HIGHER SUPERSTITION: the academic left and its quarrels with science

SUBJECT: Philosophy of Science

L. Kurt Engelhart


Excerpts from: Gross, P.R. & Levitt, N. (1994). Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

In the process of abridging this work, we have made every effort to truly communicate the spirit of the authors' original message. We disclose however that we represent the opposite pole of the views expressed here, that is, if this movement has succeeded in establishing such poles.

Our revisions are in brackets and original page numbers are in parens. LKE, May 27, 1996

Introduction The Academic Left Undermining Authority
The Rise of Perspectivism Increasingly Muddled Thinking Nihilistic Postmodernism
The Bankruptcy of Skepticism Cynicism as Scholarship Misunderstanding Science
Immorality of Ideas What Science Really Is Democratizing Science
Positive Action Email


We consider it proper to note that our university affiliations are given for identification only. No position we take in this book is an official one of either institution or of any academic unit with which we are associated for teaching or administrative purposes. (ix)

Our subject is the peculiarly troubled relationship between the natural sciences and a large and influential segment of the American academic community which we call here "the academic left." [T]he academic left dislikes science;it dislikes some of the uses to which science is put by the political and economic forces controlling our society, especially in such areas as military hardware, surveillance of dissidents, destructive and environmentally unsound industrial processes, and the manipulation of mass consciousness through the technologies of popular culture. [H]ostility extends to the social structures through which science is institutionalized, to the system of education by which professional scientists are produced, and to a mentality that is taken, rightly or wrongly, as characteristic of scientists. [T]here is open hostility toward the actual content of scientific knowledge and toward the assumption that scientific knowledge is reasonably reliable and rests on a sound methodology. (2)

The Academic Left

This category [the academic left] is comprised , in the main, of humanists and social scientists; rarely do working natural scientists show up within its ranks. What defines it, as much as anything else, is a deep concern with cultural issues, and, in particular, a commitment to the idea that fundamental political change is urgently needed and can be achieved only through revolutionary processes rooted in a wholesale revision of cultural categories. (3)

Most scientists are made aware of the academic left's critique only by fragmentary and sporadic contact. [Their] rebellion against science is unlikely to affect scientific practice and content; nor will it penetrate the attitudes of those who study the philosophical implications of science from a position of genuine familiarity. To the extent that the academic left's critique becomes the dominant mode of thinking about science on the part of nonscientists, that thinking will be distorted and dangerously irrelevant. (4)

We are using academic left to designate those people whose doctrinal idiosyncracies sustain the misreadings of science, its methods, and its conceptual foundations that have generated what nowadays passes for a politically progressive critique of it. (9) The saddest part of the situation is that professorial types who are, by any standard, well-meaning have developed a fatal facility for making enemies much faster than they make allies. One need look no further for evidence of this than the declining public respect for them. (10)

Undermining Scientific Authority

[Their criticism] is more a matter of rhetorical style than of logical articulation. [Their purpose] is to demystify science, to undermine its epistemic authority, and to valorize "ways of knowing" incompatible with it. The strongest and most aggressive versions of these theories view science as a wholly social product, a mere set of conventions generated by social practice. (11) Modern science is seen to be both a powerful instrument of the reigning order and an ideological guarantor of its legitimacy. The recent critiques of science incarnate attempts to regain the high ground, to assert that the methods of social theory and literary analysis are equal in epistemic power to those of science. (12)

Short of an utter collapse of our civilization on a global scale, the opportunity to reinvent science will not arise. (20) Each [of these critics] distrusts the narrowly empirical and the strictly rational, each celebrates the vital importance of the intuitive, the irreproducible moment of insight and of direct access to truth in its unmediated essence. [Their] underlying distrust of straightforward, impersonal reasoning foreshadows the celebration of "holism" and "organicism" [of those] who are impatient with the disciplined analysis and methodological exactness of serious scientific work. (21)

[As a profession] the link between theoretical science and direct technological innovation became concretized in the growth of institutions [where there was a] rough equation of a more "scientific" social order with a more egalitarian one. [Unfortunately,] the technology that minted wealth for its owners forged chains for its servants. (21-23) There is a tendency to think of political "progressivism" as naturally linked to a struggle against obscurantism, superstition, and the dead weight of religious and social dogma. (23) [S]uperstition and credulity are among the most powerful foes of liberation, and science, in particular, holds out the best hope for cutting through their fogs of error and confusion. (24)

