Issue #19, Winter 2011

The Science Wars Redux

Fifteen years after the Sokal Hoax, attacks on “objective knowledge” that were once the province of the left have been taken up by the right.

In 1995, I was invited to speak to the Materials Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where I was teaching at the time. The occasion was something they called their “Postmodern Science Forum.” I took it as a good sign that they were not allergic to the word “postmodern,” and I launched into a brief history of the term as it migrated from architecture to literature to philosophy to popular culture–before getting down to the real business at hand, a discussion of the influence of T. S. Kuhn’s 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in the humanities. Kuhn, I said, had shown us that scientific knowledge was not cumulative, however much it appeared so in retrospect; rather, it proceeded by way of upheavals in which a new worldview displaces the old. But had Kuhn thereby licensed a kind of shallow relativism in the humanities, where we can talk about “paradigm shifts” and “incommensurabilities” without any reference to the natural world of oxygen, Neptune, and X-rays (to take some of Kuhn’s most illustrative examples from the history of science)? Had we read Kuhn backwards from Paul Feyerabend’s Against Method, a far more anarchic account of scientific research, concluding that scientists were just as irrational as everyone else, and that therefore both God and Science are dead, and everything is permitted? And when we claimed to be doing “science studies,” did we know what the hell we were talking about?

For some of my interlocutors–and they were a very lively bunch, full of great questions, random expostulations, and a few moderately hostile interruptions–the short answers to these questions were yes, yes, and no. They were willing to cut me some slack, not only because I was nice enough to visit them but because I took my own examples from the history of astrophysics, about which I know an elementary thing or two; but they were not so kind about some of my colleagues in the humanities, who, they believed, were overstepping their disciplinary bounds and doing “science studies” without any substantial knowledge of science. A couple of physicists had clearly read Paul Gross and Norman Levitt’s then-recent book, Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science, a free-swinging polemic against science studies, feminism, Jeremy Rifkin, jargon, and much more, and they were mightily pissed off about this Andrew Ross fellow, who had written a science-studies book, Strange Weather, which he dedicated to “all the science teachers I never had. It could only have been written without them.”

Well, yes, I had to admit, Ross’s dedication was rather cheeky. But it was not in itself evidence that Ross did not know his subject matter. Besides, I added, when in Strange Weather Ross called for science “that will be publicly answerable and of some service to progressive interests,” and Gross and Levitt responded by writing, “ ‘Of some service to progressive interests’ seems reasonably clear, if frighteningly Stalinist in tone and root,” weren’t Gross and Levitt being kind of…nutty? Hysterical, perhaps? What was wrong with wanting medicine or engineering or environmental science to be publicly answerable and of some service to progressive interests? Why shouldn’t we try to build a world that affords greater public access to people with disabilities, for instance? And since conservatives had even then largely abandoned their early-twentieth-century commitment to conserve the Earth’s natural resources, wasn’t “environmental science” now a “progressive ” in and of itself? It’s not as if Ross was calling for a Liberation Astronomy. Would Ross’s sentence sound out of place in a bulletin issued by the Union of Concerned Scientists?

Back then, of course, the humanities and the interpretive social sciences–the few remaining interpretive social sciences, that is, the fields that hadn’t gone totally over into the parallel Quantification Universe–were still reeling from the so-called “political correctness” battles of the early 1990s, and some of us humanists were kind of defensive about it. Though I wasn’t. I was perfectly willing to say publicly that Dinesh D’Souza was a liar and a scoundrel, and that most of the other right-wing critics of the humanities had no idea what they were talking about. And I was fond of saying to my friends in the sciences that mi problema es su problema: the culture warriors of the right are after English and women’s studies today, but they’ll be coming for you soon enough, just you wait. To a man (and they were all men), my scientist friends refused to believe this. Some merely said, plausibly enough, that debates over PC were irrelevant to their work on dark matter or the properties of metals; others insisted that the conservative attack on the universities was entirely the fault of radical artists and humanists with their queering this and their Piss Christ that and their deconstructing the Other. You’re the ones making it hard for all of us in the academy, they said, and things would be fine if you would just tone it down and knock off the épater-le-bourgeois bit.

