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Antiscience is a position critical of science and the scientific method. People holding antiscientific views are generally skeptical that science is an objective method, as it purports to be, or that it generates universal knowledge. They also contend that scientific reductionism in particular is an inherently limited means to reach understanding of the complex world we live in. Antiscience proponents also criticize what they perceive as the unquestioned privilege, power and influence science seems to wield in society, industry and politics; they object to what they regard as an arrogant or closed-minded attitude amongst scientists.[1] Antiscience can refer both to the New Age and postmodernist movements associated with the political Left, and to socially conservative and fundamentalist movements associated with the political Right.

HistoryEdit

File:The children - victims of adult vices (unsapience).jpg
Irresponsible science. From the monument Children, victims of adult vices by Mikhail Shemyakin. Moscow, 2001

Those involved in the beginnings of the scientific revolution such as Robert Boyle found themselves in immediate and direct confrontation with those such as Thomas Hobbes who were extremely skeptical regarding whether what we now think of as the scientific method was a satisfactory way to obtain genuine knowledge of the nature of the world. Hobbes' stance is today seen by many as an anti-science position.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in his Discourse on the Arts and Sciences, is noted for claiming science leads to morality's corruption. "Rousseau argues that the progression of the sciences and arts has caused the corruption of virtue and morality." and his "critique of science has much to teach us about the dangers involved in our political commitment to scientific progress, and about the ways in which the future happiness of mankind might be secured."


Nevertheless, while potentially confusing, Rousseau does NOT state in his Discourses that sciences are necessarily bad, as he states how high in regard figures like Rene Descartes, Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton should be held. As stated in the very end of the discourse, Rousseau says that there are those (aforementioned) who can cultivate sciences to great benefit, and those that, cultivating science (mostly because of society's bad influence) , lead to morality's corruption.

For example, Rousseau in his Discourses despises "our vain sciences," and claims they have "corrupted our minds," produced "a dissoluteness of manners," and would disapprovingly snatch them "as a mother snatches a dangerous weapon from the hands of her child;" he says the sciences are "futile in the objects they propose," they are no less dangerous in the effects they produce, they "have corrupted our morals," they "produce mischiefs," and he refers to them as "useless and pernicious arts."[2] Yet, he also speaks approvingly of major scientific figures like Isaac Newton. Hence the rather confusing nature of his viewpoint.

William Blake in his paintings and writings, reacted strongly against the work of Isaac Newton and is seen as being perhaps the earliest (and almost certainly the most prominent and enduring) example of what is seen by historians as being the aesthetic or romantic anti-science response. For example, in a notable poem of 1795, Blake shows his revulsion for Newton in the image of the beautiful and natural robin red-breast imprisoned by the materialistic cage of Newtonian mathematics and science[3] In Blake's painting of Newton, he is depicted "as a misguided hero whose gaze was directed only at sterile geometrical diagrams drawn on the ground."[4] Blake thought, "Newton, Bacon and Locke with their emphasis on reason were nothing more than 'the three great teachers of atheism, or Satan's Doctrine'...the picture progresses from exuberance and colour on the left, to sterility and blackness on the right. In Blake's view Newton brings not light, but night."[5] In a poem, W H Auden summarises Blake's anti-scientific views by saying that he, "Broke off relations in a curse, with the Newtonian Universe," [6]

It should be noted, however, that recent biographers of Newton[7] consider him more as a rennaisance alchemist, natural philosopher and magician rather than a true representative of scientific illuminism, as popularized by Voltaire and other illuminist Newtonians.

Anti-science issues are seen as a fundamental consideration in the transition from 'pre-science' or 'proto-science' such as that evident in Alchemy. Many disciplines which pre-date the widespread adoption and acceptance of the scientific method, such as geometry and astronomy, are not seen as anti-science.

Nonetheless, some of the orthodoxies within those disciplines which pre-date a scientific approach (such as those orthodoxies repudiated by the discoveries of Galileo) are seen as being a product of an anti-science stance.

