Indian philosopher of science: Science “studies” are a stealth face of post-modernism

From Meera Nanda, author of Prophets Facing Backward: Postmodern Critiques of Science and Hindu Nationalism in India, at Butterflies and Wheels:

Science studies, as I said, is not an ordinary academic discipline. It constitutes the beating heart of postmodernism, for it aims to “deconstruct” natural science, the very core of a secular and modern worldview. Since its inception in the 1970s, the discipline has produced a sizeable body of work that purports to show that not just the agenda, but even the content of theories of natural sciences is “socially constructed.” All knowledge, in different cultures, or different historical times – regardless of whether it is true or false, rational or irrational, successful or not in producing reliable knowledge – is to be explained by the same causes. This demand for “symmetry” between modern science and other local knowledges constitutes the central demand of the “strong programme,” the central dogma of science studies. One cannot assume that only false beliefs or failed sciences (e.g., astrology) are caused by a lack of systematic empirical testing, or by faulty reasoning, or by class interests, religious indoctrination or other forms of social conditioning. A truly “scientific” approach to science requires that we suspend our preconceived faith that what is scientific by the standards of modern science of our times brings us any closer to truth. In the spirit of true scientific impartiality and objectivity, science studies demand that modern science be treated “symmetrically,” as being “at par” with any other local knowledge.

In principle, there is nothing whatsoever wrong in the agenda of science studies: modern science is not a sacred form of knowledge that cannot be examined skeptically. Science and scientists must welcome a skeptical look at their enterprise from social critics. The problem with science studies comes in their refusal to grant that modern science has evolved certain distinctive methods (e.g., controlled experiments and double-blind studies) and distinctive social practices (e.g., peer review, reward structures that favor honesty and innovation) which promote a higher degree of self-correction of evidence, and ensure that methodological assumptions that scientists make themselves have independent scientific support. Science studies start with the un-objectionable truism that modern science is as much a social process as any other local knowledge. But using radically relativist interpretations of Thomas Kuhn’s work of science as a paradigm-bound activity, science studies scholars invariably end up taking a relativist position. They argue, in essence, that what constitutes relevant evidence for a community of scientists will vary with their material/social and professional interests, their social values including gender ideologies, religious faith, and with their culturally grounded standards of rationality and success. Thus, scientists with different social backgrounds, from different cultures and from different historical periods, literally live in different worlds: the sciences of modern western societies are not any more “true” or “rational” than the sciences of other cultures. If modern science claims to be universal, that is because Western culture has tried to impose itself on the rest of the world through imperialism. More.

All courses that add “studies” to their name should be approached, in principle, with deep suspicion if they claim to do more than help people understand a discipline better, rather than actually practice/make a living in it. That said, Nanda’s work appears aimed mainly at her native South Asia “Nowhere is the influence of social constructivist and postcolonial critiques of science more evident than in India, where these ideas have become indistinguishable from the Hindu nationalist promotion of assorted “Vedic sciences.” Worthy of note: “This is the philosophical basis on which the Indian government recently introduced the study of astrology as an academic discipline at post-secondary level in state-funded colleges and universities”

Her discussion is welcome but in the West, post-modernist challenges to science (as in “the sciences of modern western societies are not any more ‘true’ or ‘rational’ than the sciences of other cultures.”) are mainly coming from social justice warriors, not from religious or nationalist movements. Critics of naturalism in science are happy to seek evidence within the traditional framework.

My impression is that Western big science bureaucrats are too frightened of the edge-of-a-riot SJWs to risk challenging them. The result will be loss of prestige and funds. After all, if science truths are the equivalent of folklore truths, why should people who lack interest in science support it?

See also: SJWs stream into science: Don’t cite white male geographers

Is it a myth that scientists are awful writers? Accusing the critics of hard-to-read writing of “cultural appropriation” is a group whine scientists certainly don’t need.

Objectivity is sexist.

Social justice warriors hit engineering. This is what happens when scientists come to believe that consciousness is an illusion and objectivity is sexist.

Algebra is NOT racist.

The war on freedom is rotting our intellectual life: Intersectionality

Journal Nature: Stuck with a battle it dare not fight, even for the soul of science

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