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The War on Science

In his survey of the academic backdrop to today’s rampant unreason, Professor Sidky suggests a causative link between the rise of what he calls postmodernism and the unreason he sees around us (“The War on Science, Anti-Intellectualism, and ‘Alternative Ways of Knowing’ in 21st-Century America,” March/April 2018). Goofy thinking is rampant, and perhaps English professors, historians, anthropologists, and philosophers do exert some tenuous influence on the general public, but to suggest that academics who question our socially constructed cultural verities have caused the public to reject science and reason is a misreading of how culture works. In fact, tempests in our academic teapots far more often reflect cultural shifts than cause them.

Some of the academic work Sidky cites is indeed silly, even entertainingly so, and I thank him for the smiles. Nonetheless, Sidky grants the legitimacy of much of that work while simultaneously saying it encourages or contributes to the irrationality that permeates society.

It’s a stretch to suggest, as Sidky does, that academics who question our assumptions have destroyed the philosophic underpinnings of science and reason when other very powerful forces in our culture clearly don’t like people thinking too much. Religion would certainly have to top that list, but it’s not the only culprit. Most forget our entire lives are embedded in an economic system that tolerates reason only as long as it is the servant of short-term profit.

Scott Pruitt, evangelical Christian and current head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), recently offered a fine example of how religion and capitalism join forces to strangle reason: “The idea of ‘dominion‘ is about mastery: Human beings have their right to take what they want from the earth, in terms of natural resources, without regards to how it might affect other species” (quoted on Vox.com).

Are science and reason vastly undervalued in 2018 America? With leaders such as Pruitt, who could reasonably deny it?Has postmodern academia, with all its constructing and deconstructing, made some small contribution to the present state of affairs? Maybe a tad.

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