-The English Culture Club article of the month

The scientific method vs everyone

The Internet allows anyone to express opinion on any subject, even when not qualified to do so

I’m sure that during the first 20 years of the car’s history, only a few people were good drivers by today’s standards. I hope the same is true of our use of the Internet in years to come, because we now seem very bad at it. Nowadays, everyone’s a critic and everyone’s criticisms are taken online and shared with the world. That has never happened before. Here’s a survival tip I’ve learned. Rule number one of navigating the rising maelstrom in the toilet bowl of the Internet: Don’t read the comments!

Practically speaking, everyone’s voice is now able to occupy the same space in the same arena and this is a problem. No, I’m not suggesting opinions be regulated. I’m saying that at some point opinions having an equal platform and equal validity, both blended into a dangerous and volatile mixture. That mixture currently seems too homogeneous to separate. This is the part I find strange, because when think about it logically, it is clear these two concepts should be immiscible. For example, if you acknowledge there are experts in physics, then somebody who isn’t an expert in say, fluid mechanics, is likely to have incorrect assumptions about fluid mechanics or may not even understand them! There’s a reason rocket science isn’t “rocket opinion”! Yet, somehow society wasn’t looking when opinions and facts collided, and left a sociocultural disaster.

Questioning everything

Everyone’s voice being valued and everyone’s voice having the same value seem identical but they are very different. When all individual voices are valued, this is conceptual. We deem individuality beneficial, enriching, and generally important for the diversity of a society. It is more about acknowledging everyone is entitled to their opinion on matters without a negative effect on policies, government decision-making, and ultimately other people’s lives. In a word: pluralism. Yet, all individual voices having the same value cannot be the case in every sphere. From science to languages, mathematics to religion, there are people who are more or less qualified to make assertions about different fields. Yet, the uprising of the alt-right, post-truth movement in Europe and the US, has appropriated the scientific method’s notion of questioning everything, and applied it to ideas ranging from the preposterous to the frightening.

This has permeated social, political, ethical, economic, and cultural issues, and filtered through in the form of racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia, and general bigotry. The internet has given the same validity to these in providing online communities for them, and callously cherry-picked scientific scepticism and pushed it beyond reason. It’s application to non-science to validate ideas that support structural systems of oppression and ultimately justify morally reprehensible behaviour. These are not founded in facts, but science is; this is worrisome as it equates the two.

Muddling fact and opinion discredits hardworking scientists without the time to argue with conspiracy theorists. They are busy doing real science! Simultaneously, the public has grown weary of Carl Sagan-worshipping, pop-science superstars who promote the importance of the scientific method. However, they fail to acknowledge the fact that some people use it to justify hatred, intolerance, and skewed cultural biases. The arduousness of the scientific method applies to things that can be empirically tested, not your racist friend’s/family member’s anecdotal “proof”.

I am not calling “value” into question as much as validity. There is no longer a discernable difference between valuing others’ thoughts and validating them. Take people who believe the Earth is flat (I’m not kidding. Look it up). Where do we draw the line if they threaten what we teach younger generations? And this presumes we can separate the concept of discrediting someone without silencing them. It’s not just jeopardising how we engage in important social debate, it threatens our world in a very concrete way through Trump’s disregard for climate change. Tackling this isn’t brain surgery, but if it were, I’d trust the brain surgeons.

Sign in. Sign in if you are already a verified reader. I want to become verified reader. To leave comments on the website you must be a verified reader.
Note: To leave comments on the website you must be a verified reader and accept the conditions of use.