Science vs Humbug


Science and its methods have been challenged. throughout history. Philosophers and other commentators influenced by postmodernism have been critical of the scientific methods. Two of the most prominent among the thinkers whose works have made some contribution, albeit controversial, to the philosophy of science are Thomas Kuhn (1922-1996) and Paul Feyerabend (1924-1994).

Feyerabend, though not very much trusted by the scientific community due to his inconsistency in thought, philosophy and attitude, gained fame from his work titled, Against Method, in which he claims there should not be any universal rules governing scientific method and an objective approach by scientists sans personal connections with the entities examined would be harmful. He further argues that other methods such as astrology are as important as science. "That scientific truth at any given moment cannot be established solely by objective criteria but is defined by a consensus of a scientific community. Thus our comprehension of science can never rely on full "objectivity", we must account for subjective perspectives as well." (from The Structure of Scientific Revolutions)

It is seen that both these philosophers have stressed the need to take into account a subjective aspect when dealing with science. This thinking seems to resonate with the postmodernist idea that creation of knowledge and epistemology are not totally independent of the investigator (as argued by Foucault, Baudrillard). Further, Feyerabend’s view that astrology is as important as science seems to tally well with those of local writers who invoke the gods to gain knowledge! Moreover, postmodernism is a dying philosophy and its influence is on the wane.

To carry these points of view further and say that science is just another cultural narrative (kathanthara) and a pattapal boruwak is to raise another critical issue––such an idea has to be presented as new knowledge if it is to be accepted. If it is not, then it will merely remain as somebody’s idea which need not bother the general public. How this knowledge has been gained has to be made public. What methods have been employed to create this knowledge? It must be emphasised that the method employed to prove that science is a pattapal boruwak has to be superior and more reliable than scientific method itself.

If this knowledge has been gained by introspection or by intervention of gods or astrology or any other method, how these methods are superior to scientific method should be established. If, on the other hand, this new knowledge has been gained by using modern scientific methods, in part or full, such as observation, literature review, data collection, inference, etc. then it must be said that the new knowledge which propounds that "science is a pattapal boruwak " is also a pattapal boruwak because the same boru (flawed) methods have been used.

This is not a trivial issue to be debated for entertainment. It is a matter of life and death, for, gullible people may be misled to seek advice and treatment from quacks who claim to have mystic powers of healing and solving all problems that afflict mankind.

So many have been the victims of such quackery and some have lost their lives while others have been maimed and psychologically traumatised. In a country where quackery is rampant this kind of non-science would only give the quacks legitimacy. All responsible, knowledgeable people must stand up against such trash which is inimical to social wellbeing.

N. A. de S. Amaratunga

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