April 07, 2012

Let's not put science on too high a pedestal

The more cases of scientific cheating like this I see, the more and more I wish Gnu Atheists and others who sometimes elevate science to the point of “scientism” would be more honest that science, while noble in theory, and the best way of researching all its legitimate subjects, is nonetheless a human practice in reality, engaged in by humans for sometimes-flawed motivations.

That observation doesn’t mean, necessarily, that scientists are more prone to cheat than people in other professions. But, has the temptation to cheat grown?

It’s possible, given the ever-increasing fragmentation and specialization in the sciences. Look at the Alabama professor a year or so ago who went far beyond cheating to shooting people on her tenure committee. If not junior scientists striving for academic tenure, what about others yearning for grant money?

Let’s face it, there are serious financial incentives to do stuff like this.

And, it’s not just money and jobs for younger scientists. What about fame for older ones?

So, repeat after me: “Science is a human endeavor, engaged in by sometimes-flawed human beings.”

And, per my comment in the comments thread, this NYT Opinionator column explains just what philosophy still has to offer to science.


Anonymous said...

Good post. However I completely disagree. I guess I fall into your Gnu Atheist category. Science, and Mathematics should be on the highest pedestal. Violence, and cheating in these subjects isn't because of their intrinsic value. It's because people are driven by their unfulfilled needs to act in unpredictable ways. Science and Math aren't to blame.

Gadfly said...

I didn't say it should not be on a high level.

First, though, that's relative. I said "not too high."

Second, I'd have it below philosophy.

Third, people who disagree, IMO, may need to immerse themselves in more philosophy. An excellent easy starting point is Massimo Pigliucci, http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com