The term 'scientism' derives from science studies and is a term spawned and used by sociologists and philosophers of science to describe the views, beliefs and behavior of many strong science devotees. It is sometimes also used in a pejorative sense, for individuals who seem to be 'fetishizing' science, or treating science in a similar way to a religion.

The term reductionism is occasionally used in a similarly pejorative way (as a somewhat more subtle attack on scientists) although scientists can now be found who recognise that there might be conceptual and philosophical shortcomings of reductionism but feel nonetheless comfortable in being labelled as reductionists.[How to reference and link to summary or text].

However, non reductionist (see Emergentism) views of science have been formulated in varied forms in several scientific fields like Statistical Physics, Chaos Theory, Complexity Theory, Cybernetics, Systems Theory, Systems Biology, Ecology, Information Theory etc. Such fields tend to assume that strong interaction between units produce new phenomena in higher levels that cannot be accounted for solely by reductionism (for example, it is not possible or valuable to describe a chess game or even gene networks by using quantum mechanics). The emergentist view of science ("More is Different", in the words of Nobel physicist Philip W. Anderson [8] has been inspired in its methodology by the European social sciences (Durkheim, Weber, Marx) which tend to reject methodological individualism.

Political antiscienceEdit

Left-wing antiscienceEdit

One way the antiscience view is expressed is in the "denial of universality and... legitimisation of alternatives,"[9] and that "the results of scientific findings [do]... not represent any underlying reality, but are purely the ideology of dominant groups within society."[9]

In this view, science is associated with the political Right and is seen as a belief system that is deeply conservative and conformist, that suppresses innovation, that resists change and that acts dictatorially. This includes the view, for example, that science has a "bourgeois and/or Eurocentric and/or masculinist world-view... and [that] various ethnic groups... would have to develop their own forms of science which need not be as intellectually demanding as the Western male variety."[9]

This kind of New Left antiscience has been criticized by the Marxist Left as having romantic origin (see Fredric Jameson). Indeed, both Marx and Engels have a positive view of science and named their version of socialism as scientific socialism in contrast to utopian (romantic) socialism.[10] For example, the Frankfurt School, whose thinking is fundamental to all Critical Theory about science, first appears in the post-war 1920 cultural romantic climate, at the same time of romantic fascist antiscience criticism. Since the original founder of the Frankfurt School, Max Horkheimer, in his latter days, recognized himself as a non-Marxist Jewish theologian,[11] his status as a left thinker is not clear. The same occurs with other antiscience philosophers as Herbert Marcuse and Paul Feyerabend, whose philosophical positions naturally follow from romantic views of their young years: like their master Martin Heidegger, both were attracted to the romantic criticism of the liberal Judeo-Christian society (see Heidegger and Nazism). As recognized by Paul Feyerabend in his autobiography, when young he was attracted to the Nazi SS ideology since it reflected the romantic and antiscientific Nietzscheian ideals in contrast to the Judeo-Christian worldview [12].

Right-wing antiscienceEdit

The origin of antiscience thinking may be traced back to the reaction of Romanticism to the Enlightment, French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. This movement is often referred to as the 'counter-enlightenment'. Romanticism emphasizes that intuition, passion and organic links to Nature are primal values and that rational thinking is secondary to human life. There are many modern examples of conservative antiscience polemics. Primary among the latter are the polemics about embryonic stem cells research, evolutionary theory and modern cosmology teaching in high schools, conception, contraception and natality methods, and environmental issues related to climate change and energy crisis. In contrast, liberal views are more concerned with illuminist values as human rights, women's rights, and altogether more libertarian perspectives, as those issues which deserve primary attention. Left-wing criticism toward science is more motivated by the political view that technoscience could be (or necessarily is) a key element for sustaining oppressive social systems. However, as already observed, several romantic themes appear both in left and right-wing antiscience, so that it is possible that such political dimension is less relevant to understand antiscience than the Realism versus Romanticism philosophical axis.