And then, the next year, the Sokal Hoax happened.

Social Text Gets Punk’d

What, you ask, was the Sokal Hoax? While I was chatting with my colleagues at the Postmodern Science Forum, New York University physicist Alan Sokal, having read Higher Superstition, decided to try an experiment. He painstakingly composed an essay full of (a) flattering references to science-studies scholars such as Ross and Stanley Aronowitz, (b) howler-quality demonstrations of scientific illiteracy, (c) flattering citations of other science-studies scholars who themselves had demonstrated howler-quality scientific illiteracy, (d) questionable-to-insane propositions about the nature of the physical world, (e) snippets of fashionable theoretical jargon from various humanities disciplines, and (f) a bunch of stuff from Bohr and Heisenberg, drawing object lessons from the uncertainty at the heart of quantum mechanics. He then placed a big red bow on the package, titling the essay “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.” The result was a very weird essay, a heady mix–and a shot heard ’round the world. For Sokal decided to submit it to the journal Social Text, where it wound up in a special issue edited by Ross and Aronowitz on…the “Science Wars.” Yes, that’s right: Social Text accepted an essay chock-full of nonsense and proceeded to publish it in a special issue that was designed to answer the critics of science studies–especially, but not exclusively, Gross and Levitt. It was more than a great hoax on Sokal’s part; it was also, on the part of Social Text, one of the great own-foot-shootings in the history of self-inflicted injury.

Cannily, Sokal chose Lingua Franca, a then-influential (since folded) magazine that covered the academy and the humanities, as the venue in which to publish his “gotcha” essay, in which he revealed that the whole thing was a great big joke. And as if on cue, Ross and Aronowitz fired back almost precisely as Sokal believed they would: Aronowitz called Sokal “ill-read and half-educated,” while Ross called the essay “a little hokey,” “not really our cup of tea,” and a “boy stunt…typical of the professional culture of science education.” Aronowitz and Ross had every reason to feel badly stung, no question; but the terms of their response, unfortunately, spectacularly bore out Sokal’s claim that “the targets of my critique have by now become a self-perpetuating academic subculture that typically ignores (or disdains) reasoned criticism from the outside.” It was not hard to wonder, after all: If indeed Sokal’s hokey boy-stunt essay was not really your cup of tea, why did you publish it in the first place?

For many people, the answer to that question was simple: because the theory-addled, jargon-spouting academic left, of which Social Text now stood as the symbol, really didn’t know squat about science and really was devoted to the project of making shit up and festooning it with flattering citations to one another’s work. It was what critics believed all along, and now they had the proof. The disparity of audience response was–and remains–stark: In my academic-left circles, Sokal’s name was mud, his hoax an example of extraordinary bad faith; everywhere else, especially on the rest of the campus and in the world of journalism, Sokal was a hero, the guy who finally exposed the naked emperor (and there was much talk of naked emperors) and burst the cultural-studies bubble that had so drastically overinflated certain academic reputations–and academic egos.

The damage to the academic left–and the sense of betrayal on the academic left–was especially severe because the Sokal Hoax followed in the wake of the early-’90s culture wars. Left-leaning humanists were used to taking brickbats from movement conservatives like D’Souza, Lynne Cheney, and Bill Bennett; we had watched Pat Buchanan and Jesse Helms attack the National Endowment for the Arts, and we had seen Cheney appeal to Congress to eliminate the National Endowment for the Humanities–when she was no longer directing it. Even a few intellectually respectable people came unhinged by mid-decade, as when biologist E.O. Wilson declared, in a 1994 talk, “multiculturalism equals relativism equals no supercollider equals communism.” The fact that Sokal launched his critique in the name of the left was a real shock–indeed, it was simply unintelligible to some academic leftists, who insisted that all their critics were de facto conservatives (and even tried to label Sokal a “left conservative” as a result). But the hoax also played an important role in the intraparty squabbles on the left, insofar as it seemed to give ammunition to leftists who believed that class oppression was the most important game in town, and that all this faddish talk of gender and race and sexuality was a distraction from the real struggle, which had to do with capital and labor. Finally, in academic-hothouse politics, the hoax had any number of unintended side-effects, bolstering traditionalists’ beliefs that disciplines like women’s studies and science studies were just so much balderdash.