The Rise of Perspectivism

The changing demography of the American population seems to promise not an amiable and beneficent polyculturalism, but rather an increasingly venomous tribalism and nativism. [Socialism] is irredeemably dead. (25) The contemporary, popular definition of "liberalism" is a political tendency to leave things pretty much alone, except that they are to be funded, wherever possible, and monitored, by agents of a wise and beneficent government. [A]cademic leftists are in a sullen mood, a mood in which it seems that the most immediate solace comes from devising reasons for discounting and minimizing the proudest accomplishments of the smug society that surrounds them. The philosophical concomitant of this attitude is, not surprisingly, a defiant relativism. (26) It is impossible to fully understand the academic left's attack on science without taking into account how much resentment is embodied in it. [Science has become] an indispensable prop to the politics and commerce of [the] world. The left's resentment of science is no sillier than that of, say, religious fundamentalists. [I]t has betrayed left-wing intellectuals into futility. (27)

These attitudes [reflect] a doctrine that a group traditionally "privileged" has no right to define reality for others. [T]he very state of being oppressed is somehow supposed to confer a greater clarity of vision, a more authentic view of the world. (33) [A]cademic left refers to a stratum of the residual intelligentsia surviving the recession of its demotic base, a stratum that must now, for the most part, content itself with inward meditations and hopes for the eventual revival of mass participatory politics on the left. However, in terms of their relations with this country's formal institutions of higher education, particularly those at the elite level, left-wing thinkers have never enjoyed anything remotely close to the current hospitality. (34) This fact presents us with a considerable puzzle in view of the isolation and neutering of significant left-wing sentiment in the world of "real" politics.

[O]ver the last twenty-five years the entire process of recruitment into academic careers, especially outside the exact sciences, has been altered in a way that lures people with left-wing sympathies and hopes for radical social change into scholarly careers. The glamorization of high powered careers in business, finance, and corporate law has something to do with it. [T]he greater the density of campus leftists, the more quickly that density grows. (35)

Each [leftist] faction thinks the job is complete and that Western paradigms have been effectively demolished. (38) [T]he "critical theory" in which academic leftists take such delight is a swamp of jargon, name dropping, logic chopping, and massive attempts to obliterate the obvious. The irony is that this faith in the omnicompetence of theory runs strong in those who claim to abhor "totalizing" theories. (39)

Perspectivism on the left is the true legacy of the activism of the 1960s and early 1970s, a time when it was assumed that the oppressed are endowed with uniquely privileged insights, and that the intellectual, as well as moral authority of victims, is beyond challenge. When it comes to the core of scientific substance, however, and the deep methodological and epistemological questions above all, the incredibly difficult ontological questions that arise in scientific contexts, perspectivism can make at best a trivial contribution. (40)

Increasingly Muddled Thinking

[Respect by natural scientists] has been the traditional attitude, however, that is changing to one of skepticism and even revulsion in the face of what scientists have come to see as a growing tendency among a particular breed of historians and sociologists of science to spin perverse theories. These seem often to escape mere inaccuracy and rush hell-for-leather toward unalloyed twaddle. (43) It is difficult for radical intellectuals to accord an exceptional status to science, leaving it exempt from what they regard as the omnivorous tendencies of capitalism. They are highly unwilling to view science as an activity of the autonomous and unfettered intellect. Matters of scientific truth are "always and everywhere matters of social authority." (47)

The [academic leftist] case is brought into being by an intellectual process that implicitly accepts the same methodological paradigm as the empirical sciences it presumes to analyze! (48) If they are to demonstrate that their arguments are anything but sheer bluff, then clearly they must play on the scientists' court. (49) [Otherwise, it is nothing but] critique of science with a view to extending their general indictment of Western capitalistic social structure. (50)

[For example,] the uncertainty principle is a basic tenet of physics. It is not some brooding metaphysical dictum about the Knower versus the Known. It is an objective truth about the world. (51-52) It is clear that a rather light-footed style is needed to get away with such stuff, which drives more earnest and responsible philosophers of science into paroxysms of disgust when confronted with it. Scientists themselves, less oppressed by a professional obligation to grapple with every piece of gaudy nonsense that comes down the highway, simply go about their business. (58)

