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Digital Subscriptions > Skeptic > 22.4 > When Science Becomes the Enemy

When Science Becomes the Enemy

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I FIRST ENCOUNTERED THE RADICAL LEFT’S FLIRTATION with demagoguery in the 1990s when I was asked to teach in an interdisciplinary program that brought professors together from a bevy of different fields. During one of the lectures, a professor matter-offactly brought up Voodoo religion in Haiti and its belief in the walking dead. She seemed to be insinuating that zombies strolled around the Caribbean islands. I naively thought, as the token professor of science in the room, that it might be apropos to make sure the class understood that there were no actual dead bodies traipsing in places like Port-au- Prince, thinking that my colleague would agree. Au contraire! The professor denounced me for cultural bias and insisted that there were the walking dead. Who was I to challenge Haitian belief systems?

Scientific Revolutions

Thomas Kuhn

An understanding of why the radical left has targeted science and the implications of those attacks within the broader context of society can only be distilled through a historical examination of leftist dogma. The history of the radical left’s assault on science is like a trip through wonderland replete with an existential discourse on reality itself. To begin to understand the great intellectual abyss that currently divides many leftists primarily in the arts and humanities and some areas of the social sciences from academicians in engineering, business, and the natural sciences, we must go back to 1962 when Thomas Kuhn published his widely read book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.1 Kuhn, a physicist and historian of science, postulated that scientific research was done under the umbrella of a paradigm. He contended that discoveries of anomalies and inconsistencies within the existing paradigm force science into a crisis that eventually leads to a revolution he referred to as a paradigm shift.

Most scientists find Kuhn’s description palatable primarily because it seems to explain progress during the history of scientific discoveries. For example, few would disagree with the apparent paradigm shift from Newtonian mechanics to Einstein’s relativity, although the devil is in the details. Kuhn believed that paradigms are incommensurable and new paradigms negate older ones: “Einstein’s theory can be accepted only with the recognition that Newton’s was wrong.” This is a surprising assertion, considering Kuhn probably taught Newtonian mechanics to his undergrads at Harvard.2 Einstein didn’t displace Newton as much as he added to him. William Storage contends that Kuhn “cherry picked” his historical examples of science to make his point.3

Kuhn asserted that although science moves from one paradigm to another, accumulating facts along the way, there is no trend toward “truth”: “We may, to be more precise, have to relinquish the notion, explicit or implicit, that changes of paradigm carry scientists and those who learn from them closer and closer to the truth.” Kuhn even brought into question the notion of progress in science: “With respect to normal science, then, part of the answer to the problem of progress lies simply in the eye of the beholder. Scientific progress is not different in kind from progress in other fields [Kuhn used art as one example of another field]… But nothing that has been or will be said makes it a process of evolution toward [his emphasis] anything.” Here, Kuhn descends into deeply antiscientific territory. As Nobel Prize laureate Steven Weinberg suggests, Kuhn’s writing seems to be imbued with relativism: “All this is wormwood to scientists like myself, who think the task of science is to bring us closer and closer to objective truth. But Kuhn’s conclusions are delicious to those who take a more skeptical view of the pretensions of science. If scientific theories can only be judged within the context of a particular paradigm, then in this respect the scientific theories of any one paradigm are not privileged over other ways of looking at the world, such as shamanism or astrology or creationism.”4

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About Skeptic

CAMPUS CRAZINESS: THE WAR ON SCIENCE No Barriers to Inquiry; I Am Not a Racist, And So Are You: An Unauthorized Peek at the Great Shaming Taking Place at an Institution of Higher Learning Near You, and Other Fireside Tales; Radically Wrong in Berkeley; When Secularism Becomes a Religion: The Alt-Left, the Alt-Right, and Moral Righteousness; When Science Becomes the Enemy SPECIAL SECTION — BIOLOGY & BEHAVIOR Canine Cognition: Did dogs become smarter through domestication? An interview with Dr. Brian Hare; Bird Brains: Are crows as intelligent as some scientists claim?; What Biology Can Teach Us About Crime and Justice ARTICLES: Gary Taubes and the Case Against Sugar; From Camelot to Conspiracy: Memory, Myth, and the Death of JFK; Now Playing at a Cartesian Theater Near You: Dualism Returns COLUMNS: The SkepDoc: Diet Sodas: Are the Dangers In the Chemicals or the Headlines?, by Harriet Hall, M.D. JUNIOR SKEPTIC: Ghost Ships, by Daniel Loxton