Separating Science From Scientism

“Settled science,” “you can’t argue with science,” “war on science,” or “97% of scientists” are terms thrown about by people trying to short circuit skepticism of their assertions, usually about some social cause or idea not susceptible of scientific proof. These people are engaged not in science but in scientism.

Frederic Hayek defined scientism as, “scientistic prejudice” as “slavish imitation of the method and language of Science” when applied to the social sciences, history, management, etc. Scientism represents “a mechanical and uncritical application of habits of thought to fields different from those in which they have been formed.

Austin Hughes said, in The Folly of Scientism,“The fundamental problem raised by the identification of “good science” with “institutional science” is that it assumes the practitioners of science to be inherently exempt, at least in the long term, from the corrupting influences that affect all other human practices and institutions.” Hughes calls on Karl Popper’s idea set forth in The Logic of Scientific Discovery that falsifiablity is what separates true science from pseudoscience.

A falsifiable theory is one that makes a specific prediction about what results are supposed to occur under a set of experimental conditions, so that the theory might be falsified by performing the experiment and comparing predicted to actual results. A theory or explanation that cannot be falsified falls outside the domain of science.

Hughes points out that when a theory is revised to match any observations that happen to conflict with its predictions, in order to avoid rejection of the theory, then it’s pseudoscience and not science at all. This is exactly what we’ve seen in the global cooling, global warming, climate change debate. When predicitions of global cooling proved incorrect the theory was immediately revised to global warming, and when warming didn’t happen for many years it had to be revised a second time, to climate change. Since climate change is and always has been occurring on earth the theory will now be argued even more forcefully. It’s still not sound science because observations that can be expected without the theory can never be offered as proof of the theory itself, at least not if true science is involved. Climate change hysteria is today’s perfect example of scientism masquerading as science.

If the possibility of falsification is the loadstar of true science, Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection makes the grade. On the Origin of Species was written exactly 100 years before Popper’s book and throughout Darwin refers to observations and conditions that if found to exist would render his theory false. His theory has withstood attack from all quarters for 158 years and counting. Darwinian evolution provides sound explanations for much observed phenomena in medicine and in the biological sciences.  It’s the mark of true science.


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  1. Pingback: H.L. Mencken on Human-Caused Climate Change - TeeJaw Blog

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