Postmodernism: "The Ultimate Sour Grapes of Science Deniers"

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"Postmodernism, as it applies to science, is the philosophical position that science is nothing more than a cultural narrative and therefore has no special or privileged relationship with the truth."

So explains Dr. Steven Novella in his 2018 bestselling book, The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. A Yale neurologist and President of the New England Skeptical Society, Novella is ever watchful of all things anti-science, and the rise of postmodernism – viewing science as simply "socially constructed" – is a disconcerting trend that has caught his attention.

A discipline where it's uniquely dangerous is medicine. Postmodernism has been used to argue that "Western," evidence-based medicine is a product of colonialism, which wrongly relegates other forms of "medicine" like homeopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, and religious-based healing systems to obscurity.

But the truth, gleaned from scientific research, is that those "alternative" systems simply don't work. Treating them as equal to evidence-based medicine gets people killed.

"Science is a method, and ideas have to work in order to survive," Novella writes. "The notion that science is socially constructed is a convenient way to dismiss the findings of science that you don't like for ideological or any other reasons. Post-modernism, in practice, is the ultimate sour grapes of science deniers – 'Well, all science is socially constructed anyway.' Add in a little talk about fascism and oppression and you can make it all seem socially conscious."

With that said, there is plenty of room to critique biased abuses of the scientific method. Humans are inherently flawed individuals. Even scientists aren't immune to boneheaded beliefs which can infect their work.

"It is true that science is a human, and therefore cultural, endeavor," Novella adds "In this respect there is a kernel of truth to some of the more reasonable postmodernist claims. The institutions of science may be biased by prevailing cultural assumptions and norms. For example, racism was in the past justified by racially biased science."

But the nature of science means that those ideas, over time, are rooted out. What's right moves forward and what's wrong goes to the wayside.

"Because the process of science is inherently self-critical and the methods of science are all about testing ideas against objective reality, cultural bias is eventually beaten out of scientific ideas," Novella writes.

Postmodernists who refuse to see this are just as blind as the supposedly 'colonial' science they disavow.



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