The Philosophical Foundation of His Ideological Legitimation3 Roger Dittmann
President, U. S. Federation of Scholars and Scientists
Professor of Physics, California State University, Fullerton, CA, U.S.A., 92634-9480
"Science sans conscience n'est que ruine de l'âme."--Rabelais
"Huren, Tänzerinnen und Professoren kann ich für mein Geld überall kaufen."
--Prince of Hannover [Boos (1979) 20]
"My view, based on long and painful observation, is that professors are somewhat worse than other people, and that scientists are somewhat worse than other professors."
--Robert F. Hutchins [(1963) 1]
[The allegory of scientist as eunuch is reinforced by the continued male dominance of science, but does not depend upon it. The allegory is not gender specific. The hyperbole in the introductory quotes is an attempt to gain the attention of the mule".4]
Thesis: A largely unconscious but widespread philosophical foundation of science (“logical positivism"), whose stereotypically interpreted tenets have been (mis)interpreted to provide justification for an ideology of science (including “professionalism"), which, although not confined to the scientific arena, provides a rationale for the (de)socialization of scientists as docile, compliant, pliable practitioners of “instrumental (or methodological, or technological) rationality", i.e., for the efficient accomplishment of unquestioned, often irrational, counterproductive, unintended, egregious, or inhumane ends. An alternative, critical, contextual theory and model of science, “adequate to the fullness of the phenomena", humanistically taking cognizance of values and consequences in scientific endeavor, that can only be accomplished through grass roots organizing of scientists, is herein advocated.
I. Science as Liberator or Dominator?
The benefits of science, of “technique" [See Ellul (1964)] in general, are obvious and well documented. Longevity has increased for many. Health has improved for many. Lifesaving technologies that were not even available to royalty in the past have much wider, but still very limited availability today. The current population could not be supported were science and technology at the levels of previous millennia. However, there is no recognizable level of scientific development below which it would be impossible to build a beautiful world (with a manageably-sized population). Put another way, every age has a certain level of scientific understanding and technological achievement. Additional understanding and achievement increase potentialities and prospects. However, it has never been the case, and it is not the case, that a far more beautiful world could not be built without additional scientific breakthroughs and technological wonders. Nonetheless, science and scientists could and should be a powerful tool not only in increasing potentialities, but also in the actual accomplishment of a more beautiful world. In any case, it is not only scientists who can take pride in “a job well done", especially in socially constructive work. It is a matter of self-respect, which, however, can also be enhanced delusively, through rationalization. The right to dignity and self-respect, the right to make a contribution to society through one’s work is the fundamental human right--the right to work5. This may appear hyperbolic. Certainly there are many more egregious abuses to which victims are subjected--mutilation, torture, rape, assassination, dismemberment, but these more egregious forms of abuse are largely directed against victims of unemployment and underemployment (although unemployment constitutes an even greater social problem) who resent their mistreatment and organize to resist! However, it is psychologically devastating to be denied gainful employment, to be treated as worthless, as a discard, as having nothing useful to contribute to society. Young children who want to help sometimes receive similar abuse. (“The best way you can help is to stay out of my way.") A whole culture of abuse, “the welfare culture", has developed as a consequence of this affront to human dignity and denial of this fundamental human right to work. Much abuse has been heaped upon the victims of welfare, although people who refuse to work and to make the contribution to society of which they are capable deserve criticism regardless of how rich they are, and especially so if they pose a heavy burden on society and on the environment due to a high level of personal consumption and self-indulgence6.
Progress in science per se is essentially guaranteed due to inertia, militarism, and profit potential alone, although the pace is susceptible to political and economic conditions. Funding for international agencies like the World Health organization is primarily motivated by the anticipated social benefits of the research, despite some criticism that they tend to emphasize the “diseases of the rich", and use public funds to develop expensive high technology equipment to which the rich have far greater access. The motivations of national agencies seem less pure. There is even a small percentage of funding for science (a fraction of the U. S. National Science Foundation budget) that is purely devoted to a quest for better understanding of nature (“pure" science, which is not motivated by applications in either the mind of the practitioner or the funder)7. Science continues its impressive advance. The theoretical understanding that is achieved is elegant and attests to the remarkable intellectual prowess of humanity.
