” or “Science confirms that.” The feeds often contradict each other, but because they come from “scientific authorities,” they bear the weight of fact until you read the evidence from the other side. Then it gets confusing and you lean towards our prejudices rather than the facts. Is it just you, a non-scientist, or do scientists try to force nature to do their bidding, too? Is science overrated?
We live in an age of Scientism. Science is our religion. Are the high priests of science misleading us? Most of us aren’t scientists, so if we weigh in on the issue, our opinion doesn’t carry the weight of authority. When a science journalist asks the same question, we have to stop and think about it. Well, we should stop and think about it. If you’re a hardcore science devotee, you might stick to your guns as fiercely as an evangelical Christian sticks to their belief that the world is only six thousand years old.
John Horgan has written a number of articles critical of science. His latest article in Scientific American is subtitled, “A science journalist takes a skeptical look at capital “S” Skepticism.” He gets to his point early in the article:
I’m a science journalist. I don’t celebrate science, I criticize it, because science needs critics more than cheerleaders. I point out gaps between scientific hype and reality. That keeps me busy, because, as you know, most peer-reviewed scientific claims are wrong.
Follow the second link and you find a PLOS Medicine article titled, “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False.” The article summary doesn’t beat around the bush:
There is increasing concern that most current published research findings are false. The probability that a research claim is true may depend on study power and bias, the number of other studies on the same question, and, importantly, the ratio of true to no relationships among the relationships probed in each scientific field.
That’s nothing less than scientific heresy. Should science’s critics be burned at the stake, even when they use science to reach their conclusions?
Is Science Overrated?
Science may not be overrated. Science is or should be based on scientific evidence. Unfortunately, scientists are people and like most people, they have their prejudices. To make matters worse, they have their reputations to think of and will defend their position even when science doesn’t. To compound the problem, scientists band together in “tribes.” As Horgan points out:
When people like this get together, they become tribal. They pat each other on the back and tell each other how smart they are compared to those outside the tribe. But belonging to a tribe often makes you dumber.
He uses Richard Dawkins as an example. Dawkins is a biologist and possibly the world’s best known atheist. In Horgan’s opinion, “he hates religion so much it impairs his scientific judgement.” If you’ve ever read anything by Richard Dawkins objectively, you might have to agree. He always uses the obvious flaws in religion to bolster his arguments, but doesn’t take a closer look at the ethical side of religion. Blind faith in Jesus or whoever your personal deity may be might be silly, but it’s no more silly than claiming that science is the key to mankind’s salvation.
Gus Speth has a lot of credentials to his name. He used to fall for the cult of Scientism, but apparently saw through its flaws as a substitute for spirituality. Of course, it depends on how you define “spirituality,” but if spirituality means transcending egotistical concerns and taking a more compassionate approach to life, he’s right on the money.
The top environmental and social problems are “selfishness, greed and apathy” and no amount of good science will change that. Science today is ego and profit oriented and often works to the detriment of humanity. Arguably, global warming is the result of this greedy science and our greatest challenge is a spiritual one. As Speth says: “scientists don’t know how to do that.” Religion doesn’t either, so it’s up to us as individuals to reassess our priorities and realize that we face problems of apocalyptic proportions.
Both science and religion need an overhaul. Selfishness and greed are out of control. At the same time, we who are less selfish and greedy tend to be apathetic. After a hard day at work, we don’t have the energy to ponder the bigger picture. It’s much easier to turn on the TV and imagine everything is just fine. It’s not and science isn’t going to fix it until we undergo a “cultural and spiritual transformation.” Then maybe “good science” can lend a helping hand.