What Postmodernists Got Right About Science

What Postmodernists Got Right About Science

Maybe you can remember way back to the mid to late 1990s. Ancient history. This was the time of the original Science Wars, the assault by rapid postmodernists (i.e, the pre-woke) on the staid and solid walls of Science. I was in grad school at the time, and paid close attention, because I had planned on making science my career.

Postmodernists claimed that there were different ways of knowing, and that science occupied a place no more important in its claims to truths about the world as did, say, Aboriginal origin myths. That argument would later become a woke one when it was said that Aboriginal origin myths are ackshually superior to claims of science because the Aborigines were Victims.

That story you know. But it lay twenty years in the future.

Then? Well, it’s hard to describe the visceral shock of scientists when they, for the first time, had their intelligence and motivations called into question. They reacted like the king’s daughter whose virtue had been called into question. There arose a swarm of indignant articles by scientists, and their fanboys, all with the theme How dare they.

Postmodernists charged that science had become a vote, just another system of power-in-action, no more or less noble than any other. Scientists rebutted that postmodernists were ninnies.

The peak was, as you may recall, the so-called Sokal hoak, in which physicist Alan Sokal slipped a goofy jargon-filled incoherent science paper into Social Text, a big name po-mo journal. Sokal’s paper had statements like “quantum gravity is a social and linguistic construct.”

The idea behind the hoax was that Social Text was going to blush, postmodernists would be exposed, admit their sins, and science would again reign triumphant.

Alas, this did not happen. Because the postmodernists were more or less right. Science in practice was becoming, in a large and increasing degree, the machinations of people who did not always, and sometimes not at all, have Truth as their goal, but who were interested in power.

Sokal thought he was aiding the cause with his follow-up 1999 book (co-authored with Jean Bricmont) Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science, in which he went to great and extended thousand-dollar-word-filled turgid lengths to boast about his progressive bona fides, pleading that therefore his critique was a good one.

Which, as I hope you see, grants the postmodernist premise that it mattered more who you were than what you were saying. Science had become a vote, just like postmodernists said. It also didn’t help that it might really be true (as some think) that quantum gravity is a social and linguistic construct, a sort of mathematical game understood only by a clique, one that might have nothing to do with Reality.

Funny thing about the hoax is that, after the first hilarity died down, scientists forgot about Social Text. It is still going strong. At the time I write this, it boasts these top-three trending articles: “‘Spirit in Opposition’: Malcolm X and the Question of Palestine”, “Introduction: Left of Queer”, “Fascism’s Spatial Imaginary at the Threshold”.

They won.

Science is becoming power politics, where might makes right. Not everywhere, no, but in bulk, and certainly in its main funding methods. Here’s proof.

I wrote many times (blog, Substack) that scientists will create entire subfields of activity, just because they think other scientists think the area is paper-worthy. Scientists are just as prone to fads as anybody else. The mass of papers that develop in the subfield becomes truth-as-vote. Scientists reason that because so many are working in this area, and are being funded, the basic claims must be true.

As proof of that contention, here is a Nature article boasting about the number of “climate change” papers, and using the increase as proof that therefore the claims of “climate change” must be true, and must be acted upon. We have, you and I, dear reader, over the years looked at enough of these papers to see that most are worthless to harmful, a prime (and, sadly, enduring) example of science-as-vote.

A more mundane, but even more revealing, example was provided in a recent tweet announcing that the American College of Pediatricians had put out a statement condemning the satanic lunacy of butchering and drugging children in slave to gender theory.

One of the first comments to this tweet was that the ACP is “a fringe group”. That was the entirety of the tweet. The implication, plain to all, was that therefore it was right and proper to ignore anything the ACP says.

The commenter was right. The ACP is a fringe group, and is so because it calls to Reality, whereas mainstream scientists are lunatics in love with twisted Fantasies. But the mainstream has a bigger vote. The mainstream won; they have the power. The key is that ordinary people recognize who is in power and who is out.

I should say lunatic or cowardly scientists love “gender theory”. But a scientist acting cowardly is just as much a confirmation of science-as-vote as the positive examples. Fear and trembling have become so rife even woke Nature itself has recently put out a slew of articles asking scientists to man-up. One title: “Why it’s essential to study sex and gender, even as tensions rise”.

Some scientists have been warned off studying sex differences by colleagues. Others, who are already working on sex or gender-related topics, are hesitant to publish their views. Such a climate of fear and reticence serves no one. To find a way forward we need more knowledge, not less.

Of course, being weak, they can’t help themselves and immediately walked that admonition back by calling (in that and other articles) for “nuanced” takes.

You remember the blind idiocy of mask madness. It had been known for a century, as I shouted over and over and over for years (blog, Substack), that masks (except for spacesuits) did diddly squat in stopping transmission of respiratory bugs. Scientists before 2020 knew this. But once the panic hit, they pretended to forget or they let their minds be changed by political force. Mask madness hit.

Slowly the panic faded. Finally, there came a Cochrane review showing what we already knew, that masks don’t work, and are to some extent harmful. Alas, the review scientists forgot about hersterical (there is no misspelling) political forces of the cult of Safety First! Which led to this new article, whose title says it all: “After Throwing Scientists Under the Bus for a Media Smearing, Cochrane Backtracks on Mask Review Statement”

And there are many other examples, but this is plenty to prove the point.