Extreme right-wing antiscience can be recognized by widespread appeal to conspiracy theories to explain why scientists believe what they believe, in an attempt to undermine the confidence or power usually associated to science (e.g. in global warming conspiracy theories). Another feature of conservative antiscience discourse is the widespread use of political fallacies, in particular the false dilemma, appeal to consequences, appeal to fear and the appeal to probability fallacies. Joseph J. Romm has sharply criticized conservative antiscience in the context of global warming saying that U.S. conservatives were displaying extreme scientific ignorance with disastrous consequences in their attempts to block bills meant to reduce carbon emissions.[13]

Recently some of the leading critical theorists have recognized that their critiques have at times been counter-productive, and are providing strong intellectual ammunition for right-wing ideology. Writing also about these developments in the context of Climate Change, sociologist Bruno Latour[14] noted that "dangerous extremists are using the very same argument of social construction to destroy hard-won evidence that could save our lives. Was I wrong to participate in the invention of this field known as science studies? Is it enough to say that we did not really mean what we meant?"

Religious antiscienceEdit

Main article: Relationship between religion and science

In this context, antiscience may be considered dependent on religious, moral and cultural arguments. For this kind of religious antiscience philosophy, science is an anti-spiritual and materialistic force that undermines traditional values, ethnic identity and accumulated historical wisdom in favor of reason and Cosmopolitism. In particular, the traditional and ethnic values emphasized are similar to those of Christian Identity, but a similar right-wing conservative view has been developed by conservative Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism. New religious movements like New Age thinking also criticize the scientific worldview as favouring a reductionist, atheist or materialist philosophy.

A frequent basis of antiscientific views is literalist or fundamentalist theism. Here, scientific findings that conflict with what is considered divinely-inspired knowledge are regarded as flawed. Over the centuries such religious thinkers have opposed such ideas as heliocentrism and planetary motion. More recently, the religious concept of creationism, and its evolved form intelligent design, have been promoted by religious literalists to counter the scientific theory of evolution. [15] Some attempt to further to convince others of the existence of God, and attack all sciences indiscriminately, as is the case with Ben Stein.

Three areas of antiscience Edit

Historically, antiscience first arose as a reaction against scientific materialism. The 18th century Enlightenment had ushered in "the ideal of a unified system of all the sciences,"[16] but there were those fearful of this notion, who "felt that constrictions of reason and science, of a single all-embracing system... were in some way constricting, an obstacle to their vision of the world, chains on their imagination or feeling."[16] Antiscience then is a rejection of "the scientific model [or paradigm]... with its strong implication that only that which was quantifiable, or at any rate, measurable... was real."[16] In this sense, it comprises a "critical attack upon the total claim of the new scientific method to dominate the entire field of human knowledge."[16]. However, scientific positivism (logical positivism) does not deny the reality of non-measurable phenomena, only that those phenomena should not be adequate to scientific investigation. Morever, positivism, as a philosophical basis for the scientific method, is not consensual or even dominant in the scientific community (see philosophy of science).

Three major areas of antiscience can be seen in philosophy, sociology and ecology. The following quotes explore this aspect of the subject.

Philosophy Edit

Philosophical objections against science are often objections about the role of reductionism. For example, in the field of psychology, "both reductionists and antireductionists accept that... non-molecular explanations may not be improved, corrected or grounded in molecular ones."[17] Further, "epistemological antireductionism holds that, given our finite mental capacities, we would not be able to grasp the ultimate physical explanation of many complex phenomena even if we knew the laws governing their ultimate constituents."[18] Some see antiscience as "common...in academic settings...many people confuse science, scientism and pseudoscience, resulting in an antiscience stance. Some argue that nothing can be known for sure."[19]

Many scholars are "divided as to whether reduction should be a central strategy for understanding the world."[20] However, many agree that "there are, nevertheless, reasons why we want science to discover properties and explanations other than reductive physical ones."[20] Such issues stem "from an antireductionist worry that there is no absolute conception of reality, that is, a characterization of reality such as... science claims to provide."[21] This is close to the Kantian view that reality is ultimately unknowable and all models are just imperfect approximations to it.

