What we hold to be true and reflective of reality, our societies, our governance, and our belief system are in constant flux. As humans evolve, building on the knowledge of their ancestors, ideas about how the world around them works grow and change. For example, take the evolution of thought that brought on the realization that our world was not flat but round. How about the fact that the earth revolves around the sun, not vice versa? The manner in which we came to these new understandings is through science.
But now, science is under attack. This has created a battle mainly fought in the halls of academia known to many as the “science wars”. Scientific Details So what are the scientific details of this war? Where, there are several. Science is a methodical approach used to study a subject and prove its viability. If science itself is proved invalid, we could have major problems. Take, for example, the application of physics. How would future generations study this very difficult topic if science did not exist? What about chemistry?
Beginning as early as the 1990s the science wars describe the battle fought between traditional scientists and a group of people often referred to as postmodernists. Postmodernists contradict the validity of science, which moves an idea from hypothesis to scientific theory, better known as the scientific method. They claim that science has no relevance in proving the existence of anything, but that what exists is here because humans thought that it should be (Rorty, 1999). This is often referred to as human constructivism or relativism (JCS).
Thus, with the science wars, the very idea that we can study a subject to learn about its truths is under attack. Science is under attack. Social Factors and the interaction of science and society The science wars involve traditional academia in science and social science. In fact, according to JCS “it appears that calling someone whose opinion you don’t like a ‘sociologist’ has become a new kind of weapon in the science wars”. The interplay with society as a whole, however, has much deeper implications.
Postmodernists that support social constructivism would argue that reality exists the way it does, not because of an interaction of molecules that we can study, but because humans ‘thought’ it into existence through the societies that we have built. Of course, advocates for postmodernism fall within a wide spectrum of mild to extreme as do most other disciplines. One extreme view is that deviations from the white male such as women or African Americans happened through the evolution of society, not through something like DNA.
These very simple ideas behind the claim that science is bogus cause much concern in the academia, theological and political circles. Persons with opposing viewpoints are threatened in traditional circles of science academia and risk losing their professional credibility. These topics are also covered in the JCS editorial and movies like “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. ” Thus, we see an intricate interplay between sciences and postmodernism that has a very real effect on society. This is especially true when people experience phenomena that cannot be explained through conventional means.
The science wars often turn into a debate of philosophy that leaves the common man out of the picture. We can all follow the scientific method, we can all presume that something is true simply because we want it to be, but we cannot all engage in the philosophical battleground known as the science wars. So what is science? The science wars are a great testing ground for students learn what science is and what science is not. By looking at the viewpoints of the players in both camps “traditional scientists” and “postmodernists” we can come away with a very clear picture of what science is and what science is not.
Science is not the deeming of something to be true just because we think it might be, or it appears that it might be, or even because we hope it might be. Science is a methodological way to look at a subject, put it through observation and testing, and determine a truth. Does this mean that science should limit intellectual conversations that attempt to push the boundaries of what science encompasses? Certainly it should not. However, we should keep in mind the very definition of the word “science” when we enter into debates. And, if we determine something like relativism is defines our subject matter that does not make it “science”.
It makes it relativism. Thus, the important lesson here is that just because we use scientific language to define our idea, or call our methodologies to discover truth science, that does not mean it is. Is good science being used by all sides? How can we say good science is being used by a postmodernist when they combat the very idea of science itself? I don’t believe that good science is used on both sides of this issue because it is science itself that is under attack. Thus, it is impossible for the opposing view point to use good science in their opposition.
Aside from this fact, there are other ways in which we can determine whether good science is being used by both sides. Shermer discusses twenty five fallacies that help us to do so. Two such fallacies are relevant toward the examination of the science wars. The first fallacy, “theory influences observations” (pg. 46) is recognition of how perception and expectations can influence scientific observation. If one were to take this fallacy into account when examining the postmodernist viewpoint, that person might come to conclude that the postmodernists are right.
It is true that perception and expectations can taint objectivity. However, it is also true that the scientific method exists in order to help scientists move past the dangers of subjectivity. The second fallacy, scientific language does not make a science (pg. 49), explains that just because scientific language is used to present an idea does not make that idea the result of science analysis. In other words, science is a method of measuring and defining an idea in order to prove its validity. Science has a language with vocabulary such as “measure”, “energy”, and “space”.
Using language common to the sciences does not make a claim scientific. ? References JCS. (2001). Another Front in the Science Wars? Journal of Consciousness Studies. Vol. 8, Number 1. Pp 3-8. Retrieved from http://www. imprint. co. uk/pdf/Editorial_8-1. pdf Rorty, R. (1999). Phony Science Wars. The Atlantic Online. Retrieved from http://www. theatlantic. com/past/docs/issues/99nov/9911sciencewars. htm Shermer, M. (insert year of publication here). Why People Believe Weird Things. (insert place of publication here: publisher.