Massimo Pigliucci Shows Us How To Recognize Scientism

Massimo Pigliucci Shows Us How To Recognize Scientism February 3, 2018
Photo by Terry Robinson, CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientist, philosopher of science, and modern-day Stoic Massimo Pigliucci is (like everyone at Driven to Abstraction) a supporter of science. But like us, he’s dismayed at the prevalence of scientism too.

What Is This Thing Called Scientism?

Scientism might be a convenient insult for intellectually lazy religious people to lob at their skeptical foes, but that’s not all it is. In a recent entry at the blog of the American Philosophical Association, fellow atheist Pigliucci not only describes the phenomenon of scientism but gives us six ways to recognize it. Here’s his definition:

First off, what is scientism, exactly? Sometimes it pays to go back to the basics, in this case to the Merriam-Webster concise definition: “An exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science applied to all areas of investigation (as in philosophy, the social sciences, and the humanities).”

I would add to this definition the belief that only science provides valid knowledge; that we should apply scientific methodology to how we conduct our lives and the workings of society; and that any criticism of science is unwarranted.

How to Detect Scientism

Citing philosopher of science Susan Haack, Pigliucci goes on to list six signs of scientistic thinking.

1. Using the words “science,” “scientific,” “scientifically,” “scientist,” etc., honorifically, as generic terms of epistemic praise.

Indeed, “because Science” has become the intellectually lazy response to intellectually lazy challenges to evolution, global warming, the efficacy of vaccines. We need to understand that saying, “Yeah Science, bitch!” doesn’t convey the cogent argumentation behind any claim supported by the scientific consensus. There’s a difference between appreciating the pursuit of empirical inquiry and indiscriminate science cheerleading.

2. Adopting the manners, the trappings, the technical terminology, etc., of the sciences, irrespective of their real usefulness.

I’ve always said that anyone can employ the trappings of science—its terminology and stated commitment to objectivity—to lend the veneer of legitimacy to ideology. It’s important to remember that creationists and other like-minded crackpots don’t deny science per se, they merely allow themselves to define which lines of research they consider legitimate science.

3. A preoccupation with demarcation, i.e., with drawing a sharp line between genuine science, the real thing, and “pseudo-scientific” impostors.

This is more of a battle for authority than anything else. We’re very quick to dismiss “pseudo-science” when it’s stuff that’s pushed by Christians and crackpots. But what about the stuff that panders to our prejudices? How skeptical are about claims from biology or neuroscience that tell us what we want to hear about humanity and the world?

On this point, Pigliucci differs from Haack, saying that most people don’t realize the complications involved in making a distinction between science and pseudoscience. In Pigliucci’s opinion, it’s just as common to see people making the opposite mistake, trying to expand the definition of science until it’s “coextensive with reason itself.”

4. A corresponding preoccupation with identifying the “scientific method,” presumed to explain how the sciences have been so successful.

Like I always say, science works because we call what works science. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy admits that it’s impossible to define the scientific method apart from the way that science is conducted by culturally and historically situated human agents. So why are we so comfortable making pronouncements about how our beliefs are somehow supported by science?

5. Looking to the sciences for answers to questions beyond their scope.

Science is a powerful method of inquiry when it comes to natural phenomena. However, it can’t determine human values, regardless of what Sam Harris says, and it can’t serve as the be-all and end-all to public policy, as Neil deGrasse Tyson seems to think. We also have to be skeptical when presented with scientific-sounding explanations for complex cultural phenomena.

6. The denial or denigration of the usefulness of nonscientific activities, particularly within the humanities. 

When scientists like Lawrence Krauss and Stephen Hawking call philosophy a waste of time, it gives the impression that science is a practice that’s completely free of philosophical assumptions. Science fans dismiss anything non-scientific as pure speculation, little more than wishful thinking. I happen to think we have a lot left to learn through science; however, we also learn about the flux of history and the human condition through art, music, and literature too. Reality is more than just a sum total of data points.