There are reasonably valid criteria for deciding the scientific competence of individuals, for distinguishing, in most cases, between worthwhile theorists and cranks. Such concessions, however, do not sort well with a [leftist] position, especially one grounded on radically antielitist politics. It is one thing to embrace "empiricism" in the abstract, quite another to find practical and reliable methods for developing and extending concrete knowledge.[Science has not issued] a blanket denial of the value of speculative and deductive thought. Such reasoning was eagerly received when it was the product of genuine intellectual competence. (68) [Leftist rhetoric is] designed to appeal to a certain kind of readership on grounds other than strict logic and evidence, intellectuals without serious scientific training to whom science is an inaccessible mystery, and "philosophers" who are not professional scientists (for which we must read "historians" and sociologists). (69)

The central ambition to explain the deepest and most enduring insights of science as a corollary of social assumptions and ideological agenda, is futile and perverse. (69) It functions politically to redress the grievances of the social scientists, and to elevate their knowledge claims to the level historically enjoyed by physicists and chemists. (70)

Nihilistic Postmodernism

We examine postmodernism with a view to understand its appeal to the politically discontented. The particularly quixotic view of the antagonism between "representation" and "reality" that is so thematic in postmodern thought vouchsafes its practitioners an eerie absolution from having to measure their theories against the unyielding matrix of social fact. In the cold light of day, such a creed seems pathetic as well as futile, a desperate amalgam of solipsism and magical thinking. It is radicalism without risk, since its calls to arms generally result in nothing more menacing than aphorisms lodged in obscure periodicals. (73-74) A wide variety of disciplines may be addressed and pronounced upon without requiring the detailed familiarity with the facts and logic around which they are organized. American postmodernism is often accused, with considerable justice, of being little more than mimicry of a few European thinkers, mostly French. (75)

The verbal means by which we seek to represent the world are incapable, it is said, of doing any such thing. (76) [We have] panic stricken deconstructionists [running] headlong from the implications of their own doctrine. (77) We see the rebirth of the philosopher as comprehensive sage. [Their] skepticism is expressed in the form of doubts about the human importance of scientific truth. (78) Physicists, we can say with confidence, are not likely to be impressed with such verbiage, and are hardly apt to revise their thinking. Rather it is probable they will develop a certain disdain for scholars, however eminent, who talk this way, and a corresponding disdain for other scholars who propose to take such stuff seriously. Scientists who are genuinely familiar with the terminology invoked by declarations of this sort have no choice but to regard the whole business as a species of con game. (79)

It is not hard to find other examples of postmodern thinkers whose urge to pontificate on science far outruns their competence to do so. (80) Despite sweeping postmodernist claims of "paradigm shifts" and radical breaks in the reigning episteme, scientific practice in the more rigorous disciplines goes on as usual. It's a heady time for them and a scary time for science. My own interpretation is that lazy minds are happiest with the mere voicing of opinion, or with the easy task of dressing this up to make it look plausible. (81) Science, with its objectivity remains the one international language capable of providing objective knowledge of the world. And it is a language that all can use and share and learn. The wretched of the earth want science and the benefits of science. To deny them this is another kind of racism. (82)

The Bankruptcy of Skepticism

Why, then, has so large a proportion of the left-wing professoriate in literature and adjacent disciplines been so ripe for seduction? To toy with ideas in such an idle and self-vitiating fashion would seem to confess a lack of interest in bringing about salutary change in human affairs. (82) [What about] alertness to the self-defeating quality of the attempt to avoid all principled positions in theory? (83)

[Take, for example, seeing] a model emphasizing redemption, self-realization, and autonomy as the outcome of a sufficiently strong will and the ability to make right choices [as the source of] gender oppression and class oppression [that] are absolute evils. The odor of unassailable rectitude that pervades what is supposed to be a case on behalf of untrammeled relativism is what makes this essay a little ridiculous and just a bit admirable. Such emphatic ethical commitment, when all is said and done, puts to flight the formal skepticism being conscripted on its behalf.

