June 1, 2007

Science in Practice

In practice, science is an institutional and social process, and consists largely of choosing strategies for the advancement of scientific careers. Academics are faced with the choice of two strategies:

low risk/low return
The safe strategy with a minor payoff involves presenting yourself as an adherent to the received view, contributing only refinements of technical detail. You may wish to exaggerate the similarities between your own view and that of the major players in your field in order to throw their mantle around your own shoulders.

high risk/high return
Present yourself as a radical revolutionary: a very dangerous strategy that promises great rewards. Exaggerate the differences with the received view to emphasize how original your contributions are.

The politically correct will shrewdly choose to combine both strategies. For example, they will simultaneously support Darwinism and radically criticise it. They claim that Darwin was right in the sense that creationists are wrong, yet Darwin was wrong in the sense that they don't allow for any significant human evolution. Stephen Jay Gould is perhaps the worst offender of all, and has done a great amount of damage to the educated public's understanding of evolution. Steve Jones is also guilty, allowing for evolution only to the extent that it doesn't contradict his political views. They seek great rewards with little risk; the only victim, of course, is science.

Posted by Martin Sewell at June 1, 2007 12:33 PM