Monday, May 6, 2013

The Religion of Science?

I shared the post below in a recent discussion and thought I’d share publicly as well-

A question for the collective - do you feel that in our society today, science is the dominant religion?  There seems to be something in the minds of many who are logically-oriented that places a near faith-based reaction to scientific findings.  When 'science' says something, it is true, until then it is hokey.  Interesting to note that in many cases scientific findings themselves oscillate back and forth on the same topic and again in many instances what is taken as scientific truth is later turned on its head.  Consequently, it seems as though science can be used for whatever use one pleases.  I'm not talking about the 'clinical definition' of science but rather the way 'science' is perceived in the populous.

A couple thoughts on what I would consider to be limitations of science as it seems to be practiced currently.  These points aren’t just calling addressing ‘pop science,’ but the underpinnings of how science is practiced even in its most hallowed halls- 

1- the approach is based on control and studying the impact of 1 variable upon the whole - this approach fundamentally denies complexity/systems theory, where it is acknowledged that everything is connected to everything.  this whole concept was created out of a world-view born during the 'enlightenment', which basically said the whole can be understood through its parts (reductionist, without the implicit negative connotation).  

2- what is funded for study is heavily governed by the economic system - hence economic incentives play a subtle but pervasive role in everything studied.  there is a bias towards that which can create economic growth.  Of course, economic growth is sometimes/usually uncorrelated to well-being.

3- the first step in scientific method is observation, which early scientists would mention as taking 95% of the time of an experiment.  Today, due to the economic approach, the approach to observation tends to be more cursory the the overall time horizon for study is shorter than the ancestral '7th generation' approach.

4- the peer review/tenure process of 'good science' tends to streamline approaches and discourages fringe thinking, especially if it goes against any of previous 3 points.

5- the approach of science assumes an objective world (materialism) which can be independently measured and is not impacted by the intangible (e.g., thoughts, intentions).  This approach again was born of the enlightenment period.  

Given the above, my own approach to the current paradigm of science has been much more cautious, and my definition of 'bad science' has shifted.  Reflections welcome!