Sociology Edit

Sociologist Thomas Gieryn refers to "some sociologists who might appear to be antiscience."[22] Some "philosophers and antiscience types," he contends, may have presented "unreal images of science that threaten the believability of scientific knowledge,"[22] or appear to have gone "too far in their antiscience deconstructions."[22] The question often lies in how far scientists can be said to really conform to the standard stereotype of "communalism, universalism, disinterestedness, originality, and... skepticism."[22] Unfortunately, "scientists don't always conform... scientists do get passionate about pet theories; they do rely on reputation in judging a scientist's work; they do pursue fame and gain via research."[22] Thus, they do show inherent biases in their work. Many "scientists are not as rational and logical as the legend would have them, nor are they as illogical or irrational as some relativists might say."[22]

Ecology and health sphere Edit

Within the ecological and health spheres, Levins identifies a conflict "not between science and antiscience, but rather between different pathways for science and technology; between a commodified science-for-profit and a gentle science for humane goals; between the sciences of the smallest parts and the sciences of dynamic wholes... [he] offers proposals for a more holistic, integral approach to understanding and addressing environmental issues."[23] These beliefs are also common within the scientific community, with for example, scientists being prominent in environmental campaigns warning of environmental dangers such as ozone depletion and the greenhouse effect. It can also be argued that this version of antiscience comes close to that found in the medical sphere where patients and practitioners may choose to reject reductionism and adopt a more holistic approach to health problems. This can be both a practical and a conceptual shift and has attracted strong criticism: "therapeutic touch, a healing technique based upon the laying-on of hands, has found wide acceptance in the nursing profession despite its lack of scientific plausibility. Its acceptance is indicative of a broad antiscientific trend in nursing."[24]

Glazer also criticises the therapists and patients, "for abandoning the biological underpinnings of nursing and for misreading philosophy in the service of an antiscientific world-view."[24] Brian Martin provides a view of the conflict between science and antiscience: "Gross and Levitt's basic approach is to attack constructivists for not being positivists."[25] Science is "presented as a unitary object, usually identified with scientific knowledge. It is portrayed as neutral and objective. Second, science is claimed to be under attack by 'antiscience' which is composed essentially of ideologues who are threats to the neutrality and objectivity that are fundamental to science. Third, a highly selective attack is made on the arguments of 'antiscience'."[25] Such people allegedly then "routinely equate critique of scientific knowledge with hostility to science, a jump that is logically unsupportable and empirically dubious."[25] Having then "constructed two artificial entities, a unitary 'science' and a unitary 'academic left', each reduced to epistemological essences, Gross and Levitt proceed to attack. They pick out figures in each of several areas -- science studies, postmodernism, feminism, environmentalism, AIDS activism -- and criticise their critiques of science."[25]

The writings of Young serve to illustrate more rhetorical antiscience outpourings: "The strength of the antiscience movement and of alternative technology is that their advocates have managed to retain Utopian vision while still trying to create concrete instances of it."[26] "the real social, ideological and economic forces shaping science...[have] been opposed to the point of suppression in many quarters. Most scientists hate it and label it 'antiscience'. But it is urgently needed, because it makes science self-conscious and hopefully self-critical and accountable with respect to the forces which shape research priorities, criteria, goals."[26]

Genetically modified foods are another aspect of our health that which brings about antiscience sentiment. The general public has become more sensitive as of late of the dangers that a poor diet can have on one's health, as there have been numerous studies that show that the two are inextricably linked together."[27] Anti-science dictates that science is untrustworthy, in that it is never complete and always in need of revision, which would be a probable cause for the fear that the general public has of genetically modified foods despite scientific reassurance.

Opposition to reductionism and positivismEdit

The neutrality of this section is disputed.

