Greg Zucker gave a thoughtful and provocative Platform address on Sunday (Sep 29) entitled, “The Populist Attack on Democracy and Science”. Greg is managing editor of Logos , a quarterly journal of modern culture, politics and society, is an editor of eight books and is a Ph.D. candidate in political science at Rutgers University.
Although many progressives see today’s assault on science as uniquely the product of the right, Greg traced its roots to the left wing philosophers who created the school of thought known as postmodernism, which rejects the idea that there are objective, reliable truths and believes that even science is inherently value laden, arbitrary and subjective. Ironically, this school of thought, based most notably on the work of Michel Foucault, Paul Feyerabend, and Ernesto Laclau, serves as the intellectual base of today’s populist assault on scientific expertise by the very people who decry the “the elites” and who champion the will of the people in opposition to the views of experts in such highly technical and arcane areas such as climate science, vaccinations, evolution and so called holistic medicine.
That said, Greg also made the rather provocative point that in fact, scientific elites have been wrong in the past, particularly when it came to eugenics and racial biology in the early part of the twentieth century. Indeed, some of anti-science populists point to this as a reason to reject expertise entirely!
How then, to distinguish between legitimate scientific consensus versus bogus beliefs? While it is easier said than done, we must ultimately fall back on whether or not such a consensus is subject to falsifiability and whether serious contrary evidence is accepted as legitimate criticism or rejected out of hand as being “impermissible” criticism.