Progress in society, on the other hand, is highly problematic. There is no inherent reason why the benefits of science that have accrued to the few should not be available to the many--why progress in science should not be manifested in proportional social progress. Science is not intrinsically an agent of oppression, impoverishment, repression, death, and destruction. On the contrary, the inherent rationality of science, its search for logically consistent empirical understanding of the world, seems a precondition, if not actually a prescription for liberation and progress. Indeed, to a considerable degree, science has been liberating. However, despite the undeniable progress attributable to science and the rise of empiricism and rationality, despite the many (maldistributed) benefits, science remains a disappointment when compared to the buoyantly optimistic, almost Utopian expectations of the Enlightenment--goals which remain unattained, but largely achievable in the scientific/technological sense. The obstacle is political, psychological, emotional, and social, not scientific or technical. Concurrent with the development of elegant scientific theory and astounding technology, society has experienced exacerbation of problems to the point that many proclaim “the end of liberalism"-- the end of the notion that through humanistic ratiocination, a far better and more beautiful world could be created--the end of hopes of liberation8. Rather, expectations decline. High tech gadgetry is an inevitable part of the future. Just as much physical labor has been mechanized and automated, the threshold to cybernated intellectual labor is rapidly being crossed. The enormous potential increases in productivity provide opportunity for great improvements in the human condition. On the other hand, in Report from Iron Mountain, it was argued that inefficiency saved us from tyrannies in the past. Technological inefficiency will be no salvation in the future. High tech weaponry and surveillance capability is quite unevenly distributed, providing tempting opportunities for concentrations of power, exploitation, and repression. Despite scientific and technological advances, the current generation despairs of achieving a quality of life as high as that of their parents. Rather, at the most pessimistic, one encounters prognoses of catatopia--ecocollapse, or Bosnia coming to paradise--California9"..
If liberation is within human capability, given the intellectual power convincingly manifest in science (as well as in many other human activities), why do the habitat and the human condition for much of humanity continue to deteriorate? To what degree is the fault external to science and scientists, beyond their control? To what degree are the ethics of science inadequate and (ir)responsible? What is the duty of scientists?...Of intellectuals in general10? Do they have a greater responsibility than other segments of the proletariat because of the educational opportunities they were afforded and the abilities they inherited--intellect oblige? The urgency of the times pleads the case for scientific responsibility.
Despite some recurring scandals concerning individual misconduct in violation of methodological (i.e., instrumental) norms of science, in my scientific work I have always been impressed by the scrupulous honesty of colleagues11. Days would be spent pouring over logbooks trying to discover why data did not reproduce. Not once did I ever even encounter an application of Chauvenet’s criterion, which would allow discarding aberrant data, but within respectable limits. The “New York Times style” (“All the news that fits we print"12) was never encountered. Although some fields seem more prone to violations of methodological norms, individual misconduct is nonetheless rare and, it appears to me, constitutes little tarnish on scientific respectability. The reported abuses were predominantly in the biological, pharmaceutical sciences [usually in clinical trials], and other areas in which the commercial prospects for profit [or threats to profit] were huge and tempting [or intimidating, as the case may be]. The New England Journal of Medicine is now requiring of corporate ties for its authors. That scientists are up for hire is not in dispute. They are, after all, by and large, proletarians, even though they are intellectual proletarians, who usually achieve economic viability by working for an employer, which is the main point.
