“Scientists Say …”

The truly apocalyptic view of the world is that things do not repeat themselves. It isn’t absurd, e.g., to believe that the age of science and technology is the beginning of the end for humanity; that the idea of great progress is a delusion; along with the idea that the truth will ultimately be known; that there is nothing good or desirable about scientific knowledge and that mankind, in seeking it, is falling into a trap. It is by no means obvious that this is not how things are. — Wittgenstein, Ludwig. “Culture and Value”. Trans., P. Winch. U. Of Chicago Press (Chicago, Ill. 1980) p. 56.

A common propaganda tool in TS (Technological Society) is to quote science or some scientist as support for whatever explicit or implicit normative values one may be proposing. This technique has become very obvious in the recent virus lock-down propaganda battles in which almost any soundbite or headline of value will begin with the phrase: “Scientists say …”. To anyone experienced in what scientists actually say, this phrase is immediate warning that whatever sentences follow this phrase should be viewed with skepticism at a minimum and perhaps with outright doubt. The reality of any so-called science that really is a science and not a pseudo-science pretending to be a science or an outright fraudulent science is that “scientists” do not “say” much of anything but “some scientists” say one thing and “some scientists” disagree with them often by concluding the exact opposite. Holistically, this disagreement through critical thought is used eventually to reach pragmatic truth: that is, not true or false propositions but sentences that solve the problem about which the scientists are arguing. The acceptance of this skeptical almost nihilist epistemic reality for science and then being able to continue doing science in a leap to hope of eventually achieving non-pragmatic knowledge is what makes the scientist more than just a technician.

 
As I have contemplated and argued in more detail elsewhere, scientific language is instrumentalist language. It does not deal in true or false sentences in the classical propositional sense but in sentences that are pragmatically true or false: they either work or do not work to solve a problem. Science does not give explanations of reality, it gives descriptions of reality that can be falsified and thus in a world lacking knowledge are used to achieve useful solutions to problems. As with reason, scientific language is a great tool and a great pragmatic improvement on normative descriptive language — especially that of ultimate value — which can only say what the world ought to be and gives no way of getting there nor even lets us know if there is a way of getting there. Though, ultimately, it is no more useful in giving life meaning than any other language. “We feel that even if all possible scientific questions be answered, the problems of life have still not been touched at all. Of course there is then no question left, and just this is the answer.” Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus at Prop. 6.52.

 
Real scientists disagree and are natural skeptics on everything. Everything that non-scientists assume as scientific truths are really only isolated sentences in a vast holistic collection of sets of inconsistent and incomplete hypotheses that are always subject to be proven false by the parameters of a future experiment. This is as true of the present so-called “hard” sciences as it is of the so-called “soft” sciences — many of which are not really sciences since many of their premises and descriptive sentences are tautologies that can never be falsified (i.e., evolution). The physicist Ernest Rutherford once said, “[a]ll science is either physics or stamp collecting.” Well, those glory days may be gone even for physics whose physicists are now stuck in a convoluted mess of contradictory and incomplete theories in which they must make up words such as “dark matter” and “dark energy” to hide the fact they do not know what makes up 95% of the universe. If pressed, most physicists at least would admit the mess in which they are. Such admission would most definitely not come from those who worship science (or concepts such as evolution) as the ultimate explanation of all that is life. The fact of the matter is that all science may become stamp collecting eventually if the technicians of science continue to have their way and allow propagandists to use them and scientists as tools in propaganda by allowing the propagandists to get away with saying “scientists say” as if they all say the same thing and by treating science either as dogmatic or worse as a discipline that is decided by consensus.

 
For an age that loves storytelling, there is an almost universally known and simple story that attacks this propaganda technique and shows it as the fraud it is: Galileo and his heliocentric theory of the solar system. In the 16th century, the almost universal consensus among scientists accepted an ergocentric model of the solar system in which everything revolved around the earth as first described by Ptolemy a couple of thousand years earlier. A small minority including Galileo argued for a heliocentric model in which the earth revolved around the sun as proposed by Aristarchus of Samos a couple of thousand years earlier. The Catholic Church had a trial; the scientists came to present their evidence; Galileo had no opposing evidence or experts since he lacked the necessary mathematics at that time; and thus deciding the science by scientific consensus, the Church ordered Galileo to stop teaching his heliocentric theory as foundational truth but allowed him to continue contemplation of it as theory — which eventually allowed him to develop the mathematics to make his heliocentric model become the dominant consensus. Thanks to Einstein, we now know they were all wrong and both theories have been falsified; space and motion are relative, either model would work but the heliocentric one is much simpler mathematically and thus it is accepted as true pragmatically. Now that the consensus of physicists accepts Einstein’s mathematical models as descriptive, are they foundationally true and not subject to doubt? They better not be so accepted or physics is no longer a science but stamp collecting.

 
Getting into serious analysis and contemplation of the nature of scientific language may be beyond the capabilities and skills of many who quote what “scientists say” but it should not be if one is going to go around treating such phrases as dogmatic authority. The Galileo story is a simple and readily available means to understand what is going on if there were a genuine desire to understand what is going on by those who propagate the “scientists say” propaganda and by those who blindly or dogmatically accept it as true. Even if one is not able to look up the data and do the math, if one is going to read any “scientists say” propaganda should one at least be honest enough to know there must be disagreement out there by opposing scientists and should one not be so lazy as to avoid finding it and contemplating it? As always, what should be and what is are very different and incompatible. The dishonesty and the laziness of accepting “scientists say” propaganda exists and is the norm, this is why the phrase is so powerful and omnipresent by the Powers-that-be (PTB). As I have contemplated elsewhere, this dishonesty and laziness are the unavoidable reality of TS because there is a need to make science a religion. I have argued that the only way to deal with this TS reality is by accepting nihilism as a morality. But, how would this work with scientists themselves? Can scientists avoid being used and useful as propaganda tools through nihilism?

 
The philosopher of science Paul Feyeraband wrote in a letter:

The withdrawal of philosophy into a “professional” shell of its own has had disastrous consequences. The younger generation of physicists, the Feynmans, the Schwingers, etc., may be very bright; they may be more intelligent than their predecessors, than Bohr, Einstein, Schrodinger, Boltzmann, Mach and so on. But they are uncivilised savages, they lack in philosophical depth – and this is the fault of the very same idea of professionalism which you are now defending.

Though I would not go as far as calling modern and post-modern physicists uncivilized savages; but, just as with philosophers, their need to make language — in the case of physicists, it would be the language of mathematics — more real than reality does threaten to convert them from scientists not only to technicians but to technicians who do not care if what they say becomes propaganda for the PTB. Is there a way to avoid such conversion? I will argue next — consistent with my arguments before — that acceptance by scientists of nihilism as a morality is the only way to avoid such conversion of a scientist to being a technician that worships science as one’s religion.

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