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The Problem(s) with Science

A lot of “science educators” lately have become worried about people’s lack of trust in the scientific community, citing poor science education and misinformation as the chief causes. Herein, I will not address these concerns though I think they are valid concerns for anyone actually. Instead, I will suggest that there are more central problems with the scientific community and how it goes about the pursuit of science. Problems that inevitably involve Capitalism, and a little bit of philosophy, and are much more responsible for the down tick in trust levels.

So strap the fuck in, we’re going to have a long and boring conversation about people that will likely never find this article; so this technically counts as gossip!

We’re going to start with the philosophy though, because dangling a promise of a conversation about Capitalism in front of you is probably the only way to actually get anyone reading about philosophy. Most people don’t like talking or hearing or reading about philosophy at all, because as bad as science education has gotten, philosophy education has been shit for a very long time in comparison. But before we start hard with the sophy of some philo, we should probably start by rhetorically asking and answering the question, “What exactly is science anyway?”

Most fancy Latin or Greek names usually give away what the thing named is about, but not the proper noun “Science.” Science comes from the Latin Scientia, which means knowledge. This is no way tells any of us a damned thing about what is going on. But we’re in luck, the German word for science, Wissenschaft, tells us the whole story. Wissen means knowledge, no surprises there, and Schaft, can mean so many things (and there’s no need to get your head out of the gutter, it means ‘long pole’ as well), but here it means to create, produce, establish, etc.. Wissenschaft transliterated means “Knowledge Creation,” and therefore should probably be a verb, but in both English and German, it is a noun.

But science is not just any kind of knowledge creation, it is both systematic and communal.

It is important to keep that in mind as we go forward, but for now this releases us to take up the discussion of the philosophy of science: for now that we know what it ideally should be, we can see how it is not living up to that idea. How it is not living up to that idea is found in the interplay of ontology, which I insist on calling metaphysics (all modern attempts at re-branding metaphysics be damned) and epistemology.

Metaphysics, put simply, is about the nature of being; epistemology is the study of how we know what we know, or to put it another way, the study of the difference between knowledge and opinion. But how is the practice of science different from other ways of knowing or creating knowledge? It is in the very fact that science eschews metaphysics as the foundation to build on. In other words, a metaphysics is not assumed when we start asking the questions, and all lines of inquiry are therefore valid, save for the caveat that the possible answer to a question can be proven false.

“The Scientific Method”

Building on this, then, is the scientific method. I have an idea about how something might work (a possible answer to my questions about the world), called a hypothesis. I do activities which test this hypothesis in a systematic way, trying to get information. That information provides a more detailed description of how things work, and we call this a theory. Other people do those same activities, called experiments, and then say, “The same things happened again, there may be something to this”, or, “I got something completely different, I think you made a mistake in your thinking or experiments.” This is the ideal called the scientific method, and it is one of the most sacred myths about how science happens.

It is also not how science happens.

Paul Feyerabend was UC Berkeley Professor of Philosophy and Professor of the Philosophy of Science at the Federal Institute of Technology located in Zurich. His book “Against Method” stands with “The Logic of Scientific Discovery” by Popper and Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” when it comes to books about the philosophy of science. Of his book, Feyerabend had this to say,

“Neither science nor rationality are universal measures of excellence. They are particular traditions, unaware of their historical grounding. […] History is full of ‘accidents and conjunctures and curious juxtapositions of events’ and it demonstrates to us the ‘complexity of human change and the unpredictable character of the ultimate consequences of any given act or decision of men’. Are we really to believe that the naive and simple-minded rules which methodologists take as their guide are capable of accounting for such a ‘maze of interactions’? And is it not clear that successful participation in a process of this kind is possible only for a ruthless opportunist who is not tied to any particular philosophy and who adopts whatever procedure seems to fit the occasion?”

Feyerabend’s essential point is that in the actual pursuit of science, the only method that does not hold back that pursuit is “anything goes.” Also, despite the process described to us as children called “The Scientific Method,” the reality is born out in history that “The Scientific Method” is a myth. Essentially, when the “anything goes” approach is abandoned for myth, when metaphysics sits atop epistemology and directs it and constrains it, you eventually stop getting new information, new ideas, and new theories.

This is where Materialism enters the fray. Materialism is actually an old monism that goes back several millennia. There are passages all through the Buddha’s teachings on the subject, there are ancient Chinese documents discussing the idea, the Romans had a version of it, and it has continued down on through the ages. It was readily taken up in the 19th century by the scientific and intellectual communities of the day, and should have died with the formalization of quantum theory; and yet it didn’t.

Most scientists that are of the loud and proud materialist persuasion would like you to forget that Isaac Newton was an alchemist: he made up a whole color so that the spectrum he saw shining through his prism would match the seven classical metals and planets of alchemy, he also claimed to discover an alloy of metal called hepatizon that hasn’t been made in possibly millennia if not centuries, since he left behind no ingots to prove he had figured the riddle of its manufacture out. Those same scientists would also deny that Rene Descartes had a dream in which a luminous angel told him that, “The conquest of nature is to be achieved by number and measurement.” Nor would they care to admit that he sought out the Rosicrucian Order with the intent to become a brother of that order.