Hermeneutics has now become the key to a full comprehension of the profoundest matters of truth and meaning. (84) Postmodernism, in its skepticism about everything save itself, [drains everything] it touches of value, authority, validity, and even the right to stand for what it has always stood for and to be understood as it has always been understood. The narrative of science holds no privileges over the narratives of superstition. That the ignorance of science is a canny political act is accepted as an article of faith, no matter how much it seems to elevate wishful thinking over hard social fact. (85) That the Napoleonic Code is ethically inferior to Anglo-Saxon common law collapses into meaninglessness [and] is understood as an example of "emotive" utterance, to which truth-value cannot properly be ascribed. (87)

When the brutally skeptical views of the postmodernists began to gain currency, many humanists, and many social scientists as well, were quick to lay hold of them as instruments of revenge. As far as the ideological right is concerned, the situation presents it with welcome opportunities for polemic sallies, counterblows that avoid the necessity for justifying the illogical or evil practices of their own heros. For the first time in modern American history, right-wing theorists seem on the point of establishing themselves upon the ethical and philosophical high ground, thanks to the postmodern contortions of the left. (88)

The mentality of postmodernism has an emphatically totalizing component, even as it pretends to denounce the totalizing propensities of whatever it wishes to attack. (89) It is driven by resentment, rather than by the logic of its ideas. Strange it is that a well-known scholar at one of the world's most distinguished universities should write a lengthy book upon a subject about which he knows, evidently, virtually nothing. Such hubris, such eagerness to put on an antic disposition and yet be taken seriously, speaks volumes on the canons of acceptable scholarship under the postmodern dispensation.(91) The reader may be inclined to characterize these dicta as Very Grand Theory indeed, where unrelieved alarmism rests on ill-founded and unscientific theorizing, and his distortions and fantasies damage the political cause he seeks to inspire. (97)

Cynicism as Scholarship

When such solecisms as we find in these writings are confidently put forth as scholarly discoveries, with every assurance that something profound is being uttered, one must wonder about the system and the ideology that nurtures and rewards them. (104) Of course, anyone is free to read pictures of fractal geometry and the like subjectively as emblems for a revolution in sensibility. The point is, however, that this is utterly subjective; it is poetry of the most idiosyncratic sort. Hostility is there, and its presence becomes clearer when we take note of the moralizing undertone. What is really being asserted is that there is a "modern" science, linked to "phallogocentric" thought and the mechanisms of capitalist-racist-patriarchal domination. By contrast, there is supposed to be an embryonic "postmodern" science that points to the overthrow of the old order. (105) Virtually all of [these theories] claim to discern important intellectual themes and political motifs that are quite invisible to the scientists themselves. We probably don't need to fear for the safety or intellectual freedom of the sciences on the basis of these bizarre lucubrations: but that is not the issue. What does concern us is that these intellectual misadventures are so well received in nonscientific academic circles, especially on the left, and that they provide the route to publication, tenure, reputation, and academic authority for a growing body of would-be scholars. Keeping the hard sciences from contamination should not be impossible, provided that the scientists' resistance to jargonistic snow jobs is as high as it ought to be. (106)

[Feminism] has resurrected the work and built the reputations of some women artists and thinkers whom history and male indifference had discounted. (107) [Their] criticism is far more sweeping; it claims to go to the heart of the methodological, conceptual, and epistemological foundations of science. The best known critics are accepted as legitimate historians and philosophers of science, in circles far wider than their feminist peers. (108) Feminist insight and practice must, by definition, improve the range and depth of scientific theory. Many feminist tracts accept and defend the notion that there is no "objective" science, merely a variety of "perspectives." The earlier, less controversial, goal of uncovering past and present discrimination, of bringing to light neglected contributions of female scientists, has been subsumed under this enormously more ambitious project: to refashion the epistemology of science from the roots up. (109) "Women's studies" has almost everywhere a sacrosanct status, an unprecedented immunity to the scrutiny and skepticism that are standard for other fields of inquiry.

Obvious discrimination today is against white males. (110) The overwhelming majority of active scientists neither practice nor condone discrimination. (111) We would have to be shown that there are palpable defects, due to the inadequacies of male perspective, in heretofore solid-looking science and that the flawed theories can be repaired or replaced by feminist insights. (112) "We become what biology tells us is the truth about life. Therefore, feminist critique of biology is not only good for biology but for our society as well." Wishful thinking is the customary name for this such "analysis." (122)