Failure to appreciate subtle complexity Edit

A common antiscientific affirmative is that mathematical models do not capture the full reality of existence, as can see in this quote: The formulas of mathematical models are "artificial constructions, logical figments with no necessary relation to the outside world." These models always "leave out the richest and most important part of human experience...daily life, history, human laws and institutions, the modes of human self- expression." A failure to appreciate the subtle complexity of social worlds, means they get excluded from the formulas, even though, “no easy reductionism will do justice to the material.” This approach often fails to concentrate “on social structures, processes, and actions in a specific sense (inequality, mobility, classes, strata, ethnicity, gender relations, urbanization, work and life of different types of people, not just elites),” and so tends to generate mostly meaningless oversimplifications.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

However, non reductionist (see Emergentism) views of science have been formulated in varied forms in several scientific domains like Statistical Physics, Chaos Theory, Complexity Theory, Cybernetics, Systems Theory, Systems Biology, Ecology, Gaia Theory etc. Such fields tend to assume that strong (non-linear) interactions between units produce new phenomena and (phenomenological or statistical) laws in higher levels that cannot be predicted for solely by reductionism, if it is understood as saying that macroscopic behavior is a simple (linear) aggregate of individual parts. For different interpretations of the concept, see Reductionism. The emergentist view of science ("More is Different", in the words of Nobel physicist Philip W. Anderson [28] has been inspired in its methodology by the European social sciences (Durkheim, Weber, Marx) which tend to reject methodological individualism.

Another point in the antiscientific debate is that verbal (say, literary and non-mathematical) models are also poor representations of the reality. If it is clear that a particular statistical or psychological study about romantic love or religious ecstasy (see neurotheology), captures only a tiny fraction of such human experiences, literary accounts and simplified verbal models also cannot adequately convey their full complexity. Both verbal and mathematical models are (partial) maps of reality, providing different points of view, but inherently incomplete descriptions of the territory of human and universe existence (see map territory relation).

From reductionism to positivism Edit

This basically comes down to the issue of positivism, which is "the view that all true knowledge is scientific,"[29] and that all things are ultimately measurable.

Because of its "close association with reductionism," it is worth saying that positivism and reductionism involve the view that "entities of one kind...are reducible to entities of another," such as societies to numbers, or mental events to chemical events. It also involves the contention that "processes are reducible to physiological, physical or chemical events," and even that "social processes are reducible to relationships between and actions of individuals," or that "biological organisms are reducible to physical systems."[How to reference and link to summary or text]

