We are 100% user-supported!
Without you, there is no RationalWiki!
|Goal: $5000||Donations so far: $2750|
Help and donate today!
Anti-science, in modern terms, refers to largely ideological attacks on the teaching of evolutionary theory and other sciences in schools, and their use in the world at large. This is particularly true when there is conflict with political or religious pseudo-scientific positions. Common targets include evolution, global warming and various sorts of medicine, although other sciences that may conflict with any given ideology are often targeted as well.
The anti-science position generally holds that in cases where science and ideology come into conflict, science itself must be flawed. This position is normally couched in reassuring code phrases, such as "intelligent design". Although it is highly likely that anti-science positions are the result of ideological positions, the holding of a particular ideological position will not automatically make an individual guilty of being anti-science. The test is whether the work follows the scientific method, could potentially be refuted and is acceptable to peer reviewed publications, etc. In other words - is it science?
Anti-science is often manifested in:
- Attempts to discredit the scientists themselves. Examples are accusations of Galileo being a heretic, the Lenski affair and suggestions that Richard Dawkins is not a "real" scientist.
- Attempts to discredit the scientific method. This is frequently done by maintaining that scientific objectivity is subject to some bias.
- Misrepresentation. An example would be the Oregon Petition.
- Outright denial. Examples are germ theory denialism and HIV denial.
- The replacement of real science with pseudosciences like Intelligent Design.
- The replacement of scientific ideas with conspiracy theories. A good example of this would be the global warming conspiracy theory.
This modern usage of the term should not be confused with the anti-science movement in the 1960s and 1970s, which was largely concerned with the possible dehumanizing aspects of uncontrolled scientific and technological advancement. While this skepticism of unchecked change meets the classic dictionary definition of conservatism, it falls far short of the anti-intellectual thrust of modern political conservatism.
The term can also be used for policy decisions which, for political reasons, ignore the advice of scientists paid to inform such policy. In the Bush administration, politically appointed administrators of the Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies have made decisions in conflict with the recommendations of agency scientists. In addition, wording and conclusions in scientific reports have been changed to support corporate interests.
What it is not
The phrase does not mean:
- "Having a scientifically testable (and potentially falsifiable) hypothesis which is opposed to a particular paradigm currently dominant in the scientific community," because in this case, Einstein, Darwin, Pasteur, Galileo, and Copernicus would also meet the definition of having been "anti-science".
- "Wrong," in which case every scientist holding to a hypothesis that is ultimately shown to be untrue would meet the definition of being "anti-science".
Why it is important
Being anti-science can cause deaths and has caused deaths on a large scale when commentators discounted scientific evidence that HIV causes AIDS, because of this appropriate treatment was not made available and in South Africa 300,000 people died.   The harm done by anti-science movements goes beyond the specific sciences with which they are mainly concerned. By undermining the scientific method, or seeking to "amend" it so that their particular ideology is shoehorned into the definition of science, such movements threaten to disrupt the public's understanding of science's most important, basic advantage—that systematic logical investigation is the best way to gain knowledge. Take, for example, the results of a 2005 Gallup poll about the public's beliefs in paranormal activity. Among other things, this poll found that about a quarter of the people surveyed in the U.S., Canada, and U.K. believed that the positions of stars and planets have an effect on their lives. Roughly the same percentage thought that communication with the dead was possible. Watering down the scientific method (as anti-science advocates attempt to do) is unlikely to improve those figures.
Furthermore, disrupting the scientific method has the potential to damage public trust in empirical findings. If people are led to believe that science is nothing more than another agenda, on the same footing as any belief system, how will they react if scientists find indications that some factory near their homes is releasing dangerous chemicals into the environment? Why should they care? After all, the only people concerned are "scientists"!
Ultimately, the most important thing about science is what it can do for the human race. When researching cancer, concluding that Goddidit contributes nothing to the quest for a cure. The scientific method isn't arbitrary; it the best way we've found to investigate the natural world and expand our knowledge of it.