So what did the essay itself actually say? As a parody of certain academic styles and tics, it really was a tour de force–though most of the people celebrating it and denouncing it, I found, weren’t reading the thing all the way through. For most journalists, for example, the first paragraph was quite damning enough:

There are many natural scientists, and especially physicists, who continue to reject the notion that the disciplines concerned with social and cultural criticism can have anything to contribute, except perhaps peripherally, to their research. Still less are they receptive to the idea that the very foundations of their worldview must be revised or rebuilt in the light of such criticism. Rather, they cling to the dogma imposed by the long post-Enlightenment hegemony over the Western intellectual outlook, which can be summarized briefly as follows: that there exists an external world, whose properties are independent of any individual human being and indeed of humanity as a whole; that these properties are encoded in “eternal” physical laws; and that human beings can obtain reliable, albeit imperfect and tentative, knowledge of these laws by hewing to the “objective” procedures and epistemological strictures prescribed by the (so-called) scientific method.

The passage I’ve italicized makes it look as if Social Text itself, by publishing the essay, is proclaiming its belief in the nonexistence of the external world. That’s basically how most people construed the hoax: as Sokal’s proof that theory-besotted humanists on the academic left deny the existence of the external world. It was Dr. Johnson’s stone all over again, except that this time the stone came flying through the window of a hip academic journal.

But imagine, dear reader, that this essay has been submitted to you, and that you have no reason to think that it is anything but an ordinary journal submission. How would you have read that first paragraph? The first two sentences are unobjectionable; one might even want to call them “true.” The third sentence carries the payload. And yet even that one is trickier than it looks–if you stop and ask yourself what it means that an actual, real-live, university-faculty physicist is saying such things. On one hand, I have to admire Sokal’s powers of mimicry: the fact that he speaks sweepingly and dismissively of “the dogma imposed by the long post-Enlightenment hegemony over the Western intellectual outlook” suggests that he was a quick study of the academic-theory left, and had learned that people who speak of the long post-Enlightenment hegemony over the Western intellectual outlook can usually expect to find a sympathetic readership at places like Social Text. On the other hand, why should anyone consider it strange that a physicist would be saying strange things about the physical world? Okay, so some physicist from NYU is challenging the idea that physics offers reliable knowledge of the external world that can be encoded in eternal laws. But don’t physicists say bizarre, counterintuitive things about the external world all the time? Isn’t it part of their job description, like talking about dark matter and dark energy and branes and eleven-dimensional strings and multiple universes and stuff that no reasonable person could possibly imagine on the basis of their daily lives?

As I argued in my 2006 book, Rhetorical Occasions, ever since the days of Bohr and Heisenberg, general readers have come to expect that physicists will not tell them that force equals mass times acceleration and that what goes up must come down; they expect that physicists will tell them that space-time is curved in the shape of a quantum donut whose jelly filling is composed of black holes that bend through Calabi-Yau space to produce “munchkins-branes.” So it’s curious–and telling–that Sokal’s essay goes on to cite Bohr and Heisenberg. But Sokal’s treatment of them is uneasy–and at one point, I think, Sokal gives away more of the game than he realizes. In “Transgressing the Boundaries,” Sokal notes that Bohr himself drew social implications from the principle of complementarity. The principle holds that two mutually exclusive definitions are in fact necessary for an adequate explanation of a phenomenon: light, for instance, is both a particle and a wave. “Bohr’s analysis of the complementarity principle also led him to a social outlook that was, for its time and place, notably progressive,” Sokal writes in an endnote, quoting from a 1938 lecture by Bohr:

