Scientism is rampant in supposedly scientific circles. As my Discovery Institute colleague John West has noted in the very worthwhile book he edited, The Magician’s Twin: C.S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society:
[Scientism is] the wrongheaded belief that modern science supplies the only reliable method of knowledge about the world, and the corollary that scientists have the right to dictate a society’s morals, religious beliefs, and even government policies merely because of their scientific expertise.
I just read a classic example of how scientism seeps into so much that portrays itself as purely scientific in an article by Keith Kloor, published at the Discover magazine site, which touts itself as “The magazine of science, technology, and the future.” And it’s the very first paragraph! From, “Why Facts Don’t Matter:”
In a perfect world, every conversation we have about childhood vaccines, GMOs, alternative medicine, and global warming would be based on a set of facts agreed on by a majority of scientists working in those spheres. But we don’t live in a perfect world, so many conversations on the aforementioned subjects are often driven by emotion, ideology and politics.
Are you kidding me? Science is an extremely powerful method of obtaining and applying facts and knowledge. But science, per se, is amoral. It needs the checks and balances of morals, ethics, and yes political regulation, to keep it on a benign path — and they should definitely be part of every conversation. I mean, good grief, eugenics was considered proper by “a majority of scientists” at one time.
Moreover, the current Science Establishment — as opposed to bench scientists — come at most issues from a pronounced ideological viewpoint, tending toward the politically liberal and philosophically utilitarian. It is just pretense to argue otherwise.
Kloor’s prime gripes are about how many people don’t listen to “the scientists” about GMOs and global warming. But those issues involve more than naked science. They also deeply involve values, proper policy balancing, and indeed, legitimate scientific heterodox thinking.
Of course, the opinions of scientists should matter when determining proper public policy. That is why I support mandatory vaccination of school children for certain diseases if they want to attend classes, for example. But they should usually not be the sole determining factor. Let us hope that those who continually attempt to shame those who disagree with reigning scientific consenses — which according to the scientific method should always be subject to change — continue to be frustrated.