Keeping things in Perspective

Pigliucci closes by discussing what science is and isn’t, and the pitfalls of pretending we’re conducting our lives using scientific principles:

Science is a particular ensemble of epistemic and social practices — including a more or less faulty system of peer review, granting agencies, academic publications, hiring practices, and so on. This is different from “science” as it was done by Aristotle, or even by Galileo. There is a continuity, of course, between its modern incarnation and its historical predecessors, as well as between it and other fields (mathematics, logic, philosophy, history, and so forth).

But when scientistic thinkers pretend that any human activity that has to do with reasoning about facts is “science” they are attempting a bold move of naked cultural colonization, defining everything else either out of existence or into irrelevance. When I get up in the morning and go to work at City College in New York I take a bus and a subway. I do so on the basis of my empirical knowledge of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority system, which results — you could say — from years of “observations” and “experiments,” aimed at testing “hypotheses” about the system and its functionality. If you want to call that science, fine, but you end up sounding pretty ridiculous. And you are doing no favor to real science either.

 

"Per an update on my blog post which includes the linked Venn diagram, while Kuhn, ..."

Redefining Science With Thomas Kuhn
"Kuhn gets hung up on "established paradigms".The Big Bang didn't really re-write a paradigm....... unless ..."

Redefining Science With Thomas Kuhn
"His description of the social-institutional context of scientific inquiry makes the idea of "self-correcting" science ..."

Redefining Science With Thomas Kuhn
"I'm not sure "constantly testing their theories" and "validating their theories" are mutually exclusive. There ..."

Redefining Science With Thomas Kuhn

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • John Pieret

    Pigliucci differs from Haack, saying that most people don’t realize the complications involved in making a distinction between science and pseudoscience.

    I should rather think so, given he was an editor of and contributor to a rather large tome, Philosophy of Pseudoscience: Reconsidering the Demarcation Problem (2013), that I was recently reading.

    https://www.amazon.com/Philosophy-Pseudoscience-Reconsidering-Demarcation-Problem/dp/022605196X

    I may comment more after my breakfast and a chance to digest both the breakfast and these posts.

  • John Pieret

    I can’t argue with anything much here (and you know how much I like to argue) but I do think Pigliucci’s linked essay, “Who knows what,” on E.O. Wilson and his idea of an overarching “consilience” of natural sciences as explaining all human “knowledge,” is, by far, the more interesting.

    This isn’t … a mystical injunction to go ‘beyond science’. There is nothing beyond science. But there is important stuff before it: there are human emotions, expressed by literature, music and the visual arts; there is culture; there is history.

    https://aeon.co/essays/why-should-science-have-the-last-word-on-culture

  • al kimeea

    “Reference to the scientific method has also often been used to argue for the scientific nature or special status of a particular activity. Philosophical positions that argue for a simple and unique scientific method as a criterion of demarcation, such as Popperian falsification, have often attracted practitioners who felt that they had a need to defend their domain of practice. For example, references to conjectures and refutation as the scientific method are abundant in much of the literature on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)—alongside the competing position that CAM, as an alternative to conventional biomedicine, needs to develop its own methodology different from that of science.” – from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

    Yep, the first thing I do when the plumbing leaks, the furnace quits or a circuit in my 200A service fails is call “The Alternate Home Service Club”. They have the best alternative mechanics for ICE and E vehicles too. Their alternative methodology always produces better results than hard learned methods…

    For us to no longer consider homeopathy as pseudo-scientific numbnuttery, it “needs to develop its own methodology different from that of science.”

    Homeopathy has been around for a couple of hundred years. Came about – thanks to a fat white German man (as if that matters) – when cutting edge bio medicine was still humourous bloodletting. In that time, homeopathy has remained unchanged (other than ever more fanciful explanations/claims) and has produced no medical breakthroughs.