Science is Magic

“What of it?” you might wonder aloud, your eyes ready to roll in the expectation that I will claim that “Science” is another religion, like so many creationists do. In fact, I will claim no such thing, put your eyes to rest. I will also not claim that “Science” is some gorgon like anti-religion. No no no.

What I will say is that scientists are actually like us. They are wizards, sorcerers, miracle workers and healers. In the beginning of the Lemegeton Clavicula Salomonis, a single quote illustrates my meaning,

“Magick is the highest most absolute and divinest knowledge of Natural Philosophy advanced in its works and wonderful operations by a right understanding of the inward and occult virtue of things, so that true agents being applied to proper patients, strange and admirable effects will thereby be produced; whence magicians are profound & diligent searchers into Nature; they because of their skill know how to anticipate and effect which to the vulgar shall seem a miracle.”

Or to paraphrase it, “Our technology is so advanced it is indistinguishable from magic.

They are us! But, they are in deep denial of that fact, of their origins, even of the way in which they truly go about creating knowledge. This deep denial manifests as a psychospiritual cyst, filled with a profound disgust, projected at all those who remind them of their origin and their identity. We are the boogeypersons they fear in the night, hiding under the bed, or in the closet.

Ok, maybe not that dramatic, but the disgust is real. It is the reason that Materialism is clung to so steadfastly in a world of macroscopic objects held in quantum states: a world in which the oldest and now only paranormal research lab in America still churns out research needing verification but receiving none; a world in which one of their most popular demagogues can cough up an idea like “meme”, and then rapidly retreats from it once it has taken on a life of its own and is busy reminding us all that ideas are alive and divine, just like people are.

This denial and deeply buried self loathing makes our brothers vulnerable. Vulnerable to the ravages and exploitation of both the Capitalist and the Prince.

Science For Sale

Anyone familiar with academia, especially in the United States, is familiar with the pressure to publish. Published professors, and the prestige that goes with employing such professors, is one of the legs of the business of higher education. Published professors bring in students and their tuition, and more importantly bring in research grants from both the private sector and government programs. In 2016 alone the Department of Defense granted 23 awards totaling 162 million USD.

Make no mistake, universities are big business, and the employees they exploit include our lost brothers.

The pressure to publish or perish has begun the slow process of eating the scientific establishment from the inside out. It has led to the creation of journals that publish trash science, made-up crap that is only created to look good on a curriculum vitae, not the delicious and spirit nurturing “made up crap” that a magician brings back with him after ascending to the heavens with the intent of stealing knowledge. (I include modern scientists in that latter category, both in the knowledge stolen and the image of the magician doing the stealing, sons of Hermes all.)

The true, unacknowledged winners of this game of shame is the publishing industry itself. Like dialysis clinics swarming over a kidney failure patient, trying to suck out as much cash as possible before death, journal publishers pop up and swarm over professors who are forced to publish or go back to join the rest of us clods drudging away in front of a register instead of a university computer. A shit job of drudgery in writing spurred by the threat of even more mind-numbingly shitty drudgery should you decide you don’t want to play along.

Remember when being a scientist sounded like an alright job? I do, but I’m also old. They may not be dying of starvation at age eight somewhere in the Sudan, but my heart goes out to them all the same.

But what about those “lucky” few scientists that get to work directly for the government doing research? Well, what about them? They work either for government programs that are likely to be underfunded soon, or they work for DARPA and its many cousins in the governments of other nations.

If they work for DARPA, then they are truly damned. These are the damned souls who use Art to create weapons, either to suppress the peoples of foreign countries or to suppress the citizens they would call their fellows. “I have become Shiva, destroyer of worlds”, the words spoken by a man truly cognizant of what he had just unleashed with the Art that was supposed to benefit mankind, not turn it to ash and cinder, and who knew in that moment his damnation, not a hell of fire and torture after he dies, but a living hell of guilt and regret.

Denial of the past, denial of the present, denial of the future. Identity crisis, cultural crisis, economic crisis, ethical crisis. The problems that besiege our lost brothers are numerous, in big part because our lost brothers are willfully ignorant of these problems and their origins. They complain of lack of funding, they complain of lack of trust. They complain of lack of “scientific literacy.” And yet they would have none of these problems if they could look in a mirror and speak honestly of what they see.

If they could turn away from the promise of big money grants dangled in front of them like a scratch-ticket bought from a 7-11; if they demanded that their own brothers not turn away from human ethics; if they turned once again to true science, eschewed the concerns of metaphysics, and pursued knowledge without philosophical, economic, or political borders, they too could stand in the light of that sought knowledge, steal if from the gods, and bring it back for that good and sake of mankind! They would once again receive the support that they would then have all the right to ask for.


Patacelsus

mal1A Discordian for 20 years, Patacelsus finally got comfortable when the 21st century “started getting weird.” When not casting sigils, taking part in Tibetan Buddhist rituals, or studying the unfortunate but sometimes amusing stories of the dead, he’s been known to wander the hidden ways of the city, communing with all of the hidden spirits one can find in a city. As Patacelsus sees it, we’re all already free; after completing the arduous task of waking up to that we can then proceed, like a doctor treating a patient, to try to rouse others from the bitter and frightening nightmares of Archism. He laughs at Samsara’s shadow-play in lovely California, in the company of his wife, two cats, and two birds.

