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Rhetoric and Science

October 7, 2016

John David Duke Jr. wrote an article saying that scientists are merely dispassionate fact miners:

Should it ever be discovered that a Scientist, especially a Social Scientist, has lost his dispassion, or has even willfully departed from the Scientific Method, anywhere along the process, beginning with descending into the Data mine, extracting Facts, examining the Facts, and then snapping the Facts to The Truth, then let the dispassionate peers of that Scientist immediately banish him from Science

Although Duke couches his argument in absolutes, I interpret his article as advocating a set of cultural norms that scientists should adhere to, rather than a description of how things are. What should grown up scientists tell baby scientists about their role in society? Should they waste time talking about rhetoric, or biases, or hermeneutics? Hell no. Those things will just confuse the poor dears and subvert their unadulterated pursuit of Truth.

The culture of Science is a fragile flower. Humans are not inherently scientifically minded. The beast within thrashes against the Chains of Reason. We always want to form groups of like minded individuals, defer to authority, play status games, tout our own importance and greatness. We are humans, but we are playing at being more, and in order to achieve it, we need to tell ourselves lies about what we are doing. The Noble Lie of Science is that there are no Noble Lies. That there is Truth and there is Ignorance and you’re either on one side or the other. That’s why the “banish him from Science” line is so important.  Ironically, positing the existence of dangerous questions is the most dangerous question of all.  As a wise man once said, blessed is the mind too small for doubt.

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