    They claim to have a concoction that prevents and cures the flu – Oscillococcinum. The “thinking” behind this cure goes like this:

    – like cures like – if you have certain symptoms, take “medicine” made from 1 or more things that give you the same symptoms – these things are determined via “provings” – where people are given substances – eg green pepper – and asked how it makes them feel symptomatically

    – the efficacy of substances is improved via serial dilution and shaking (succussion) – the inventor preferred to bang his beakers on a leather-bound Bible – this process activates the “memory of water” and strengthens the “medicine” with each dilution

    – in the case of this efficacious flu treatment, the ingredients are taken from what has become to be known as the $20 Million Dollar Duck – 15g of heart and 35g of liver from 1 Muscovy duck

    – these ingredients are then combined with glucose in a 1 litre glass beaker and allowed to ferment for 1 month

    – the first dilution is succussing (shaking in a specific manner) the resulting mess and dumping it out

    – the 2nd dilution is filling this beaker with distilled water, succussing it and dumping it out

    – the 3rd through 200th dilution is a repeat of the 2nd – with each iteration resulting in a stronger, more efficacious preventive/curative “medicine” (known as the Korsakov Method)

    This one duck generates $20 million alone with a 200C dilution for Big CAM. Avogadro teaches us in high-school that anything over 12C will have a very unlikely chance of having even one single molecule remaining. People will swallow whole bottles of homeopathic sleeping pills, despite the scary warnings, because they know what the musings of a little old Italian man actually mean in the real world.

    IIRC, the NHS no longer covers homeopathy, not only for what I’ve described above, but for Big CAM (Boiron in particular) admitting under oath the only way to tell their medicines apart is by reading the label.

    A colleague and I were discussing how to keep healthcare costs down. We agreed that covering pseudo-scientific numbnuttery through public/private means drives up premiums for everyone and is dangerous to boot – resulting in far more expensive care for something as simple as a minor cut, which becomes fatally gangrenous. The colleague thought homeopathy was “herbal medicine”. When the process behind it was explained as above, they committed homeopathy to the flames.

    For another look at the reality of numbnuttery. <- linkSome excerpts:

    He is particularly good at critiquing non-science-based practices in his own specialty. He deplores the increase in elective C-sections. A WHO consensus conference examined maternal and perinatal mortality rates and determined that a C-section rate of 10-15% was probably safest for mother and baby. I was surprised to learn that the C-section rate in China is the highest in the world at 46%, and that there are hospitals in Brazil where 100% of births are by C-section. There are doctors who schedule elective C-sections for reasons of their own profit and convenience; Robertson thinks they deserve to be called quacks.

    In 1974, after a year with no pertussis cases, Japan discontinued pertussis immunization in response to unfounded public concerns about vaccine safety; 5 years later they had a pertussis epidemic with 13,000 cases and 41 deaths.

    He covers the MMR vaccine controversy and the impact of Wakefield’s fraudulent research, and thinks Peter Medawar’s critique of an anti-evolution book is applicable: “Its author can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself.”

    The only silly and witless thing in this post is homeopathy. I’d love to see what method they come up to explain how rinsing the dishes makes stronger medicines…

  • Sorry, this post had nothing whatsoever to do with homeopathy. This isn’t the place to vent about your pet peeve.

  • al kimeea

    Not unexpected, given it’s your MO

    Do you even read the links you post?

    From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy link you provided:

    “Reference to the scientific method has also often been used to argue for the scientific nature or special status of a particular activity. Philosophical positions that argue for a simple and unique scientific method as a criterion of demarcation, such as Popperian falsification, have often attracted practitioners who felt that they had a need to defend their domain of practice. For example, references to conjectures and refutation as the scientific method are abundant in much of the literature on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)—alongside the competing position that CAM, as an alternative to conventional biomedicine, needs to develop its own methodology different from that of science.

    Homeopathy is but one aspect of CAM, anti-vaxx is another…

  • I agree that’s an interesting essay, but the APA blog post is recent and deals with scientism in a point-by-point way I thought would stimulate discussion.