Issue #19, Winter 2011
 
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Andrea OL:

The rise of pseudo-science has something to do with the leftist emphasis on DIVERSITY and INCLUSION. Since most great scientists have been 'evil white males' and since Western Civilization produced most of modern knowledge, many leftists, femininsts, and 'people of color' advocates felt left out and 'marginalized'. If Western white male science is correct, then it must mean that most non-white cultures & paradigms are superstitious, backward, stupid, ignorant, etc. It doesn't do much for non-white or female self-esteem, does it?

So, in order to vilify the 'evil racist white male' and to boost the esteem among 'oppressed' women and people-of-color, the left decided to promote an anthropological view of reality that said REALITY is really a matter of culture and empowerment. In other words, it is 'racist' to say western science is true while Eastern Mysticism is bogus. It is 'intolerant' to say Western medicine is real science while African tribal medicine is just voodoo superstition. We needed to be 'nice', 'inclusiveness', and 'sensitive'. We need to say Eastern medicine has just as much value as Western medicine.

Just as Germans rejected 'Jewish science' as it damaged 'Aryan' intellectual pride, the left, feminists, and people of color rejected 'white male western science' as a 'racist' all-white-boys-club.

Similar thing happened with history. As Mary Lefkowitz explained in her book BLACK ATHENA, white leftists ignored the horribly bad and false histories peddled by Afro-centrists since, well, such was good for black self-esteem and in challenging Euro-centric 'racist' white male power and privilege.
Even though many white leftists knew that postmodern science and history were bogus, they endorsed or tolerated the program in the name of 'progressive politics', of making non-whites feel better and more EMPOWERED.

There was a lot of this leftist Maoist China too. With its cult of the PEOPLE, it chose 'red over expert', especially during the Great Leap Forward when an illiterate was deemed the scientific equal of an elitist college educated egghead. Leftism is contradictory in its elitism and egalitarianism. Its dedication to rationalism favors the most intelligent and best educated; but its commitment to 'social justice' and equality promotes the notion that the oommon man knows just as much as the 'exploitative and privileged' elites.

And then came the horribly anti-intellectual Cultural Revolution, which charmed a good many leftists in the West.

Also, there is no such thing as a 'social fact'. There is a 'social truth'. Fact is a fact, like table is a table. It is materialist and scientific. Social matters are truths, not facts. They are about perspectives, subjectivity, emotions, interests, etc as well as observed facts. Thus, they are 'truths'. Facts cannot be both A and B, but truths can be both A and B. That Jews moved into Palestine and pushed out native Arabs is a fact. But Palestinians and Jews interpret those facts differently and have arrived at and embrace different 'truths'. Truth is an interpretation of facts embellished with emotions.

As for global warming, it is real enough, but the problem is less stupid pseudo-science on the right but the stupid sensationalism and greed on the left. Al Gore is to be lauded for his commitment on the matter, but his movie INCONVENIENT TRUTH was filled with so many half-truths, exaggerations, outright lies, and know-it-all arrogance and sanctimonious that it just gave ammo to his critics that the whole crisis is just a cult cooked up to serve Al's hot air ego. Also, too many politicians, investors, and operatives are lining up to amass great fortune and power by exploiting the crisis, which makes for bad publicity. It's like the Holocaust really happened--and deniers are disgusting vermin--, but too many Jews have turned Holocaust into a vast themepark cashcow pop religion for political and financial gain. If the left doesn't criticize these vulgarians and vultures, its causes will foster only more cynicism among the already weary masses.

