Silver-level articleAnti-science

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There is something even more vital to science than intelligent methods; namely, the sincere desire to discover the truth, whatever it may be.[1]
—Charles Sanders Peirce, pro-science
It's scientifically impossible for the bumblebee to fly; but the bumblebee, being unaware of these scientific facts, flies anyways.[2]
Mike Huckabee, anti-science

The term "anti-science" refers to persons or organizations that promote their ideology over scientifically-verified evidence, either by denying said evidence and/or inventing their own. Anti-science positions are maintained and promoted especially in areas of conflict between the politically- or religiously-motivated pseudo-scientific position and actual science. In addition, anti-science positions are normally couched in reassuring code words, such as "intelligent design", in order to appear less distortive of science.

If a position or theory is pro-science, as opposed to anti-science, it will follow the scientific method, be potentially refutable, peer-reviewable, reproducible, and open to change if the position comes in conflict with observed fact. Anti-science positions will violate one or more of these threshholds. In other words -- is it science?

While it is highly likely that anti-science positions are the result of ideological positions, it is important to note that the holding of a particular ideological position does not automatically make an individual guilty of being anti-science.

Common anti-science targets include evolution,[3] global warming,[4] and various forms of medicine,[5] although other sciences that conflict with the anti-science ideology are often targeted as well.


[edit] Examples

Below are examples of anti-science targets and motivations and the tactics used that attempt to discredit science and its methods.

[edit] Examples of anti-science tactics

First get your facts; then you can distort them at your leisure.
Mark Twain

Anti-science proponents often attack science through:

[edit] Other uses of the term

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 describe policy decisions which, for political reasons, ignore the advice of scientists asked to inform said policy. For example, business-associated appointees in the Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and other agencies have made decisions in conflict with the recommendations of agency scientists.[8]

[edit] What it is not

For the reasons stated above pseudosciences like intelligent design, and concepts such as the global warming conspiracy theory are examples of "anti-science."

The phrase does not mean:

  • "Having a scientifically testable and potentially falsifiable hypothesis which is opposed to the 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 that has held a hypothesis, based on evidence of their time period, that is ultimately proven false would meet the definition of having been "anti-science". It is simply the nature of scientific theories to be overturned or updated once new evidence is found, often with technologies not present previously.

[edit] Why it is important

Anti-science positions and general anti-intellectualism can and has caused death and/or suffering on a large scale. For example, commentators discounted scientific evidence that HIV causes AIDS, and consequently appropriate treatment was not made available to those in need. Due to this lack of preparation, hundreds of thousands died; in South Africa alone, 300,000 people died.[9][10]

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 a particular ideology is shoehorned into the definition of science, such movements threaten to disrupt the public's understanding that systematic logical investigation, also called "science", is the best system for gaining knowledge. Take, for example, the results of a 2005 Gallup poll about the public's beliefs in paranormal activity.[11] 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 and communication with the dead was possible. Watering down the scientific method (as some anti-science advocates attempt to do) is unlikely to improve those figures.

Furthermore, corrupting 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, will they react if scientists find that a 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 species. Watering down or corrupting the scientific method and reducing public trust in science can only reduce science's ability to improve people's lives. 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.

[edit] See Also

[edit] References Anti-science

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Peirce, C.S. 1997. Pragmatism as a Principle of Right Thinking. State University of New York Press. Lectures originally delivered in 1903.
  2. The Guardian on Huckabee's Presidential ambitions
  3. The Edge of Evolution
  4. Global warming denialism, global warming conspiracy theory
  5. Vaccine denialism, alternative medicine
  6. Evolution is Religion by Ken Ham
  7. Tim Ball
  8. The Amazing Revolving Door Between Montsanto, the EPA, and the FDA
  9. Aids in South Africa
  10. Anti-Science Policies are Lethal
  11. Results of the poll found here.
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