Two Sides, One Mouth

Jerry Coyne approvingly quoted a letter someone sent to NPR:

This is a message for Steve Innskeep: This morning, when interviewing the scholar on the Armenian genocide by the Turks during WWI, you used the adjective “scientific” to describe the plan for murdering the Armenians.

This is the wrong adjective.

There were no scientists involved in this decision. There were no experiments, data, or results. These decisions were made by generals and politicians. This plan was managed, not scientific. It was calculated, not scientific.

But a couple of years ago, we learned that being scientific had nothing to do with scientists doing experiments, generating data and results:

In fact, I construe “science” broadly: as the use of reason, empirical observation, doubt, and testing as a way of acquiring knowledge. Those methods can indeed apply to history and some of the humanities. But Kitcher’s own conception of science seems to be “the brand of inquiry practiced by natural scientists”: physicists, biologists, chemists, and so on. And so he construes “scientism” as scientists’ attacks on fields like anthropology and history. I think Kitcher’s criticism is misguided because his conception of what is “scientific” is too narrow.
[….]
In the end, then, many of Kitcher’s arguments against “scientism” seem misguided—unless you conceive “science” narrowly as “what self-described scientists do.” But science is more than a profession; it’s a method—a method of inquiry that arose from the Enlightenment. In that sense, plumbers and car mechanics practice science when they diagnose problems.

Hate to rain on the Gnu party, but if car mechanics and plumbers are being scientific when practicing their craft, politicians and generals are likewise being scientific when planning and implementing genocide.

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8 Responses to Two Sides, One Mouth

  1. Crude says:

    I called out something similar a while ago.

    Try telling Gnus that science! and scientists! are hard at work trying to give Iran the bomb. The last time I brought this up, they punted completely and argued that it had nothing to do with science – it was just engineering, which is completely different. Unless, of course, it involves technology they like, at which point it’s science! and scientists! again.

  2. Dhay says:

    I rather think that for Jerry Coyne (and Sam Harris, too), science and religion are binaries: for them, science is anything and everything that is (in their opinion) incompatible with religion. It’s that implicit binary definition that allows them to assume they can magic car mechanics and plumbers — mere technicians — into white-coated intellectually fulfilled knowledge-boundary-pushing full scientists.

    It’s the flip side of Raphael Lataster’s recent idiosyncratic “superscientific” definition of religion, definition by binary contrast with science: Lataster would have us reckon religion as anything and everything incompatible with science.

    If I read Harris’ blogs correctly — specifically his apparent bewilderment that if it hasn’t rained for months, it ain’t going to be rainwater pouring through his ceiling — Harris doesn’t have the scientific nous to aspire to technician level.

  3. Dhay says:

    Gosh, let them define the terms and territory too long, you start thinking in their terms — which I just slipped into doing. Let’s put that last as it should be: —

    I rather think that for Jerry Coyne (and Sam Harris, too), science and religion are binaries: for them, science is anything and everything that isn’t religion. It’s that implicit binary definition that allows them to assume they can magic car mechanics and plumbers — mere technicians — into white-coated intellectually fulfilled knowledge-boundary-pushing full scientists.

    It’s the flip side of Raphael Lataster’s recent idiosyncratic “superscientific” definition of religion, definition by binary contrast with science: Lataster would have us reckon religion as anything and everything that isn’t science.

  4. Dhay says:

    Jerry Coyne > … science is more than a profession; it’s a method—a method of inquiry that arose from the Enlightenment. In that sense, plumbers and car mechanics practice science when they diagnose problems.

    Any truth in the rumour that Coyne has a blog post in the pipeline which will trumpet a survey showing that 85% of top US plumbers and car mechanics are atheists?

  5. UpstateIslandersFan says:

    Heaven forbid someone blaspheme the name of science. Time for Jerry to have them stoned.

  6. Kyle says:

    I paraphrased and posted this same message at Coyne’s blog. My tone was critical but completely civil. For some reason, my comment has been “awaiting moderation” for almost two days.

  7. Kyle says:

    Scratch that….he just approved it, surprisingly. He also followed up with a response, but I haven’t yet read it.

  8. Michael says:

    Here it is:

    Be honest: you’re not confused, but are trying to point out some errors or contradictions in my views. But I hate to rain on your parade, for you’re wrong. Plumbers and mechanics are trying to find out what’s true in the universe (i.e. where is that pesky leak?), while generals and political theorists are plotting to change policy or kill people. Yes, they may use scientific data in that endeavor, but that endeavor is not science–any more than is plotting to drop a water balloon on somebody.

    That’s a swing and a miss….with confidence.

    A plumber tries to “find out what’s true in the universe” only as part of an objective. The plumber wants to know where the pesky leak is in order to fix the pesky leak. And he wants to fix the pesky leak because he wants to get paid. The objective of the plumber is to get paid for solving the problem.

    The government officials of the Ottoman Empire also were trying to solve a problem:

    the Ottoman plan was to reduce the demographic profile of the Armenians so that they would not exceed 5 to 10 percent in any given province. It wasn’t an abet to try and eliminate the Armenians in their entirety, but it was to make sure that the Armenians would never constitute a critical mass to seek separation for the Ottoman Empire as an independent Armenian state.

    To solve this problem, like the plumber, the generals and political theorists had to find out what’s true in the universe – who is an Armenian? where are the Armenians? how can we reduce the demographic profile of the Armenians so that they would not exceed 5 to 10 percent in any given province?

    BTW, the Armenian genocide was clearly an effort at population control. Are we to believe that while plumbing is science, population control is not science?
    Like I said, “Hate to rain on the Gnu party, but if car mechanics and plumbers are being scientific when practicing their craft, politicians and generals are likewise being scientific when planning and implementing genocide.”

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