Another problem is the left operates too 'conspiratorially', with the elites telling us they know and we should just follow them since they know what's good for us.
Even though experts need to be respected, they should talk to the people(intelligently than condescendingly) than just amongst themselves, only to hand out orders to the rest of us. The left should be like Wikileaks. Greater openness and transparency ON EVERYTHING. But what did we get under Obama? We got bailouts for Wall Street that happened behind closed doors and under the table. Obamacare, good or bad, was pushed throught without proper debate. This isn't a leftism that engages and educates the people but holds them in contempt, with an attitude that says, 'we know, you don't, we speak, you listen'.

Another thing. Science has to be about the search for facts, not about social progressivism. Now, the findings of science can be used for social good via technology. Our knowledge of biology allows better medical technology. Technology must be 'socially moral', but science must only be science. There is a place for the 'noble lie' in religion, politics, folklore, mythology, friendship, social relations, etc. I mean it's not nice to call an ugly person 'ugly'. It's better to compliment his or her looks just to be on nice terms. But science must only be about facts, even if those facts may upset us. When Darwin came up with his theories, it deeply upset many social moralists, and rightfully so. What if man was not created by God but evolved from vicious animals? What if there is no soul or spirit and man is really motivated by naked animal instincts? Disturbing to moralists, to be sure. Such discoveries understandably cause anxiety within the social and moral context, but Darwin, as a scientist, had ONLY ONE responsibility. His research pointed to the fact of evolution. When Galileo observed that the planets revolved around the Sun, that too was deeply upsetting to the moral/spiritual leaders of his time. What if Man was not special in the eyes of God but merely creatures on one planet among many others all over the galaxy? But Galileo's only duty as a scientist to was to reveal the facts of what he observed.

Today, a fact that cannot be mentioned is the reality of differences among basic geographical populations. We are supposed to believe there's no general IQ differences between Ashkenazi Jews and African pygmies, no general differences in physical attributes between indigeneous Mexicans and West Africans. The anxiety over these facts is understandable given horrors like the Holocaust, but facts are facts, and some of the social differences in the world can only be properly understood when we take certain racial or biological differences into account. And keep in mind that while 'gender' is a social construct, there really are sexual differences between men and women.

In society and politics, there's left, middle, and right. In science, there can only be search for facts regardless of whose feathers get ruffled in the social realm. Otherwise, it's not science. It's an agenda.

Jan 27, 2011, 5:33 PM
Andrea OL:

Lefkowitz's book was NOT OUT OF AFRICA, not BLACK ATHENA, which was by Martin Bernal. My bad.

Jan 27, 2011, 5:42 PM
Jonathan Badger:

"And in return, you’ll admit that I was right about the culture wars, and right that the natural sciences would not be held harmless from the right-wing noise machine."

No, as a biologist I can't do this. For the simple reason that the current attacks on science are coming from both wings' noise machine. Yes, from the right in regard to evolution and climate change, but largely from the left on vaccines, animal research, and medical science in general.

"And if you’ll go further, and acknowledge that some circumspect, well-informed critiques of actually existing science have merit (such as the criticism that the postwar medicalization of pregnancy and childbirth had some ill effects)"

Yes, many critiques of science have merit. However, the only reasonable way to make these critiques is *through* science, not obscurantist postmodernism.

"Then perhaps we can get down to the business of how to develop safe, sustainable energy and other social practices that will keep the planet habitable."

So in other words, we scientists will do the work, and you'll cheer us on? Better than critiquing, I suppose.

Jan 28, 2011, 10:57 PM
Walter Sobchak:

Those of us who do not believe in AGW, do not accept any of the cultural critique of science, and it is a libel for Mr. Berube to say that we do.

We believe in science, we believe in objective truth and we believe that the small coterie of so called "climate scientists" have spent the last 20 years peddling a political line not conducting science.

We believe that they have fudged and misinterpreted data, used computer models as inappropriate substitutes for real world scientific investigation, corrupted the peer review and grant making processes, and pretended to a moral and intellectual authority to which they are not entitled.

The entire notion of "the science is settled" is simply post modernism at its worst.

