Get yourself peer-reviewed…

A screen shot from the introduction to Zero Wi...

Zero Wing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

…or else!

Though it is seldom addressed, the line between peer review and peer pressure is razor-thin. Interestingly, one of science’s strongest “selling points”, as scientismatics would have it, is that science is driven by professional group-think.

Allow me a small burst of theatrical nerdistry.

Common Man 1: What happen?

Common Man 2: Someone set up us the borg-mind!

Scientismatic: Hello, gentlemen, you have no time to decide. Folk-theory resistance is futile. ALL YOUR BELIEFS ARE BELONG TO US!

By definition, scientific research programs, much less particular empirical findings, which do not conform to the “consensus view”, are for that very reason rejected out of hand. I admit this does not mean new discoveries cannot make their way into the consensus, but anyone who has read Thomas Kuhn‘s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions should be wary of assuming science is consistently, much less infallibly, open to new discoveries and self-correction. When secularists criticize the lack of uniformity in religious doctrine, compared to the progressive uniformity of scientific teaching, and are scandalized by incessant internecine theological feuds, compared to the serene brotherhood of “the scientific community”, they not only imply diversity of opinion is an intellectual scandal, but also that the ultimate success of science will mean lock-step intellectual conformity. Presumably, those who do not fall in line should be charged with child abuse and should be publicly ridiculed and mocked (Dawkins), quarantined if and when they let their ideological infection dominate their lives (Dennett), or even summarily executed for believing certain propositions (Harris). Truly the question, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” was never more apt.

Granted, such collective reasoning is not necessarily a vice, and, at least I hope so, the hostility between religious and scientific reasoning as displayed by the figures I just cited represents only an extreme minority. For example, in Society, Faith, and Science, Michael Polanyi–hardly a stalking horse for scientism–commends the communal nature of scientific reasoning and apprenticeship as one of its strongest features. Yet in the context of his discussion, Polanyi reminds us that, precisely because science has an epistemologically  tribal nature, it is just one human endeavor among many, and thus equally susceptible to abuses by a herd mentality. If science were a strictly intellectual project, of course, we would not see so much of the drum-pounding tribalism that drives scientism (or “science for Sneetches, as I like to call it).

Historically, it is competing scientists and the academic establishment, rather than “religion” (?), which has generated the principal and most vociferous objections to new discoveries. Hence it was a Christian like John Philoponus who challenged the insistence on the infallibility of Aristotle, precisely because God‘s power surely could perform works outside of or even contrary to A’s system. Again it was Christians like Buridan and Oresme who explicitly refuted the ontological necessity of Aristotelianism on the grounds that, again, God’s power was unlimited, and thus “natural philosophy” could of necessity only be provisional and empirical (i.e. noetically humble). In Galileo’s time, as well, it was the academic establishment which opposed Galileo, and only later, for complex political and personal reasons, that the Pope, who had been one of Galileo’s earliest and most enthusiastic patrons, chose to suppress Galileo’s status as a self-professed Catholic author. Similar cases abound.

If you wish to ponder such ideas further, I recommend this post at Siris about “the straw man fallacy” and “citing chapter and verse” in scientific discourse.


About The Codgitator (a cadgertator)

Catholic convert. Quasi-Zorbatic. Freelance interpreter, translator, and web marketer. Former ESL teacher in Taiwan (2003-2012) and former public high school teacher (2012-2014). Married father of three. Multilingual, would-be scholar, and fairly consistent fitness monkey. My research interests include: the interface of religion and science, the history and philosophy of science and technology, ancient and medieval philosophy, and cognitive neuroscience. Please pray for me.
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3 Responses to Get yourself peer-reviewed…

  1. theofloinn says:

    Excellent post. It’s a fine line between screening out the cranks and screening out the prophets. They often sound so much alike.

  2. Pingback: We Are Heading Into A Little Ice Age | The GOLDEN RULE

  3. Reblogged this on The GOLDEN RULE and commented:
    There is much to be said about ‘peer-review’, in fact much has already been said. It is a mainstay argument used by the AGW warmists. Their particular variety of peer-review has come under serious and IMHO, deserved criticism.

    This article is a commonsense look at the subject.
    It would be wise to evaluate peer-reviews as to their credibility rather than accept them at face value.

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