Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Reflection on the 'March for Science' and Scientific Literacy

With the recent ‘March for Science’ events over the weekend, there has been much talk in the left press about science, mostly relating to how this or that reactionary politician is anti-science. However, while many left writers make a great show of supporting science over rightist ignorance, scientific literacy on the left is actually quite lacking. It is clear that many on the left who write about science do not really understand it at all, particularly those writers that employ phrases such as “scientific consensus”, “the science is settled”, and the puerile “scientists say”; that is to say, nearly all of them. The truth is, it doesn’t matter what scientists say, it matters what the empirically valid, independently verifiable results of their experiments are. Science runs on the testing of hypotheses, not consensus, and it is certainly never settled. Even the law of gravitation, widely thought of as the most immutable of scientific laws, has undergone periodic testing and revision; the most notable instance being the advent of the theory of relativity, which led to the conclusion that gravity may not be a ‘force’ at all, but merely the observable effect of the warping of spacetime by mass. Conversely, the elusive graviton (force-carrying particle of gravity), were it ever found, would prove that gravity is indeed a true ‘force’ like the electromagnetic forces. If so fundamental a theory as that of gravity can be mutable, what, then of other, less well-tested theories? Leftists, especially Marxists, should strive not merely to know what “scientists say”, but to be able to critically assess, even if at a most basic level, scientific theories and arguments. Any scientific conclusion which resists such critical inquiry, whether via appeal to authority or other form of obfuscation, should be regarded as suspect. Marxists ought to have no ‘articles of faith’ on any topic, least of all the physical sciences. It is the material world that determines our ideology, never the other way round!

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