    Thanks for the tip.

  • Jim Jones

    The term ‘scientism’ is a red flag that bullshit is approaching or is here.

  • The term ‘scientism’ is a red flag that bullshit is approaching or is here.

    Why do you say that? Pigliucci says this in his article:

    A common line of defense is that the term should not even be used because it is just a quick way for purveyors of fuzzy religious and pseudoscientific ideas to dismiss anyone who looks critically at their claims.

    This is certainly the case. But it is no different from the misuse of other words, such as “pseudoscience” itself, or “skepticism” (in the modern sense of a critical analysis of potentially unfounded claims). Still, few people would reasonably argue that we should stop using a perfectly valid word just because it is abused by ideologically driven groups.

    You may as well reject the term skeptic simply because anti-vaxxers use the term inappropriately. Far from employing the term scientism as a knee-jerk accusation, Pigliucci takes great pains to describe a mindset that makes science seem like something it isn’t.

  • JSloan

    “Scientist, philosopher of science, and modern-day Stoic Massimo Pigliucci is (like everyone at Driven to Abstraction) a supporter of science. But like us, he’s dismayed at the prevalence of scientism too.”

    How is this “everyone at Driven to Abstraction” and “us”? Are there more than one of you in there, or are you pompously using the royal plural?

  • Gary Whittenberger

    “Science is a powerful method of inquiry when it comes to natural phenomena. However, it can’t determine human values, regardless of what Sam Harris says…”

    Why do you think it can’t determine human values? Give an example of a human value which you think science cannot determine and explain yourself.

  • Why not give us an example of how scientific inquiry alone can determine a human value?

  • Thanks so much for that substantial contribution to this discussion. You’ve really given us a lot to think about.

  • Gary Whittenberger

    I asked you a question and also made a request of you, and your response is just to fire back a question? You made a strong claim about science and human values and criticized Sam Harris’ position. Now, please explain and defend your claim.

    You’ll probably put me in time out for merely challenging your view.

  • Well, you were correct in your interpretation of my words: I think science alone can’t determine human values. If you think it can, you’re more than welcome to show I’m wrong by demonstrating how science alone can determine a human value of your choosing. Why pass up such a golden opportunity to put me in my place with the strength of your scientific knowledge and argumentation skills?

    Fire away.

  • Gary Whittenberger

    First, you are engaged in classic “bait and switch.” You first made this claim: “…it [science] can’t determine human values, regardless of what Sam Harris says…” Then, you made this claim: “…science alone can’t determine human values.” Do you see how those are different? Please defend the first claim you made or withdraw it and admit you made an error.

    Second, I’m not going to answer any of your questions or requests until you answer mine. You are the one who wrote the essay and made many claims. Explain and defend your beliefs, claims, and assertions. If you are not going to do that, then you should just post your essays without presenting a discussion opportunity to anyone.

    This is the marketplace of ideas!

  • Questioner

    There is professionalized or institutionalized science, which is what most people call science. One could think of science in general as the application of scientific validity to solving problems. Scientific validity means maximal accuracy and maximal reliability, which is the definition of reason. Accuracy and reliability can be measured statistically, which is what professional scientists often do. Non professionals can use the similar criteria.

  • I merely see no evidence, Gary my friend, that science alone can determine human values or morality. Science generates information concerning empirical matters, not normative ones. If you disagree, by all means offer some evidence and reasoning to support your claim. If you can’t, please don’t be a pest.

  • Gary Whittenberger

    So, you did make a mistake when you made that first claim — “…it [science] can’t determine human values, regardless of what Sam Harris says…” and you are now withdrawing it. Correct? You’re going with the second claim. Correct?

    To imply that I am a “pest” is a personal attack against me. That is wrong. You will probably put me in time out for merely challenging your initial claim or for identifying your personal attack.