It was inevitable, perhaps, that after science became ubiquitous and powerful, and very rich, that it would devolve into politics. Which is what the postmodernists (in part) argued all along.

They were right.

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  1. Gwyneth

    It is such a pleasure to read your thoughts and I thank you for your sane discourse.

  2. Briggs

    Many thanks, Gwyneth.

  3. Tym Onz

    My brain has been burned out on “THE DEBATE IS OVER! THESE ARE THE FACTS!” as being the result of some government-grant-funded “Scientific Consensus” of their Wise Wizards of Modern Political Alchemy. In other words, the MSM and The Deep State Bureaucrats wouldn’t dare use the terms “Scientific Vote” or “Scientific Opinion.” “Scientific Consensus” sounds sooo much more credible and ‘scienfical’ to the low-information voters that they are trying to keep duping.

  4. Incitadus

    Oh we’ve come a long way from anthrax attacks originating at Ft. Detrick Maryland to anthrax vaccine
    mandates for armed forces personnel during the Gulf War leading to debilitating Gulf War Syndrome. Now that’s
    following the science. What’s really curious is how quickly our leadership was afforded Cipro. Wash rinse repeat…
    time to WTFU.

  5. Phileas_Frogg

    A good friend of mine who practices Medicine and Chemistry Research struggles mightily to accept that his field is corrupted. He used to come back at my suggestions that institutional scientific practitioners spend more time at the bar philandering with tatted up lies and drunk cash grants than they do back at home with the Truth with the accusation that, “Your field (education) is FAR more corrupt!” to which I would respond with jocular enthusiasm that, “Yes! In fact Education is horribly corrupt and should, for the sake of society, be immediately defunded, and all universal public education destroyed with extreme prejudice, and all public education put under intense scrutiny and agonies.”

    I’ve often said to my wife, it’s like medical school lobotomized him.

    In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

    “Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease.

    Against stupidity we are defenseless.

    Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed — in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical — and when facts are irrefutable, they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack.”

  6. >Scientists are just as prone to fads as anybody else.

    I think more. Most of them are fact and information collectors rather than thinkers. They’re so busy study hard differential equation they never stop to think why they might be doing what they’re doing, especially when it’s well aimed marketing. I have friends who I consider rational people who think M2 chips are faaaast because Apple said so and we bring ourselves into the future. They never think to, you know, check how fast they smash matrices together or whatever.

  7. Carlos Julio Casanova Guerra

    I know you’re being sarcastic, but it’s not that they were right, the case is more a self-fulfilling prophecy. On the other hand, this situation was, at least, two centuries in the making: Kant and Comte banishing metaphysics; Nietzsche saying that science had fulfilled its role by destroying religion, so, now, it wasn’t allowed to claim truth to itself (The Genealogy of Morality). Heidegger and his hate for reason; Marx and the marxists and their prohibition to ask questions… ETC. But, now, people of lesser spirit have taken over. And we are fried

  8. Tars Tarkas

    The mask mandates were never about slowing the spread or otherwise meant as a tool for “fighting” the WuFlu. The reason they had the mask mandates was to fool people into thinking we were actually doing something to fight the coof and “save lives” and how much they care about us. It was all marketing theater.

  9. Leo

    Figuring out who to trust is a challenge for our time. As is how to respond to false claims.

  10. Milton Hathaway

    If I had more ambition (and spare time), I’d research the history of fads, and come up “Milton’s Seven Stages of Fads”. One of the later stages would be “a pronounced increase in quantity accompanied by a pronounced decrease in quality”.

  11. Johnno

    Postmodernism is a bastard child of Protestant Atheism.

    The Consensus voted for heliocentrism, materialism, and macro-evolution as their unholy trinity, and adjusted their thinking, definitions and lowered standards accordingly, even to the point of being unable to distinguish and separate disciplines, as everything was put under Equalism.

    As the funny by true joke goes, “Evolutionary biologists declare they are right because physicists get demonstrable results!” The diversity of heretical vermin take credit that others earn because they defined themselves as all being under the same rainbow umbrella known as THE SCIENCE ™. WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER! Now funded by government and not the Church!

    When things naturally don’t add up, rather than reflect back in time at where precisely their religion went wrong, they are more willing to seek out pagan aboriginal myths and AI palm reading than admit their Copernican mistakes.

    Science is a pagan land that should be recolonized by actual Catholics, and the natives need to be brutally beaten out of their demonic habits. But that ship can only set sail after the liberals within the cabins either discard their foolishness or fling themselves overboard, and at the late moment in time, the latter should now be encouraged for expediency’s sake.

  12. Phil R


    My wife and I have a very good friend who is a history professor at a fairly well-know VA university (not UVA, another one). She’s on the liberal side but I think she likes to come over to unwind and get away from all the office politics and talk about other things. Anyway, one time I told her that I thought academia was past its use-by date. She didn’t respond but we’re still friends.

  13. As I have pointed out numerously it would be much more straightforward and cheaper to go back to reading chicken entrails. Trial by Combat also has potential on pay per view streaming so that needs serious consideration. Whatever, this “science” nonsense has run its course no sane person buys into it any more.

  14. labrat

    Seconding Gwyneth. It is a pleasure to read you who know how to wield the keyboard.

    I then thought Sokal revealed them. But it didn’t matter the slightest.

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