Can we be a little more careful how we abuse the word “science”?
Every once in awhile we will, for a variety of reasons, pick out a word that has positive connotations and proceed to flog that motherfucker to death. Like “engineer.” Engineer is a word with a meaning. From the Oxford:
- person who designs, builds, or maintains engines, machines, or structures. – a person qualified in a branch of engineering, especially as a professional: an aeronautical engineer
- person who controls an engine, especially on an aircraft or ship. – North American a train driver.
- skilful contriver or originator of something: the prime engineer of the approach
That meaning does not include garbage collector (sanitation engineer) or housewife (domestic engineer). Those are perfectly good jobs, but they are not engineering jobs.
Another one is science. And for obvious reasons. Science is good. It has delivered to us greater understanding of every facet of our world and made life incalculably better than it would be in a science-free alternate universe (which, by the way, would have no conception of alternate universes). So the history of America, especially the last couple of century’s worth, is the history of trying to cloak oneself in the mantle of science.
Many people in academic fields related to mine are guilty of appropriating the word wholesale, but as Neal Postman illustrated, there is no such thing as social science. Social research is valid and it is of vital importance, but it is not science. Not to be too harsh on those who rage after quantification, but if you accept a .05 degree of confidence as significant, then you’re not exactly dealing with laws. There may be an effect, and it may be a meaningful one, but gravity works 20 times out of 20, not 19 times out of 20. Just saying.
As for silliness like political science? Bitch, please.
In this same vein, can we please, sweet hell, please focus more mockery on “biblical science” and “creation science” and the “science” of “intelligent design”? Fred Clark has some thoughts on a recent upsurge in this horsewax over at Slacktivist (which you ought to be reading religiously, as it were).
Unlike [Ken] Ham, I do not claim to be a scientist. He would argue that I therefore ought to defer to him on scientific matters because he is a scientist — a “creation scientist” — and a layperson such as myself therefore ought to acknowledge his expertise on the subject.
Hogwash. I may not be a scientist myself, but it’s not difficult for me, even as a layperson outside of the sciences, to see that Ham’s claim of expertise is absurd. First, I can look to see what credible scientists think about Ham’s “science.” The actual experts in the sciences find Ham’s ideas laughably wretched. And second, even as a non-scientist, non-expert layperson who studied literature and theology, I can understand enough to appreciate that Ham’s scientific claims are pure bunkum. You don’t need a Ph.D. to recognize that, despite his claims otherwise, there’s nothing scientific about Ham’s “creation science.”
I studied theology, not science, so in my case it makes sense to focus most on denying Ham’s legitimacy as an expert on the Bible. But that does not mean that I should therefore allow him to continue unchallenged in his claim to be an expert on science. The same is true for those approaching Ham’s nonsense from the side of science. They should focus most on criticizing the aspects of his claims that they are best equipped to respond to, but at the same time they shouldn’t accept or affirm his claims of “biblical” expertise.
Game. Set. Match.
There’s no shame in not being a scientist (although there’s tremendous shame in “demagoguery, bad-faith arguments, circular reasoning and blatant hucksterism,” as Clark puts it). Science isn’t the only discipline by which humans approach knowledge and wisdom and if you’re a great social analyst, why be insecure about what you do? After all, some of our greatest truths were revealed not by scientists, but by folks who were very much not scientists. You know, like Martin Luther King. And Gandhi. And Mark Twain. And William Shakespeare. And Carl Jung. Disraeli. Wilde. Aristotle. George Carlin. Yogi Berra. You get the idea.
So CUT. IT. OUT. NOW. Don’t piss me off, because I’m an online opinion scientist. If you really get on my nerves, you might also want to keep in mind that I hold an advanced degree in Poetry Science, as well…