As one of the articles we have discussed earlier on this blog reveals, ignorance is mostly (confidence-inducing) misinformation and hence misinformation can be safely labelled as dangerous. Misinformation, as wise people declare with a knowing nod, is worse than no information. In a similar vein, a misinformed defender can be worse than an uninformed bystander or even a critic. Science and scientific methods seem to have quite a few such dangerous defenders. The article we have selected for this week should warn you against the beliefs that you may mistakenly think to be pro-scientific, but are really just the opposite, especially when science is fielded against religion and its dogmas.
The article quotes the results of some studies:
When people felt anxious, they esteemed science more highly than calmer subjects did, just as previous experiments have shown to be the case with religious ideals.
Another study led by University of Amsterdam’s Bastiaan Rutjens in 2010 found that uncertain subjects expressed an increased faith in God or in evolution, provided that evolution was presented as a structured and predictable process.
It seems that we tend to accept science for the same (misguided?) reasons as religion. To feel “a reassuring sense of order”. One way in which this need for predictability and order reflects is by resorting to extremism, where the world is divided into good and evil, black and white, saints and sinners. Some use religion as a vehicle for expressing this extremism, and others can do the same with science too ( “Anything not statistically significant is truly worthless.”). The article reminds us that “psychology, not theology, is at the root of extremism.”
In case you think that while extremism with religion is dangerous, extremism with “science” is harmless or even desirable, take a step back; science is not about absolute beliefs.
If the moral authority of science is rooted anywhere it is in the opposing stance, in its acceptance of fallibility and its welcoming treatment of ambiguity and unknowns. That is where science finds its contrast with scientism and many religious perspectives.
Why does it matter to the general public? Because when our understanding of science and scientific methods does not accommodate uncertainties and fallibility, it bestows a legitimacy on dogma. And dogma is not science’s strong point!
If the public were more comfortable with degrees of scientific uncertainty, for one, then climate change “skeptics”—those merchants of doubt, as Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway dubbed them—wouldn’t be able to conflate so easily minor uncertainties with substantive disagreement.