It is commonplace among relativists of all kinds to ignore or dismiss the self-correction process by which good science survives and bad science that which is not verifiable by others of different tastes and tendencies vanishes in due course. (123) "Can biased metaphors be eliminated from science?" The implication is that until now nobody had heard of metaphor, or of the distinction between metaphor and the underlying facts of science. (125) Let us not pretend, though, that masculinism prevails any longer in the metaphors, let alone in the substance of science. That substance, we are forced to report, seems stubbornly resistant to spin applied in either direction. [Feminist] success in establishing a reputation as a major thinker on science and epistemology would be incomprehensible in an age less determined to celebrate difference at all costs. To "difference" we might have added "heterodoxy," except that it is our own views that are now unorthodox, at least to those outside of science. (126)

Misunderstanding Science

There is supposed to be a regnant worldview, with physics as its paradigm. Thus to speak of physics as a "paradigm" is to vulgarize the situation. (127) Not many persons with real experience of contemporary science, taking the time to examine such arguments as this, are likely to adopt them. (130) How can [a feminist] insist on "the socially constructed and politically contested nature of facts, theory, practices, and power" and at the same time be engaged in exploding social constructivism? (133) For this "discourse" on what is, after all, a quite fundamental question of scientific epistemology, we have been able to find only one signifier: "delusions of adequacy." (134)

We may hope to find those sharp epistemological analyses that expose the philosophical shortcomings of science, along with comprehensible guides to such alternative ways of knowing the material world as patriarchal science has overlooked, by its nature or as a result of a conspiracy. (134) One pines for a concrete instance in which, without the assistance of feminism, science's norms regularly failed to detect these biases. [Apparently,] only science done from an entirely feminist standpoint has a chance to be true. (135) Elementary logic may have been superseded in postmodern theorizing; but most people who make a living from intellectual work still depend on it. (136) The dominant factors in theory choice are, indeed, the ones traditionally celebrated by scientists: logical economy, explanatory parsimony, and the capacity to synthesize once-disparate theories into a conceptual unity. (139)

What begins as an epistemological inquiry into science ends as familiar anti-science tricked out in the ambient clich‚s of the business science "harnessed to the making of money and the waging of war" the old moral one-upwomanship, and the call to political action. Science as-it-is is untrustworthy. We can't bend it to our political will because, as a powerful institution of the present, compromised world, it is protected. It will not be bent until the enemy is weakened and the world is redeemed. We have heard this from ideologues, politicians, and thought police in various uniforms since Galileo's time. How sad it is that it should now emanate from the scholarly halls of universities and reverberate there among intellectuals who inherit the Enlightenment. (148)

Immorality of Ideas

As usual, however, ideological syncretism is the prevalent note. All doctrinal variants are simultaneously endorsed to some degree; differences are submerged in a broad tide of indignation over environmental outrages, the list of which is continuously lengthened by selection of appropriate results from scientific journals (and by ignoring the inconvenient ones). (151) Ecological science in particular is "a socially constructed science whose basic assumptions and conclusions change in accordance with social priorities and socially accepted metaphors." (165) There is a serious downside to the strategy of talking apparent science while actually doing politics. (168) It is the substitution of moonbeams and fairy-dust for thought, a frequent human practice, but one that has taught grim lessons in the course of history. (176)

As regards racial injustice, it is not at all clear that science, even in its most forthright technological guise, has much to do with the situation. (179) These problems are not primarily located in the academy, and, indeed, where they intersect the academy is but a rumor. Yet there is a peculiar and ultimately unhealthy traffic between the world of rarefied postmodern theory and the communities in which activism, though stemming from real and terrible problems, overflows into paranoia and fantasy. Honesty must view this situation with an uneasy ambivalence. On the other hand, there is the matter of fidelity to scientific fact to the truth; and that is never a lighthearted issue. Myths have consequences. (180)

"Healthy, drug-free people do not get AIDS." That line of argument would hardly deserve mention in a book concerned with the thinking of the academic left, since the lifestyle argument, in its most magniloquent form, is mainly a preoccupation of the right. (185) Frenetic sexuality was widely held to constitute a political act. (187) There is an almost superstitious awe of science and scientific medicine, a presumption that if only they really cared, researchers and clinicians could come up with a solution. (189) There is a sense that an implicit pact has been broken, and the bitterness is enormous. Homosexuality has until recently been stigmatized in the judgements of scientific medicineand psychiatry as dysfunctionality. (189)