  • JSloan

    I can’t imagine you would need to think to hard or long about it. Since your response was a snarky non-answer, I will go with the assumption that there is only one of you. Your use of the royal we is in line with the generally pretentious tone of your posts.

  • Gary, please stop being such an overbearing pest. I explained to you that science generates data about empirical matters, and we can use that information in conjunction with our cultural and personal beliefs about morality and justice to formulate public policy and initiate social activism. But our values themselves do not derive from scientific inquiry.

    If you disagree, by all means explain to me how science determines human values. If you have no intention of doing so, then move along.

  • Gary Whittenberger

    Shem, please stop calling me an “overbearing pest.” That is another personal attack. Shame on you.

    So, you are admitting a mistake and withdrawing your first claim. Is that correct? Take clear responsibility for your “bait and switch” tactic, and then maybe we can have a good discussion.

  • I told you in my last email what I’d like you to explain to me, Gary. If you insist on playing your adorable little games, we’re not going to get far.
    And maybe that’s the point.

  • Jim Jones

    It’s not hard to come up with a non pejorative term.

  • But the point is that the term should be pejorative, because it describes a lapse of critical thinking.

  • hisxmark

    Actually, he is several billion (trillion?) cells. We are at least, the synapses of our brains. “I” is just a way of masking reality, a convenient fiction.

  • hisxmark

    I think Mr. Whittenberger has a point, Shem. I think science can, indeed, determine human values. For instance values may determine matters survival, whether that be personal survival, the survival of descendants or, as in climate change, the survival of species. Of course value is a matter of opinion and even that is a matter of hormones and neurotransimitters.
    reality is all chemistry and it’s all physics. Opinions and values are all biological phenomena in the brain.

  • sabelmouse

    ”You may as well reject the term skeptic simply because anti-vaxxers use the term inappropriately. ”
    not even remotely.
    how is such blindness possible among such vision?
    it’s not unusual. even people critical of gmo buy into pro vax scientism, even those critical of pharmaceuticals generally do. the mythology is strong. the indoctrination deep.
    it’s quite terrifying that everything sensical you have said is nullified by this.

  • Gary Whittenberger

    I agree with you. Don’t all human persons value survival? Yes, in general they do. Can we use science to reach this conclusion? Probably.

    Now, could we use science to determine which of competing moral rules maximizes survival? I don’t see why not. Science is good at making comparisons of different conditions with respect to a set of dependent variables.

    In his book The Moral Landscape, Sam Harris gave us a general overview of how science can be used to help formulate morality. The distance between “is” and “ought” is not as wide as people once thought.

  • In his book The Moral Landscape, Sam Harris gave us a general overview of how science can be used to help formulate morality.

    But all Harris did was use fMRI scans as measures of human well-being, which seems very inadequate evidence indeed in support of the claim that science can help formulate morality or (as his subtitle claims) determine human values. All he did was prove that science could measure brain activity, and we already knew that.

  • I really don’t know what you mean by “pro vax scientism,” and I’m not sure I wanna know. I’ve never posted anything that supports conspiracism or crackpottery of any kind, and I won’t tolerate it here.

    it’s quite terrifying that everything sensical you have said is nullified by this.

    Heh heh. I know irony is a harsh mistress, but you sound like you’re married to her.

  • For instance values may determine matters survival, whether that be personal survival, the survival of descendants or, as in climate change, the survival of species.

    That’s my point, that values determine how we react to scientific data. If we value the environment, biodiversity, and human well-being, we react to climate change by changing things in our society to reduce the emissions causing global warming. If we only value profit and technological progress, we react to it by pretending it doesn’t exist.

    Opinions and values are all biological phenomena in the brain.

    No they’re not. They’re personally and culturally constructed concepts. Step away from the neurobabble.

  • sabelmouse

    you’ve said many intelligent things regarding science, why i upvoted so many of them . but then total blindness regarding vaccine mythology/science by vested interests and so on. it IS frightening.

