Is It Bull or Does It Just Seem Like It?

Okay, I’m a science illiterate and generally have less curiosity than becomes a sentient being about much related to that large branch of learning. Still Belmont Club’s discussion of “post-normal science”, here and here, seems to describe a theory idiots like me can grasp. Amazingly enough, it appears to be a kind of science in which I (who might well be affected as would my children and who, God knows, have opinions) can participate (along with every high-school dropout rocker and the lightest of Hollywood ingenues). I have my doubts that’s a good thing. I wonder what the scientists on board think.

4 thoughts on “Is It Bull or Does It Just Seem Like It?”

  1. I think that this quote pretty much sums up what is un-scientific about post-normal science. It’s pretty much post-modernist science wrapped up in a package to deflect the taint of l’affaire Sokal.

    “In fact, in order to make progress about how we manage climate change we have to take science off centre stage. … What matters about climate change is not whether we can predict the future with some desired level of certainty and accuracy; it is whether we have sufficient foresight, supported by wisdom, to allow our perspective about the future, and our responsibility for it, to be altered.”

  2. “Post-Normal Science is a concept developed by Silvio Funtowicz and Jerome Ravetz, attempting to characterise a methodology of inquiry that is appropriate for contemporary conditions. The typical case is when “facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent”. In such circumstances, we have an inversion of the traditional distinction between hard, objective scientific facts, and soft subjective values. Now we have value-driven policy decisions that are ‘hard’ in various ways, for which the scientific inputs are irremediably ‘soft’.”

    “Post-normal Science” = “Not Science”. A stolen concept much like ” scientific socialism” and equally tailored for the political uses of would-be tyrants.

  3. Actually, students of the history of science under Fascism and Communism will recognize this argument right away. There is a famous speech given by a Nazi who was a doctor in the late 30’s that essentially lays out the same argument. I can’t recall the fellows name right away.

    Of course, the people advancing these ideas today are not Fascist but they have the same political and social imperatives as Fascist so they end up making the same arguments. Fascist wanted to place all sources of information, indeed the very ability to define reality itself, under their control. To this end, they needed people to view science as something anchored, not in nature, but in a racial, cultural and political context. Communist also adopted a similar approach except they substituted class for race.

    Science threatens the politco like no other institution. Right or wrong science does not always give the answers that the politicos of any particular time and place want of need yet the high quality of scientific information in general causes the public to place great confidence in science as an institution. Politicos want to have their cake and eat it to. They want to have the prestige of science but they also want to control what it says. The idea of post-normal science lets them do this. In the case of Global Warming, the concept of post-Normal science lets GW advocates use science when it will advance their agendas and ignore it when it will not.

    The modern environmental movement is often little more than a contemporary version of using saber rattling to prop up the state. Instead of foreign enemy however, they create a crises in the environment in order to create a rational for giving power to the state and to a specific social subgroup.

  4. Shannon,

    I believe Richard J. Evans has a chapter or two on Nazism ‘s relationship to science and German universities in The Third Reich in Power.

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