Limitations of Science

[The below consists of a comment by the writer on The Volokh Conspiracy blog on a posting about today’s “March for Science”.]

While I have no essential difficulty with the concept of “evidence-based policy” — ignoring for the moment the intractable problem of capacity limits on apprehension of evidence, the accurate measurement thereof, and the interpretation of this data — it seems to me the real questions consist of:

One, what policies ought to be addressed, and,

Two, if it is decided that a particular policy ought to be addressed, how is it to be implemented; a subsidiary question to the latter is who is to implement it.

A wide swath of issues and problems are a constant feature of existence. However, does this mean that a uniform policy ought to be formulated to address any specific one? Ought not some be deferred or avoided simply because they are beyond the capacity of mortal minds, or as they involve such conflicting values or considerations that any policy is unfeasible?

Even if there is sufficient concord that a specific problem ought to be addressed by a particular community, there remains the question of which facet of the community ought to address it. Climate Change might be a good example. While I fully concur that excessive human activity necessarily has a deleterious effect, might not the best solution be individual, rather than concerted, behavior to restrict one’s unnecessary activities? A perception that the existence of a problem automatically necessitates the formulation of a policy to solve it is the threshold for oppressive centripetal interference in all areas of life.

Finally, there always remains the issue of the hubris of certain science advocates. It appears to me that many may be excellent technicians but are unaware of the very nature of science, perceiving it as some vehicle for identifying Reality or even Truth. (While announced in a different context, with a different meaning and for a different purpose, Pilates’ famous question of “What is Truth?” is a thought of continuing relevance.) Even Reality is a chimera subject to constant metamorphosis.

It seems that many of these proponents have forgotten that the scientific process is to constantly search for and identify new data and to formulate an hypothesis that comprehensively and accurately explains this data. It is a process, and for a purpose, that is much more humble and modest than to Discover Reality — unless one adopts a definition of Reality that is itself modest.

WAYNE A. SMITH
Forester Twp, Michigan USA
22 April 2017

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.