Since science is empirical, and not merely mathematical, values, judgment, and interpretation are always present to a degree, although, except for mathematics, which says nothing about the world, science has achieved a higher degree of objectivity and concurrence than any other area of human endeavor. When they do occur, they are largely attributable to the proletarian status of scientists. Despite external threats to funding and employment, the scientific community has performed admirably well in developing and following a scientific methodology that has resulted in achieving this high level of objectivity. The insistence upon reproducibility of results has resulted in the resolution of differences in findings and the achievement of a high degree of consensus. This is aided and abetted by ethics committees and job security measures, like defense of academic and scientific freedom and tenure. Only in U.S. universities do trade unions play a significant role in this process. Even there, unfortunately, “economism” dominates, although academic freedom issues can be handled through “working conditions” and “grievance” clauses in contracts. It is the associations [like AAAS and AAUP (which has evolved into a collective bargaining agent on many campuses)] and journals that play the primary role in achieving this high degree of objectivity in the U.S.
Since methodological deviance was not something in my personal experience, I pondered the sense in which science might be “deviant”. It seemed normatively deviant from the expectation that science would be a noble and liberating effort to free minds from the intellectual tyranny of ignorance, superstition, and religion, and to lift humanity from the oppression of poverty and reduce vulnerability to the vicissitudes of nature.
It is the scientific establishment in its political/economic context science as an institution, or "estate" [Price (1965)] embedded in a larger context, which requires critical examination and reform. It is not only the institutional power structure, but also and especially the philosophy, ideology, and values which have been adopted and promulgated which are of concern here, i.e., the origin and foundation of societal norms of science as an institution are examined. It is my perception that the philosophical foundations of the ideology of science essentially constitute a “superstructure" that is strongly influenced by the political/economic “relations of production" that it reflects. Elaboration of this “superstructure/base" connection is a more profound and more important task that exceeds the scope of this study, which aspires merely to gain the recognition of the existence of an ideology of science, and of its philosophical justification. It is much like the Christian preacher who proclaimed slavery to be the will of God in the confederate states. This was superstructure ideology catering to the political economic base of slavery. Science also has its preachers, and ideology, and orthodoxy that caters to economic/political power.
I consider the analogies between science and religion to be philosophically interesting, and regrettable. [More below in Models of Science.] How often do even prominent scientists succumb to what Alfred Lord Whitehead called, “The Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness”—the tendency to confuse theories, no matter how successful, with reality. They are our best attempts to understand, describe, predict, and manipulate nature, but they remain theories that never become absolute truth. How often have
Images and models also have normative content. Public and self-images and models of science and of scientists are critically examined and compared. The norms and images of science comprise part of the ideology of science. They are influenced in turn by ideology in a broader sense, an ideology with a foundation in a stereotypical interpretation of the philosophy of science, philosophy which is itself ideologically infused, in a dialectic process. For example, stereotypical images influence behavior [How is a scientist supposed to behave?"], and behavior in turn influences images, which are based, at least in part, upon evidence of behavior.
An alternate, normative, critical, humanistic approach to science [adequate to the fullness of the phenomena"] is recognized and advocated below. It contrasts with the dominant logical positivist [or logical empiricist (L-E)] view of science that can be stereotypically summarized in the following tenets:
(a) Scientific knowledge is neutral, objective, and value-free; and
(b) There is a unitary approach to knowledge (“The Scientific Method", with physics as the exemplar).
Certainly a great debt is owed to David Hume for his formulation of positivism13. Science has been able to achieve the high degree of consensus with which it is identified by asserting only those claims that are supported by positive evidence. Joining empiricism and logical consistency in epistemology provided the basis for the impressive progress science continues to achieve. In a value system, logical consistency (in contrast to hypocrisy) may be deemed highly desirable, as it is in scientific theory. However, values remain choices, preferences, and judgements, and are not reducible to empirical testing. (Consequences are, but that merely begs the question, since the desirability of the ultimate consequences remains a value judgement.) The objection occurs not in emphasizing empiricism and logical consistency, but in the exclusion of values, human aspirations, and moral judgement from consideration!