  • hisxmark

    But “well-being” is just a biological state. It is more than the state of the brain, it is the state of the organism in its environment. And, of course, that environment includes other people. Thus, maintaining personal “well-being” entails civility. If, for instance, you go around calling people names, it is likely to result in physical violence when you trigger someone who is emotionally over-stressed. (And aren’t we all, at times?) So, in order to enable the benefits of societal specialization, it only makes sense to be civil. We derive our “morality” from the necessities of our environment.

  • hisxmark

    Neurobabble?! Opinions and values are indeed a matter of synapses. They may represent false conclusions, but whether or not, they are just patterns of neurochemistry. No chemistry: no opinions or values!
    If you want to convey meaningful information you can’t just dismiss statements you disagree with by putting on a pejorative label. Terms like “pest” and “neurobabble” convey nothing but unsupported disagreement.

  • Neurobabble?! Opinions and values are indeed a matter of synapses. They may represent false conclusions, but whether or not, they are just patterns of neurochemistry. No chemistry: no opinions or values!

    I’m sure the chemical equation for my opinion of these silly claims wouldn’t be very complicated.

  • booboo

    Its amazing how erroneous BOTH sides of a discussion can be, whilst they BOTH think they and only they are correct. This blog is the strongest argument Ive seen of late against dualistic thinking, reductionism (both sides) and the inability to escape one’s own intellectual bubble. Has ANYONE here heard of Hegel?

    It’s as if were debating whether it is best to fix a watch with a mallet or a chainsaw. With every post, “pro-” and “con-” we get farther from any real understanding and closer to an ulcer. Ad hominem, tu quoque remarks, ambiguous explanations, straw men and red herrings abound.

    Underlying it all, intellectual dishonesty, anger and intolerance.

    I feel dumber every post I read here. Not by comparision, but I fear from absorbing the drivel though my eyes.

    This post is not ironic – she’s not “my mistress” – but sincere in that better modes of discourse are badly needed. I’m not finding it here. Ban me if you will.

  • Gary Whittenberger

    Apparently you have not read the book or you have not read it carefully.

    Please provide the quote, citation, and link where Sam Harris said or implied that science alone can determine human values. You can’t because that evidence does not exist.

  • The subtotal of the book you claim I haven’t read is “How Science Can Determine Human Values.” That was easy.

    And I’d appreciate it if you’d stop throwing your weight around here. I’m not obliged to jump through hoops for you and tolerate your rudeness.

  • hisxmark

    Indeed the chemical equations balancing the reactions of the neurons would be complicated. Even more complicated would be the positive and negative feedback loops of the trillions of synapses of billions of brain cells. But the fact is, it is all physics. Just because you cannot understand it doesn’t mean it is silly. There is nothing “silly” (simple) about it. Sociology is behavior. Behavior is biology. Biology is chemistry. Chemistry is physics. We draw arbitrary distinctions and give labels to the patterns we have picked from the chaos. The more we come to understand the more information we can discern from the noise.
    But your opinions, Shem, in this matter, seem to be a mere denial of facts you don’t want to admit. You are a dynamic pattern of differentially twisted space-time. The atoms that composed that pattern years or decades ago are now part of other patterns. All that is left of what “you” were is the pattern of neural connections that constitute memory.

  • But the fact is, it is all physics. Just because you cannot understand it doesn’t mean it is silly. There is nothing “silly” (simple) about it. Sociology is behavior. Behavior is biology. Biology is chemistry. Chemistry is physics. We draw arbitrary distinctions and give labels to the patterns we have picked from the chaos.

    Is the Fallacy of Compostion just physics too? Any more reductionism and I’m going to need a magnifying glass.

  • al kimeea

    Oh isn’t it…

  • al kimeea

    no, it’s the marketplace of an idea, evidence free at that

  • Scientific validity means maximal accuracy and maximal reliability, which is the definition of reason.