Mr. Berube may want to agree with the "climate scientists" because it matches his other political commitments and his leftist colleagues will not tolerate anybody straying off the plantation in any respect. But, he is going to have allow that somebody might not agree with the PC line and have good scientific reasons for it.

Jan 31, 2011, 11:20 PM
Eli Rabett:

Michael, given the comments you wasted ink

Feb 1, 2011, 8:14 AM
Mark:

One of the problems with the battle for scientific legitimacy is that scientists are not very careful in explaining the limits of our knowledge. Let's use the climate debate as an example. The fact that the earth has gotten warmer is a fact. No reasonable person can dispute it. The fact that humans are responsible for some portion of the increase in temperatures is a fact. Again, the variety of evidence is such that the proposition that humans are responsible for some of the climate change (warming in this example) is not disputable by rational persons. But how much are humans responsible for and what activities cause what portion of the impact. On this, we don't know for certain. We have some evidence as to the overall extent of human impact, but it is hardly conclusive in the way that the first fact of warming and the second fact of human impact are pretty conclusively proven. Well, we say, we have climate models. Speaking frankly, there is too much we do not know about how to model such systems to say more than that the models are consistent with the evidence for human impact on climate. If scientists said only what I have just outlined, the public would have very little to argue with and the "deniers" (a term that I hate because it equates anyone who disagrees with the position of the author with holocaust deniers, for which there is MUCH more conclusive proof) would be seen as fringe elements. The opinions would be then what do we do given the uncertainty -- how much do we accept in terms of risk? That is the real debate, the political debate, which is made harder by those who insist that we "know" (the way we "know" the laws of quantum mechanics or basic astrophysics) what the impact of greenhouse emissions or changes in land-use mean for climate -- especially long term climate trends.
The point, I think, is that science needs to be humble and acknowledge what we really are pretty certain of in scientific terms and what the limits of our knowledge really are. For example, for all the work done on superstring theory and as elegant as it is (see Brian Greene's new book), it may not be true, even though it is consistent and solves a number of problems in reconciling various branches of science. Listen to your opponents respectfully. Point out what is known, what is probable and what is uncertain. Listen to their responses and respond where reasonable and possible. Surprisingly, most people are reasonable when they are not talked down to or treated as the great unwashed. Some are not reasonable (and that is not only the right wingnuts either). If we lose an argument, think about what we did to lose the argument, the appeal of the arguments to which we lost and try to address the weaknesses in our arguments. Do as trial lawyers do, acknowledge weaknesses and try to take the sting out of them.

Feb 11, 2011, 6:38 PM
Michael Bérubé:

Michael, given the comments you wasted ink

Thank heavenly Moloch no ink was used in the production of this essay! But at least I've learned that John Searle was wrong about the existence of social facts, and that claiming that the science is settled is the worst form of postmodernism. Now I will impose my evil moderate-Republican cap-and-trade scheme on the planet, and vengeance will be mine!

As for Jonathan Badger:

"Then perhaps we can get down to the business of how to develop safe, sustainable energy and other social practices that will keep the planet habitable."

So in other words, we scientists will do the work, and you'll cheer us on? Better than critiquing, I suppose.

And here I learn that scientists have exclusive domain over the development of new social practices. I was unaware of this.

Feb 17, 2011, 9:19 AM
Michael Bérubé:

Dang, the penultimate paragraph -- "So, in other words..." -- should have been in italics as well. That's Jonathan Badger assuming that "sustainable energy and other social practices" are all going to be devised by scientists.

And Mr. Sobchak, just let me add that I love your work in that movie, but I marked your comment zero.