During the Age of Reason, the impressive accomplishments of Newton were inappropriately extrapolated and (mis)applied in an attempt to extract the same order from the chaos of human affairs that Newton had succeeded in doing with mechanics and astronomy. Newton himself advocated the application of the same methodology, called by critics “The Corpuscular Philosophy", and the same model, “The Watchmaker Universe", to other areas of human concern. An attempt was made to develop a new rational religion: “Deism" without succumbing to an oxymoron. Desolgulier wrote a book entitled, “Newtonianism: The Best Model of Government”. The French physiocrats applied Newtonianism to economics. The encyclopaedists", Diderot, Montesquieu, etc., followed Newtonian methodology in the attempt to discover universal values, perhaps in the practices of the noble savage" unperverted by civilization. Nature, Reason, and Truth formed a new trinity. Hobbes wrote Leviathan. Paine wrote The Rights of Man, declaring natural rights" subsequently proclaimed in the preamble to the U.S. Declaration of Independence.14
The attempt to subsume values in science lost cogency, as did reductionism. Failing to reduce values to science, an attempt was made to exclude them from science.
This has been described [by Troyer] as the "fundamental false consciousness of our epoch":
"Insofar as the practice of the scientific establishment is held to be neutral, while actually justifying the extension of repressive control systems, we can assert that the contemporary self-image of science functions as a technocratic ideology”.
[Schroyer (1971) 297] [Emphasis added]
The unwarranted extrapolation of the value-free, neutral, and objective" scientific methodology to other areas, even to values themselves (producing an oxymoron: value-free values", also known as perennialism" or Kantian categorical imperatives"), to the exclusion of other approaches is commonly attempted and also constitutes an ideology, "prescriptive scientism"15. For example, behaviorism" has come to dominate what are now commonly called the “social sciences". The object of studying politics, or society, or economics, should be to improve them (an unavoidable value judgement), not merely to provide the scientific foundation for technological manipulation.
Science may be distinguished from technology according to the following criterion: science studies things that cannot be changed (e.g., the mass, charge, spin, magnetic moment,... of the electron). Technology uses this understanding to manipulate things that can be changed (e.g., the position and motion of the electron--"electronics").
The positivist, strictly logical-empirical (L-E) approach to the philosophy of science, which is dominant in the U.S., provides a foundation for an ideology which influences scientific practice in a broad sense. This ideology creates a deluded self-image remarkably similar to both science's stereotypical public image, and to a normative ideal expressed by protagonists who exalt science as a noble pursuit of truth" and knowledge"
to overcome the intellectual tyranny of ignorance, superstition, and religion, and the ravages of nature and poverty. Although control of the power available through scientific understanding is primarily harnessed directly through grants, budgets, policy, and priorities, it is enhanced by ideological manipulation which encourages and intimidates scientists to be pliant, passive, obedient collaborators in unquestioned pursuits which are often repressive, destructive, antisocial, and perhaps ultimately catastrophic. Scientists who are ideologically conditioned to be challenging skeptics in their scientific specialty simultaneously become political eunuchs, doomed to perpetual impotency by the ideologies of individualism and professionalism, while their labors are generally applied to further concentrate power and wealth. Professional" societies promote this irresponsibility [Dittmann (1978)]. It is not that scientists are not supposed to support greater concentration of power and wealth. As scientists per se they are not even supposed to be concerned. They are supposed to confine themselves to professional" matters. An important part of this ideology, essential to its effectiveness, is its self-denial.
In short, science is deviant, deviant not only from its stereotypical logical-empirical image as objective, value-free, and neutral, but more importantly, deviant from its traditional normative ethic embodied in a humanistic ideal.
Recognizing the existence of the ideology underlying the normative deviance of science and escaping its disarming embrace requires understanding its roots and philosophical foundations. It requires an analysis of the political-economic structure which is reflected in and justified by the ideology, and it requires examination of its manifestations in research programs, data presentation, and interpretation. Finally, it requires resistance and organization.