 


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5 Comments »

  1. Crikey, there is a lot packed in here so I may well end up doing a few replies in all.

    A few caveats;

    1. I am a scientist
    2. I work for an institution which receives a large chunk of its funding from the government
    3. I am in the UK where the situation is possibly different from the US
    4. I work in life sciences; I am a curator, I work on fungal taxonomy and biodiversity. I have a background in palaeontology and palaeobiology.

    First up, I think the difficulty with something entitled “the problems with science” is that science is a vast and differing thing and trying to lump it all together to discuss its failings is going to have to reply on generalising so much a to case problems.

    I don’t regard the lack of trust in science or scientists by the public as being something to lay at the feet of scientists; there is literally an industry out there feeding bullshit and paranoia in the media and social media and reaping a fortune in response. We have ‘sciencing’ to be getting on with – seeing as it is what we love – so trying to fight metaphorical bullshit bushfiress like the anti-vaxxers or climate change denialist dumbasses. Don’t even get me tarted on the clean eating fuckwits.

    I doubt the lack of trust in science by the public at large has anything to with the things you list,and has more to do with baseless generalisations fed to them by someone online or on shit TV show. Worse than that, there have been recent studies in the way the media types or totally fucks up research and presents inaccurate or outright wrong representations of the results. In fairness, part of the issue is the need to be seen as getting results and aiming or media attention. dancing with the devil becomes a necessity, but sometimes he stamps on your feet.

    Everyone I work with holds to the ideals of science – discovery, exploration and sheer shits and giggles of asking questions and trying to search out answers. Politics fucks this up; we are increasingly fighting for money, for grants and to preserve our places at various institutions (Luckily my job is secure because of various statuary obligations). Everyone has to prove their worth, to show they are getting results and are publishing. If scientists are appearing more capitalist, it is because we are being pushed into it by other forces, it isn’t voluntary. turning away from grants would be lovely – but until there is a way to pay the bills, to feed ourselves and pay for trips to hunt out new fungi in Colombia ( should find out about that grant any day) we have to work within the system we are in. The system needs changing, not the scientists or science.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “The true, unacknowledged winners of this game of shame is the publishing industry itself.” I suggest to you that in many cases, there is one other winner: government. Government quite often supports science that gives them the excuse to accumulate more power. You think Richard M. Nixon signed the bill creating the EPA because he cared about the environment, or because he saw a way to give the government more control over our lives? You think the government supports the chicken-littles of the AGW world because they really care about global warming, or because the threat of global warming allows a power-grab? Why aren’t governments putting more research money into finding ways of adapting rather than supporting those who have falsely prognosticated the future (for the record, I don’t care about the causes of global warming – it is irreversible by us – we need to adapt. In the Ordovician when the world was about two degrees warmer than today and the air contained 15 times as much carbon dioxide, life was thriving, the oceans weren’t acidified, and the sky didn’t fall). Science has become a political pawn, to the detriment of all of us.

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    • Just to pick on this point; “In the Ordovician when the world was about two degrees warmer than today and the air contained 15 times as much carbon dioxide, life was thriving, the oceans weren’t acidified, and the sky didn’t fall). .”

      ocean acidification occurs when atmospheric CO2 rise rapidly. Slower increases can be, and are, buffered by oceanic draw down, limestone deposition and the binding up in calcite shells or instance. Rapid change is what causes the problem. The Ordovician world was VERY different, notably the sun was about 4% dimmer meaning we could still have glaciation events with much higher CO2 in the atmosphere.

      It is worth mentioning that the end of the Ordovician is marked by the second largest extinction event known, caused by rapid changes in climate as a result of rapid changes (a fall) in CO2

      Like

      • It is a good point to pick on, because there are so many variables, but one can still assume a state approaching equilibrium between ocean water and atmosphere. Today’s oceans are drawing CO2 out of the atmosphere at a much higher rate than anticipated, and carbonic acid is still a pretty weak acid, as anyone who has drunk mineral water knows (you will concede that Perrier is super-saturated with CO2?). As to the extinction event, it was related to global cooling – and the withdrawal of shallow continental seas due to tectonic activity was a major factor in that. MY main point though, is that the politicization of science works both sides of the street, to the point where myself, (a geologist) has a hard time believing a lot of what I read in scientific papers.

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  3. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that is these last gasping days of Capitalism; science has been exalted over all other forms of epistemology. Capitalism requires quantification and measurement. To sell, you must know how measure X property and how to sell it for Y dollar amount. Though not the purpose of science, it nonetheless delivers these results or offers a system of quantification of anything it touches and rejects anything it cannot measure.

    Therefore, qualitative systems of epistemology, not reproducible or falsifiable, are superfluous to the Capitalist. And what is superfluous is not only ignored but derided, vilified. Any energy spent trying to understand the world through intuition or metaphysics is energy not spent consuming. Capitalism needs science to order its commodities.

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