    I’m afraid I’m not really sure what you mean or how it’s relevant here. Do you have anything to say about Pigliucci’s argument above?

  • hisxmark

    Reductionism?! There you go again, Shem, trying to oversimplify.
    We can study biology without understanding the biochemistry of the cell. We can study the biochemistry of the cell without a complete understanding of the ecological or sociological environment of the organism, but in reality, it is a matter of focus. Much can be learned by shifting focus of the one reality (universe) from the large to the small, from the distant to the close, from the tiny to the immense.
    So, to understand, you need not only a magnifying glass, but a microscope, a telescope, and a spectrometer, and there will still be gaps in your vision, and you may need to build a large hadron collider. But you can also use mathematics, logic, reasoning, to fill those gaps. These are dependable ways of knowing if checked occasionally against reality. And out of chaos we can discern new patterns of order, pick new harmonies from the noise and see how the discords are really harmonies in different modal scales. And then we may begin to see all reality as resonant fields, particles where the fields of probabilities reinforce but empty space where they mutually interfere.
    Most folks, upon reaching a certain age, give up trying to learn new things. Some go so far as to try to justify their surrender to ignorance by claiming that some things are unknowable. There is no reason for that denial. We are, after all, just talking primates. We can’t all play the violin, and we can’t all reason to the same degree. We can admit that without denying that others can make finer distinctions, see broader relationships, than those we can perceive. It is from those that we can learn without direct experience. We don’t have to re-invent the wheel or fire.
    I would recommend Robert Sapolsky’s lectures on the biology of human behavior, available on line from Stanford University, or at least his book “Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst” and you may begin to see that the universe, the reality, is not divided neatly into pigeon holes. Or perhaps you could study enough math, if you already haven’t, to understand curvilinear coordinates and multivariate differential equations. And with just a modicum of chemistry you may grasp the concept of dynamic equilibria.

  • Questioner

    The methods of science are one subset of the methods of reason, which maximize accuracy and reliability. That’s all that scientism is. So where is the beef?

  • Um, no, Pigliucci describes quite systematically what scientism is. You don’t appear to have read the OP very attentively.

  • al kimeea

    notice who upvoted you

  • al kimeea

    These “personally and culturally constructed concepts” were first conceived in a human brain before unleashed as the Sphinx, Mona Lisa or the Chicken Dance. Unless you have better info. Apparently culture has been around longer than people… cetaceans exhibit similar behaviour

  • Questioner

    He’s not describing scientism. I described scientism. He’s describing people who take on a scientific pretense in an attempt to look better than they are.

  • GKWilly

    What is meant by “science can determine human values”. I know it wasn’t your original claim—attribution goes to Harris, but at least you think it’s possible so I wonder how you mean it.
    Does ‘determine’ mean “ascertain or establish exactly”, “firmly decide”, or something else in this context?

  • hisxmark

    Well, I didn’t mean that every one would always agree. But science can determine what sorts of behavior are not conducive to survival.
    For instance, we can plainly see that unregulated capitalism leads to environmental destruction and social and economic inequality, and we know that this results in poor impulse control in the “lower classes”. (See for instance, “Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst” by Robert Sapolsky.) This leads to crime, and, in extreme cases, to bloody revolution. Thus, we can see that it is not in the best interests of society to allow such social destabilization. Of course, those who benefit from unregulated capitalism are in denial, and denounce such findings.
    This much is obvious to those who are not living in some fantasy of unlimited growth.
    As to the degree of certainty in the findings of science, in most cases involving human values, it is quite plain. ‘War is a racket” as General Smedley Butler pointed out, and while it may enrich a few it is not particularly conducive to the health and well-being of society as a whole.
    Humans will persist in ignoring the obvious and believing the ridiculous.

  • You’ve really given us a lot to think about here. Thanks.

  • sabelmouse

    the article makes a fair bit of sense to me, at least at the beginning but when people then only recognise scientism in some places, and not in others, that’s where the problem lies.