Grumbling about the arrogance and authoritarianism of standard science has its place. (195) We don't think we need for the present to defend scientific objectivism as the single admissible philosophical standpoint. We simply observe that science is, as all the world's experience tells us, overwhelmingly the best trick we so far know for getting the upper hand against disease. (196)

The relation of the animal rights movement to the academic left is a question of some complexity. It is a tricky thing to champion hunter-gatherer cultures as paragons of ecological wisdom without allowing that hunting may be a justifiable activity. (198) It endows a mythical community, the supposedly "sentient" animals, with a status parallel to other communities of oppressed, exploited, voiceless beings. The indulgent relativism that declares all cultures, all narratives, to be equally valid, is stretched to accommodate entities capable of neither culture nor narrative. With science reduced, on this view, to a "truth-game" played by a narrow community under self-referential rules, it becomes easy to dismiss, without close argument or factual investigation, the claims of science to produce results essential to human well-being. (199) The facts and arguments of the case are available for any fair-minded inquirer to assess. (203)

Postmodern relativism undercuts any possible protest grounded on the notion of objectivity. It entails a perspectivism that finds no basis for epistemological distinctions between science and fables. (210) "Strong objectivity" turns out to be another name for pathetic gullibility. (212) [Scientists] are mere bullies, intent on preserving the unjust privileges of a scientific elite that works hand in glove with other purveyors of bourgeois mystification. (213)

When reason sleeps, the monsters of human pride, foolishness, malice, and cruelty emerge to do their worst. (215) If their ideas were sustained by decent arguments and adequate evidence, this would be an unfair attack ad hominem. Humanism post-Enlightenment Western humanism has created, in the face of all the narrow particularism and dogmatic absolutism that has plagued our species, an ethic of universal justice and universal tolerance. (217) The stench of history is ever present in our nostrils. The very clarity of vision, the insistence on calling things by their true names, that defines us as heirs to the Enlightenment makes it impossible for us (that is to say, the honest among us) to disguise the rancid corners of our history under gaudy banners of nationalism, religion, progress, or justice. (218)

In a hundred years, the greatest theoretical physicist in the world will be a Westerner in the most important aspect of his or her intellectual temperament. (219) No other civilization bears a like gem in its crown. Thus science has become an irresistible target for those Western intellectuals whose sense of their own heritage has become an intolerable moral burden. (220)

Generalized susceptibility to unorthodoxy which may, of course, manifest itself as "radical skepticism" does not coexist happily with a conventional respect for the competence and authority of the sciences. (223) The indulgence of one kind of heterodoxy betokens a further susceptibility to eccentric or highly speculative ideas. Well founded criticism often leads further to bizarre and shoddy theorizing about the epistemic status of science. (224) It would be inadmissibly cynical to suggest that the antiscientism of the academic left is just a ploy, playing to the ignorant in the fashion of New Age hucksters. If one believes that science is nothing but metaphor, then one need have no qualms about substituting for it other metaphors. Totalism of this kind has been the historic tendency of organized religion as we have known it since the end of classic paganism. (225)

What Science Really Is

There is in sober fact no real contradiction between science as such and the social and political goals (in their nonfanatic forms) of the various oppositional movements we have studied. It would therefore seem that in adopting a view of science as an enemy or as a corrupt institution in need of deep ideological reform, these movements have created a bogeyman visible only to themselves and have wasted time and intellectual energy. They have irritated and annoyed people who initially bore them no ill will. (228) Frustration rarely begets wisdom; but it frequently ignites irresponsible fantasy. (233)

Science is, above all else, a reality driven enterprise. (234) Yet those who insist that science is driven by culture and by politics, by economics, by aesthetics, even by a species of understated mysticism, are not for that reason alone to be dismissed as wrongheaded. Such resentment is quite understandable on an emotional level. But as logic, it is of little avail. Scientists aside from a small cadre of ideologically motivated sympathizers generally ignore these critics, not out of blind defensiveness of their own turf, nor out of snobbery, but because the critics sail so wide of the mark, and have so little to say about the actual ideas with which scientists contend every day of their working lives. [This] should not be misread as general acceptance or influence on actual scientific practice. (235-236) [Their] enthusiasm is usually enough to guarantee success and even celebrity in the narrow world of the academy. (237) This fact raises serious questions about the presumed intellectual meritocracy of the academy. (238)

