The costs of scientistry

A scientist laments the loss of scientific credibility:

If we want to use scientific thinking to solve problems, we need people to appreciate evidence and heed expert advice. But the Australian suspicion of authority extends to experts, and this public cynicism can be manipulated to shift the tone and direction of debates. We have seen this happen in arguments about climate change.

This goes beyond the tall poppy syndrome. Disregard for experts who have spent years studying critical issues is a dangerous default position. The ability of our society to make decisions in the public interest is handicapped when evidence and thoughtfully presented arguments are ignored.

So why is science not used more effectively to address critical questions? We think there are several contributing factors including the rise of Google experts and the limited skills set of scientists themselves. We think we need non-scientists to help us communicate with and serve the public better.

At a public meeting recently, when a well-informed and feisty elderly participant asked a question that referred to some research, a senior public servant replied: “Oh, everyone has a scientific study to justify their position, there is no end to the studies you could cite, I am sure, to support your point of view.”

This is a cynical statement, where there are no absolute truths and everyone’s opinion must be treated as equally valid. In this intellectual framework, the findings of science can be easily dismissed as one of many conflicting views of reality.

Such a viewpoint is dangerous from our point of view.

This is the result of scientists passing off their unscientific opinions as expertise for decades. No one trusts “science” anymore because no one trusts scientists. Everyone has seen too many idiots with advanced degrees and white coats trying to pull the Dennett Demarche, in which the scientist argues that biologists can be trusted because physics is very accurate.

This is why a clear distinction between scientody, the scientific method, and scientistry, the profession of science, is absolutely necessary. But because men are corrupt and fallen, too many scientists find it too useful to be able to cloak their unscientific (and all too often uneducated), opinions under the veil of scientific expertise.

And the writer undercuts his own argument when he laments that “evidence” (which may be scientific) and “thoughtfully presented arguments” (which have absolutely nothing to do with science) are ignored. Because the fact is that logic is not science, it is philosophy, and philosophy is exactly what scientody is designed to counteract.

Furthermore, science is intrinsically dynamic. So listening to the “real experts” in science is a guaranteed way to ensure that one ignores both logic, and in many cases, reality.