Against Scientific Gatekeeping

Science should be a profession, not a priesthood.

Most people prefer experts, of course, especially when it comes to health care. As a surgeon myself, I can hardly object to that tendency. But a problem arises when some of those experts exert outsized influence over the opinions of other experts and thereby establish an orthodoxy enforced by a priesthood. If anyone, expert or otherwise, questions the orthodoxy, they commit heresy. The result is groupthink, which undermines the scientific process.

‘An American Tradition’: Lessons from a year covering conspiracy theories

“Our brains are not built for the truth,” David Linden, a professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told me earlier this year. “Our brains weren’t even built to read. Our brains weren’t. Evolution is a very slow process. It takes many, many, many, many, many generations. And the change in technology and particularly in information is so rapid that there’s no way for evolution to keep up.”…

We choose who to believe, we choose who to trust, often before we realize we are doing it. It is no wonder our disinformation battles can feel so personal, especially within families.

Partisan Science in America

Scientists corrode public trust when they pretend to have authority on social and political matters.

Science operates by a process of criticism. Scientists don’t experience divine revelations, they propose hypotheses that they and others test. This rigorous process of testing gives science the persuasiveness that mere journalism lacks. If a scientific periodical expels editors or peer reviewers because they don’t accept some prevailing theory, that process has been short-circuited. Those who call for such expulsions have missed the whole point of how science works. They are the true deniers, far more dangerous to science than a religious fundamentalist who believes the world is 6,000 years old.

To doubt a scientist is not to doubt science. Quite the contrary, personal authority is precisely what science dispenses with, as much as possible…

The Value of Truth

At a time of anxiety about fake news and conspiracy theories, philosophy can contribute to our most urgent cultural and political questions about how we come to believe what we think we know.

Democracies are especially vulnerable to epistemic threats because in needing the deliberative participation of their citizens, they must place a special value on truth….Indeed, a striking feature of our current political landscape is that we disagree not just over values (which is healthy in a democracy), and not just over facts (which is inevitable), but over our very standards for determining what the facts are. Call this knowledge polarization, or polarization over who knows—which experts to trust, and what is rational and what isn’t.

The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth

Below are a few different resources from author Jonathan Rauch discussing concepts of truth, knowledge, misinformation and the roles of institutions in producing knowledge. His work covers a lot of important ground related to TOK.

When Americans think about how we find truth amid a world full of discordant viewpoints, we usually turn to a metaphor, that of the marketplace of ideas. It is a good metaphor as far as it goes, yet woefully incomplete. It conjures up an image of ideas being traded by individuals in a kind of flea market, or of disembodied ideas clashing and competing in some ethereal realm of their own. But ideas in the marketplace do not talk directly to each other, and for the most part neither do individuals. Rather, our conversations are mediated through institutions like journals and newspapers and social-media platforms.

Persuasion Podcast: Don’t Give Up on Truth



A good scrap: Disagreements can be unpleasant, even offensive, but they are vital to human reason. Without them we remain in the dark

This raises a tough question. The ability to reason is meant to be humanity’s supreme attribute, the characteristic that most sets us apart from other animals. Why, then, has evolution endowed us with a tool so faulty that, if you bought it from a shop, you’d send it back? The French evolutionary psychologists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber have offered an intriguing answer to this question. If our reasoning capacity is so bad at helping us as individuals figure out the truth, they say, that’s because truth­-seeking isn’t its function. Instead, human reason evolved because it helps us to argue more effectively.

Is the Schrödinger Equation True? Just because a mathematical formula works does not mean it reflects reality

How real are the equations with which we represent nature?

Physicists’ theories work. They predict the arc of planets and the flutter of electrons, and they have spawned smartphones, H-bombs and—well, what more do we need? But scientists, and especially physicists, aren’t just seeking practical advances. They’re after Truth. They want to believe that their theories are correct—exclusively correct—representations of nature. Physicists share this craving with religious folk, who need to believe that their path to salvation is the One True Path.

But can you call a theory true if no one understands it?

How “Indigenous Ways of Knowing” Works In Venezuela

The Bari belief in partible paternity may be functional, but it is not any closer to truth than the stork theory of conception. Some philosophers with pragmatist inclinations might believe that truths ought to be defined in terms of utility. By that standard, if a particular belief is useful for the Bari, then it is true. But, that is sloppy thinking. A statement is true if and only if it corresponds with facts.

The Bari belief is clearly false, and for that very reason, it cannot be called “knowledge.” This also applies to the wide array of beliefs that in North American academia, are beginning to be honored as “indigenous ways of knowing.” The word “knowledge” has a very specific philosophical definition…

The Price of Certainty

NYTimes Op-Doc exploring the psychological basis of our need for certainty and its pitfalls. Narrated by psychologist Arie Kruglanski who coined the term “cognitive closure.”

From 2016 but still offers meaningful insight into our current moment in politics.

“People who are anxious because of the uncertainty that surrounds them are going to be attracted to messages that offer them certainty. The need for closure is the need for certainty. To have clear-cut knowledge. You feel that you need to stop processing too much information, stop listening to a variety of information and zero in on what, to you, appears to be the truth. The need for closure is absolutely essential but it can also be extremely dangerous.”