Having reduced the scientific community to an object of study, they are quite unwilling to allow the specimen to wriggle free of its new restraints. It is never taken into account that the same defects might afflict the critiques themselves. (239) In science it is the findings that are supposed to enchant, not the person offering them. (240)

On the whole, scientists are deeply cultured people, in the best and most honorable sense. If the humanities department were to walk out in a huff, the scientific faculty could, at need and with enough released time, patch together a humanities curriculum, to be taught by the scientists themselves. The notion that scientists and engineers will always accept as axiomatic, the competence and indispensability for higher education of humanists and social scientists is altogether too smug. (243) The suggestion of a formal secession of the sciences may seem overblown. It would be premature, however, to rule it out. (244)

Outside the community of professional scientists and engineers, understanding of even the most elementary science is thin and vague. So much of the population finds it more comfortable to declare itself awestruck than to acquire the knowledge that might dissipate the awe. Like it or not, the responsibility for a remedy to this palpable and increasingly dangerous defect in the foundations of republican existence lies principally with the university. (244-245) It is never easy to estimate how much of this nonresponse is due to ignorance of what is really going on and how much to simple cowardice. (247) The easy answer, of course, is to educate the great mass of citizens in such a way that thinking accurately about science is possible, if not quite second nature. (248)

Democratizing Science

How do we democratize scientific and technological decision making? How do we give the heretofore powerless some measure of control over the decisions, technical and otherwise, that so profoundly shape their lives? [That is] insisting that the mountain come to Mohammed. They insist on supplanting standard science with other "ways of knowing" that, by their very nature, will be inclusive and welcoming. The generosity of the democratic impulse when conjoined to this mode of thinking is instantly perverted to a kind of inverse intellectual snobbery, a form of populism that is willing to exile the most stringent kinds of analytical thought and jettison the reliable devices of empiricism in the name of opening the doors of knowledge and driving the haughty priests of science from the temple. (249) How much it will add, in the end, to the burden of outright superstition and ignorance that has always plagued the American democratic experiment is difficult to say. (250)

Practical measures for making discussion of scientific issues effectively more democratic by what should be the straight forward process of extending scientific literacy are continually subverted by the intrusion of "identity politics" into the pedagogy of science. [Those] who try to embark on scientific vocations with the explicit aim of reconstituting science are on a course leading to frustration and disillusion. Science does not work the way the critics say it works. But if they attempt to hold fast to the most emphatic tenets of [this] dogma, they will quickly find themselves excluded from serious scientific work. (251) They argue that free-market capitalism is an obstacle to changes we should make in our uses of technology if we are to develop sound environmental practices. Scientists, and the scientifically well informed, will simply not accept any form of "socialism" whose agenda include the subversion of legitimate science. (252)

Positive Action

We are not calling for a purge of the institutions of higher learning in this country. [But] science courses must teach science. It's as simple as that. Science and science educators must, on their professional honor, be prepared to resist the insertion into the science curriculum of courses whose content is tailored to the demands of any ideological faction. (253) Unthinking sentimentality is the great enemy of genuine compassion. One can't assume, in these matters, that possession of an advanced degree or a professorship equates to intellectual legitimacy. In today's academy noise is no longer taken, as it used to be, as evidence of an unfortunate class origin. (254-255) Academic leftists tend to be unfocused bores, and a certain deliberate, cheerful simple-mindedness is needed to hear them out sufficiently to catch the drift of the arguments and to formulate an apposite response. (255)

If scientists perceive that a spate of nonsense has been coming out of the mouths of their colleagues, then they have the right to raise questions about the mechanisms that give fair wind to such shaky scholarship. It will be argued immediately that this is an asymmetric, and therefore inequitable, proposition. The fallacy here is that the asymmetry originates from the pretensions, legitimate or otherwise, to qualification on scientific questions. "Hard" scientists should find some way of supporting those of their colleagues in these areas who are willing to honor the principle that the right to make knowledge claims, in a university, has to be earned by the methodologically sound sweat of one's brow.

The status of science as a reliable, profound, and productive source of knowledge ought to be beyond serious question. (256) We would have been much happier if this book had been unnecessary. We may be misguided; we may have made mistakes; our erudition may be more deficient than we already know: but we are not dishonest. We have had to abandon the complacent feeling that the republic of intellectual inquiry is secure from internal decay. (257)

Index of Essays

Please e-mail your impressions to: kengelhart@igc.org