Down with Scientism

From: Lee Corbin <>
Date: Sun, 5 Jun 2005 12:46:34 -0700

Brent wrote

> > > Of course science arose out of explaining
> > > subjective experiences. The basic
> > > theory of science (and common sense) is
> > > that there is some mind-independent
> > > reality out there. When I see green
> > > grass and an object that [who] is similar
> > > to me and that object says, "I see green
> > > grass." then I take that as evidence that
> > > the object is person with experiences like
> > > me and that there really is green grass.

Well, it's a very reasonable *conjecture*, I'd suggest.
It seems like that sort of conclusion has worked very,
very well in the past.

> >> Brent Meeker
> >> "Science is just common-sense writ large."

> > How *very* true. [I want to rant] against the doctrine
> > of the scientific method!!
> I'm not sure what you mean by "the scientific method" - the
> hypothetico-deductive method? So far as I know all the
> methods of science are just common sense applied carefully
> and thoroughly.

Yes, and that's *all* they are: just ordinary common sense applied,
as you say, carefully and thoroughly. It's what Galileo and
Kepler did. Sure, Kepler would come up with wild conjectures
(or at least ones that we think of as wild today), and some
were right and some were wrong. He usually respected valid
criticism, (although everyone's ego gets in the way from time
to time).

A good detective or a good housewife does exactly the same.
The detective formulates a theory that he hopes explains the
crime, and goes about (usually with a bias) looking for
evidence that supports his theory. The housewife guesses
and guesses at the best way to remove stains from various
articles in the house, and by "applying common sense carefully
and rationally" gets closer and closer to the truth.

All was well until the philosophers stepped in. They looked
at what Galileo, Newton, Kepler, and Lavoisier did, and began
to think about it. Unfortunately. They abstracted from what
all these worthies were doing a so-called "scientific method".
It had five steps. Well, it did when I was in school. To
execute the scientific method, you follow those steps. Even as
a child I was skeptical (rather, it just didn't do anything
for me) because I fancied that in my understandings of astronomy
I was already a scientist. Sort of. A junior scientist, at
least. And what I did and what I learned didn't have anything
to do with all this fancy stuff.

Next the philosophers evolved this doctrine into Scientism, so
that they could look down their noses at the thoughts of many
other people and pronounce them "unscientific". This was
strange, since the other people were for the most part using
the same genetically originated homo sapiens type thinking
that the real scientists were. But it was good propaganda,
and it enabled them to put pressure on textbook publishers
so as to curtail the spread of opinions that they disagreed
with. (It was the 20th century, after all.)

Fortunately, another philosopher (Popper) came to the rescue,
and so far as I know, didn't talk much about the Method. He
described what people were doing---scientists, detectives,
housewives, animals---as making conjectures and learning from
their mistakes.

But in the schools it's still taught that there is a Scientific
Method, and that's what makes scientists' opinions better than
the non-credentialed. (The scientists usually *do* have better
opinions, but only because they've studied something longer or
have been more careful, as you write, not because they use a

You wanna teach a kid how to be a scientist? Just have him
or her look into some subject matter in detail where there is
the possibility of obtaining a unified understanding, or there
is the possibility of performing experiments. Save him from
pedantic doctrines, such as "The Scientific Method".

Received on Sun Jun 05 2005 - 15:47:17 PDT

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