It cannot be denied that science has gifted us all (well those of us with wealth anyways) many new ways to affirm our rights in the face of metaphysical indifference to them. Through science we have cured an immense number of diseases previously thought to be incurable, managed to develop fast acting international methods for communication via the jet engine, and then demolished the standards set by the jet engine through the internet and digital communication. And the mainstream has come to recognize science (generally) for its contributions to the human project. In this recognition, scientific terminology and concepts have become appropriated by the mainstream in various ways. Laypeople now joke about dopamine insufficiencies to explain their frustrations. They talk about impartiality (the alleged backbone of the scientific method) with a renewed interest in relation to misinformation on the internet. While I have no interest in cultivating a sort of anti-scientific mindset, it might be worth considering if a haphazard adoption of scientific ideals amongst the mainstream contributes in someway to the epistemological issues of our time.
The other day I was too tired to cook dinner and decided to search online for ‘restaurants near me.’ In doing so I came across Bing’s user reviews for a number of different restaurants which the search engine billed as being “unbiased.” Why does Bing feel compelled to label their user reviews as such? Restaurant reviews are entirely biased, and it is precisely because of their bias they have any sort of merit as reviews. I want to hear about the precise experiences people had in these restaurants so I can compare their experiences with my own current attitudes towards food and beverages so that I may come to suspect whether or not a restaurant is worth my financial investment. I suspect that a crude and willed misappropriation of scientific language such as ‘unbiased’ by entities such as Bing helps to further misconceptions about what science, and what sorts of problems it seeks to address.
There is nothing scientific about a restaurant review, so why does Bing look to approximate their reviews to science? Obviously, it’s a cheap sales tactic, meant to help users be convinced that Bing reviews are somehow superior to their competitor’s because Bing’s are impartial, and thereby have some sort of scientific credibility. This essentially dumbs down what science is for the masses. Science, I think, to the layperson is whatever they have been told is science. The consequences of this have been in my current point of view disastrous.
It is undeniable that current epistemological issues in our culture have cost many lives in the ongoing pandemic. A few weeks ago, I was visiting my grandmother who brought up a discussion she had with my great-uncle. My great-uncle and his common-law wife have refused to get vaccinated. My grandmother alleges he has read up on the scientific literature and has made an informed decision to refuse vaccination. Even if my grandmother is correct in assuming that he has actually read any scientific literature such as journal articles (which I highly doubt is the case), there is no guarantee that my great-uncle can actually evaluate said literature meaningfully. In fact, I know he can’t. He doesn’t understand that science is a lengthy empirical process. It is incredibly rare that any one study has the final word in a given scientific issue. Usually, it is through a lengthy dialectical process wherein studies supplant each other that some semblance of meaningful scientific knowledge is generated.
We need to be wary of the layperson’s relation to science, especially in political issues with highly visible epistemological dimensions to them such as the pandemic, the climate crisis, and online misinformation. Sloganeering ‘trust the science’ only exacerbates a confusion towards science. We need to meaningfully contend with the arguments of those who deny rising temperatures and the safety of vaccines, not look down them from our shining suburb on a hill. Indeed, dismissing the concerns of those who doubt vaccines outright can only benefit the bourgeoisie, who profit tremendously from us well-to-do middle-class people preventing the disproportionately lower class and uneducated people most confused by the current epistemological crisis from having their views meaningfully challenged.
Of course, I have to ask if I am correct in assuming laypeople are generally as confused as to what science is as I state in this paper. I’m curious to see if anyone out there disagrees with my assessment, especially with my point towards the wealthy and educated condescending those who cannot materially afford to know what science is. How may or may not epistemological crises be a product of class-tensions?