See alsoEdit

References Edit

  1. Brian Martin, The arrogance of scientists
  2. J J Rousseau, Discourses
  3. Blake, Auguries of Innocence
  4. Notes to Blake's Newton, at Princeton University
  5. Newton: Personification of Man Limited by Reason, Tate Gallery, London
  6. W H Auden, "New Year Letter, 1940," in Collected Poems, Edited by Edward Mendelson, London: Faber, 1994, p.203
  7. Stephen D Snobelen, Writings on Newton, 2007
  8. W. Anderson, "More is Different," Science, 177, pp.393-397, 1972
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Sean Robsville "Postmodernism - a threat to Buddhism?": Personal website
  10. Friederich Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, 1888
  11. Ilan Gur-Ze'ev, Walter Benjamin and Max Horkheimer, "From utopia to redemption," Haifa University (2007)
  12. Killing Time: The Autobiography of Paul Feyerabend (1995), ISBN 0-226-24531-4, ISBN 0-226-24532
  13. Joseph Romm, "Anti-science conservatives must be stopped", Salon.com, June 30, 2008
  14. Bruno Latour, Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern, Critical Inquiry, 30.2, 2004
  15. Jon D. Miller, Eugenie C. Scott, Shinji Okamoto Public Acceptance of Evolution Science 11 August 2006: Vol. 313. no. 5788, pp. 765 - 766
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 Isaiah Berlin, The Proper Study of Mankind, London: Pimlico, 1997, p328
  17. Alex Rosenberg and D. M. Kaplan "How to Reconcile Physicalism and Antireductionism about Biology" Philosophy of Science 72 (January 2005) pp. 43-68
  18. Nagel T. "Reductionism and antireductionism." Novartis Found Symp. 1998;213:3-10; discussion 10-4, 73-5.
  19. Eileen Gambrill, Evidence based practice, an alternative to authority based practice, Families in Society, the Journal of Contemporary Human Services, 80.4, 1999, 341-350
  20. 20.0 20.1 Todd Jones, Reductionism and Antireductionism: Rights and Wrongs, Metaphilosophy, Volume 35, Number 5, October 2004, pp. 614-647
  21. Peter W. Ross and Dale Turner, "Sensibility Theory and Conservative Complacency"
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 22.3 22.4 22.5 Thomas F. Gieryn, Book Review of John Ziman. Real Science: What it is and What it Means, Cambridge: Cambridge, University Press, 2000, Isis, vol. 93 (2002), pp. 544–545
  23. Richard Levins, Whose Scientific Method? Scientific Methods for a Complex World, New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy,Vol.13,3, 2003, 261-274
  24. 24.0 24.1 Sarah Glazer, "Therapeutic touch and postmodernism in nursing", Nursing Philosophy (2001) 2(3), 196-212.
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 25.3 Brian Martin, Social Construction of an 'Attack on Science', Social Studies of Science, Vol. 26, No. 1, February 1996, pp. 161-173.
  26. 26.0 26.1 Robert M. Young, Science is Social Relations
  27. Carol Tucker Foreman, Genetic Modification of Foods: The Public's Mistrust of Science and Science's Misunderstanding of the Public, "Consumer Choice"
  28. W. Anderson, "More is Different," Science, 177, pp.393-397, 1972
  29. A Bullock & S Trombley [Eds.], The New Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought, third edition, London: Harper Collins, 1999, p.669

Bibliography Edit

  • A Bullock & S Trombley [Eds.], The New Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought, third edition, London: Harper Collins, 1999
  • Burger, P and Luckman, T, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966
  • Collins, Harry and Pinch, Trevor, The Golem. What everyone should know about science, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993
  • Gross, Paul R and Norman Levitt, Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994
  • Gerald Holton, Science and anti-science, Harvard University Press, 1993 ISBN 0674792998
  • Knorr-Cetina, Karin D, & Mulkay, Michael, Science Observed: Perspectives on the Social Study of Science, Sage Publications Ltd, 1983
  • Knorr-Cetina, Karin D, Epistemic Cultures: How the Sciences Make Knowledge, Harvard University Press, 1999
  • Levins, R. "Ten propositions on science and antiscience" in Social Text, 46/47:101–111, 1996.
  • Levins, R. "Touch Red," in Judy Kaplan an Linn Shapiro, eds., Red Diapers: Growing up in the Communist Left, U. of Illinois, 1998, pp. 257-266.
  • Levins, R. Dialectics and systems theory in Science and Society 62(3):373-399, 1998.
  • Levins, R. "The internal and external in explanatory theories", Science as Culture, 7(4):557–582, 1998.
  • Levins, R. and Lopez C. "Toward an ecosocial view of health", International Journal of Health Services 29(2):261-293, 1999.
  • Nye, Andrea, Words of Power: A Feminist Reading of the History of Logic, London: Routledge, 1990
  • Pepper, David, The Roots of Modern Environmentalism, London: Routledge, 1989
  • Ullica Segerstrale (Ed), "Beyond the Science Wars: the missing discourse about science and society," Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000, ISBN 0791446182
  • Vining, Joseph, On the Future of Total Theory: Science, Antiscience, and Human Candor, Erasmus Institute papers, 1999
  • Leviathan and the Air Pump Schapin and Shaffer (covers the conflict between Hobbes and Boyle).
  • The Scientific Outlook by Bertrand Russell (sets out the limits of science from the perspective of a vehement campaigner against anti-science).
  • An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume (The first major work to point out the limits of inductive reasoning, the 'new tool of science').
  • Against Method by Paul Feyerabend (probably the individual most accused of reinvigorating anti-science, although some claim that he is in fact strengthening the scientific debate).

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