Feb 17, 2011, 9:24 AM
PDN:

Mr. Bérubé,

After reading your essay with great interest, I was anticipating a lively debate in your comments section discussing the areas of agreement and disagreement with your well thought out positions. Indeed, a few people did provide thoughtful responses to your thesis, which I read alacrity. I am the great unwashed trying to understand the complex issues involved in climate science (my niece is getting her Ph D in environmental science). I was a little dismayed that you did not respond with the same thoughtfulness found in your essay to those who provided counter perspectives. Your flippancy has made me, one of the great unwashed, to question your genuine desire to discuss climate change with others, putting aside your own presuppositions and addressing the genuine differences between fellow academics.

I still enjoyed your essay, and it definitely has heuristic value, but you kind of defeated your purpose of open, intelligent, civil inquiry in you comments section.

Mr. Rabett, more readers are interested in the exchange of ideas to a well written essay than in a sycophant response. A well written essay should generate critical thought, and is never a waste of ink when people disagree with a major or minor premise. The disagreement just generates more opportunity for thoughtful apologetics.

Mar 2, 2011, 9:25 PM
James Rogerson:

We seem to have restated Gottfried Leibnitz'theory of monads. These are self-contained bodies that can only communicate with others if they contain within themselves a common property. If a person does not believe in natural science, Leibnitz would say that there is no way to convince him of its validity. I am an optimistic follower of Leibnitz: I think that all of us have common meeting grounds, at least enough to carry on meaningful, mutual and civil dialogue with others. The key is to listen and take the others' views seriously. It does not mean that we should surrender our beliefs, only that we should value their ideas within their context.

I certainly do not want an aborigine to build skyscrapers with "bungie cord" engineering, but I can respect his "life myths".

Mar 14, 2011, 7:41 AM
JT:

"the belief that morality and justice are a matter of immutable natural law is far more congenial to conservatism than to a movement trying to imagine that another world is possible"

But what a Conservative sees intuitively, and what a Progressive often fails to see at all, is that the only other worlds which are possible are those worlds to which leads a chain of cause and effect from this one world in which we actually live. What this world is, regardless of the category of description - material, social, ethical, aesthetic - is a fact: such that it is entirely necessary that any opinion pertaining thereto will be right, or wrong, correct or incorrect, true or false, regardless of the gender, race, erotic proclivity, wealth or political agenda of the one who holds it. The fact that it may not be possible to determine prior to experience which opinion is correct does not mean that there is no fact of the matter. A plethora of points of view may generate a plethora of opinions so a method of sorting, assessing and falsifying them is needed. For the processes of cause and effect it exists and is called Science. If no such method exists for the purpose of classification and evaluation within the categories other than "cause and effect" then perhaps those categories have no referents, and opinions regarding them are all, not equally valid but, equally vacuous. If that conclusion is welcome then you are a Nihilist; if unwelcome then, by the argument quoted above, you are a Conservative. It is here that the poor Progressive attempts to deny the law of the excluded middle and contends for a plethora of equally valid, logically contradictory, facts of the matter to serve as referents for the world's conflicting opinions. No doubt one can continue to live and breath in this state of confusion but one's expectations of future possible worlds will almost inevitably be disappointed if they are founded upon wrong opinions, though happy accidents may occur.

Apr 8, 2011, 3:51 PM
T. McDonald:

There is an intelligible reason why the social constructivism of the Left and the social traditionalism of the Right make a natural alliance of concern about the dominance of modern science and technology. Both of these social phenomena are together predictable from Kant's philosophical critique of human reason which shows: natural science in its methods and knowledge cannot understand human beings and cannot ascertain knowledge of human value. If science is our only standard it leads us to nihilism about human value. Heidegger is one of the few philosophers willing to consider how to carry out in practice an acceptance of this fate, instead of attempting to put various liberal fig leafs over the clear conclusions of science: the human being is of no value as such.

May 1, 2012, 1:58 PM
Neil Craig:

Since Mr Berube is a liar who has publicly lied for the purpose of helping Nazis, whom he admires, to commit racial genocide, his qualification to speak about integrity in science is more more than lacking.

What a pity Pol Poy is dead or he could be invited to write on medical care.

Jun 29, 2012, 9:15 AM

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