I thank Paul Prescod for his comment to my last post and for providing me with links to discussions about scientists believing that their theories can also be facts, especially as they relate to evolution. They are here and here.
Having read these discussions I am even more disappointed in scientists. Yes folks, we can do better than this. Talk about having your cake and eating it too. I know that during the years of the 80s and 90s the debates were brutal. And semantic games had to be played. And, intellectual slippage can occur. And yet, I am also reminded of the old jokes about “if your data doesn’t support your theory then adjust the data” or “if the data suggests something else then adjust the theory to it.”
I am particularly bothered by the statement “…the theory of evolution can also be called a fact, referring to this theory's well-established nature. Thus, evolution is widely considered both a theory and a fact by scientists” (from the second reference).
So, basically skip all the above jokes and say that Theory is Fact. This is a cop out and very disingenuous.
Let’s ask ourselves: is there any possibility that some day we wake to the screams of agony and ecstasy from biologists because they were wrong about evolution--because some other theory trumped it?
Yes, it is very possible. It can happen to you. And smart people write books called Jurassic Park about it.
Imagine yourself to be a Dismal Scientist waking up to the screams of Alan Greenspan having to admit that a part of his Monetarism theory was wrong. That was big news and most economists understood he meant the whole theory was wrong. (With the Maestro you always had to read between the lines).
And now that the Monetarists have led us into the Greatest Economic Crisis of our life time the so called solution is Keynesianism, the other American economic theory that is thought to be “factual.” Yes folks, economists believe their theories are Facts too. Actually, they also thought their theories were too elegant to be bothered by facts (see this for one interpretation). Honestly folks, I don’t want to watch this tragedy play out.
Scientists who believe their theories are facts are fucking scary. I don’t want anyone like that making policy decisions about the economy or environment.
This whole discussion reminds me of Daniel Bell’s book The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. His argument was simply that capitalism “harbors the seeds of its own downfall by creating a need among successful people for personal gratification—a need that corrodes the work ethic that led to their success in the first place.”
Saying that Theory is Fact is a corrosion of the scientific work ethic. Are we now seeing the internal contradictions of science?
To conclude: I don’t care what Anthropologist’s do to solve their current dilemma. I do care if the broad diverse American public can trust scientists. With our economy dying, and after the circus of global warming, I am not certain I can trust scientists.
Anthropologists: seek Trust not Truth in making your decision.