I have been asked by several, several times, to start a Substack. I have no idea why clicking on a Substack article is different than clicking here. But this might be like an old man ranting he can’t see why he has to move from MySpace to Facebook.
So I’m starting a Substack. I will post once a week there an article on the philosophy of science, and its tangents. I will either post that same article here, or link to it here. I will charge the same hefty fee for both. We’ll see which side gets more traffic.
The post works whatever the so-called Supreme Court announces, or doesn’t announce, today.
Science is not the answer. Not to any question, except those of this form: What caused this? The pursuit and measurement of the causes of things in the natural world, and the (under-appreciated) uncertainties in this chase, is science. That, and nothing more.
Saying what is good or bad about a thing, or that this thing is good, and that bad, is not science. Saying we ought to do this because it is good, and we ought not to do that because it is bad, is not science. Saying we ought to do this or that “because science” is always a fallacy, except when it relates to the practice of science itself.
Scientists have no special insight on morality, and, as history has shown, many scientists have stunted moral senses, and are often far too proud. Their ideas of right and wrong on any subject may be better than yours, or they may be worse. That a man is a scientist carries no weight in knowing whether his ideas about right are wrong are good or bad.
Scientists, and even more we, are often victims of scientism.
Scientism is the mistaking of statements about causes in the natural world for moral judgments. These mistakes are always a fallacy: extraordinarily popular ones.
You have witnessed this fallacy every time you hear somebody demand, “Follow the science!” or “Trust the science!” Again, saying we ought to do this or that “because science” is a fallacy.
The earnest person making these statements is often guilty of scidolatry, the worship of science as an idol. (Unserious persons are another matter.)
Science is a strange and incomplete god: science cannot explain itself. Science can, and should, measure cause. But it does not know why the cause of a thing is the way it is. That is, science does not know, and cannot know, the cause of causes. For this ultimate cause, which is necessarily present, is not measurable. There has to be a reason why things are as they are, and not some other way. Why things are the way they are, and not how they are, belongs to the realm of metaphysics, not physics.
So, too, for why things are bad or good. These are never scientific questions. When, as happens, a scientist claims to say some science is morally good or bad, it is because he has sneaked in his opinion on morality, but failed to recognize it.
These ideas stick best with an example.
Suppose a scientist issues this statement: You are more likely to be cured of covid by taking this medicine than by not taking it.
This is clearly a scientific statement. It mentions causes (the drug and other non-drug causes) of a cure, and it mentions a measurement of the uncertainty in these causes.
Trusting “the science” then comes down to trusting this scientist. We have to believe he did his job well, that he made no mistakes, that his model of a cure is a good one, that his calculation of likelihood was proper, that he has adequately controlled for causes other than his drug, causes that may mask or mimic his drug, that he has not injected his hope into the equations, and we have to add in our experience with statements of this type and their eventual outcomes, and so on and so forth. It is a long list.
Even granting all that trust, and accepting the scientist’s likelihood, it does not follow, at all, that you should take the drug. Even stronger, it also does not follow that all should be forced to take the drug.
Again, science is silent on what is right to do, or wrong. Insisting you must take the drug because of “the science” is fallacy. It contains a hidden value judgement, one which has not been made obvious by those doing the insisting. There are no values in science.
In this example, you might prefer to chance the other causes, which we might call natural. Because you believe these natural causes confer other benefits beyond the cure of covid at this single instance. There are costs to taking any drug (this is a scientific statement, too). Perhaps you judge the likelihood of those costs and consequences too high, and that it is better to suffer the disease. Perhaps you believe you will likely suffer very little with the disease.
Perhaps you believe you won’t get the disease at all. Perhaps you believe it is better to suffer a disease than be coerced into acting against your will. Perhaps you believe if you acquiesce in this instance, those who badgered you into taking the drug will grow too bold, and will only increase their tyrannies in the future.
Or you might be different and fret about the disease, thinking that if you got it you would suffer too much, and that you’d rather take your chances with the drug.
Or you might believe that if others aren’t made to take the drug, the drug you took won’t work. That its effects will be cancelled by the negative attitude of the non-takers. Coercing others is the only way to keep you safe.
On and on and on these kinds of considerations go. All of them are moral judgments. Not one of them is a scientific judgement. Most (but not all) rely in some part on science, or on previous or assumed scientific statements. The last, in particular, is based on bad science, or science that is (by most evidence) extraordinarily unlikely.
The problem is that the likelihood of a scientific statement, low or high, still tells you nothing about what is right or wrong.
This all means that whenever anybody asks you to Trust the Science or to Follow the Science, what they are really saying is trust me, follow me.
Buy my new book and own your enemies: Everything You Believe Is Wrong.
Subscribe or donate to support this site and its wholly independent host using credit card or PayPal click here