Scientific Privilege

According to an enthusiastic radio report, children benefit from creative play. The reporter could say this with confidence because an interdisciplinary team of psychologists and anthropologists have confirmed it. Benighted hick that I am, I’ve depended on unsubstantiated hearsay for the past seventeen years of parenting. As they say in baseball, “I’d rather be lucky than good.”

I mean, I suppose luck is better. The scientific community has not yet established, so far as I know, a robust body of empirical evidence regarding the relative advantage of luck over skill, though a large number of politicians and corporate CEOs seem to substantiate this adage.

I’m theologically and politically inclined toward folk wisdom, and therefore suspicious of scientism. That doesn’t mean that I oppose scientific inquiry, however. Without a doubt, some of the folk wisdom passed down by my grandmother is flat-out wrong. I know several African-Americans, for example, who do not in fact know all the other African-Americans. And the eyesight difficulties I presently suffer did not commence until well after those awkward boyhood puberty years.

So by all means, Science, lay waste to Nana’s oeuvre of accumulated insights on the human condition. Report with great fanfare that we should not be starving fevers, or feeding colds, or letting sleeping dogs lie. Civilizations survive based on their ability to transmit accumulated wisdom across generations, and this body of knowing certainly includes the valid findings of its scientists.

I get the feeling, however, that the scientific method, rather than being one avenue by which we may come to know something, has become the only respectable avenue. I suppose it’s helpful for scientists to confirm that most people prefer mates who are sexually attractive, or that exercise is good for you, or that bullies pick on unpopular kids—each being a finding reported in science journals in recent years—but was our knowledge of these facts less valid before scientists undertook to measure them?

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