Western Science: The Atheists's Religion
I am not asking what any one individual’s motivation may be for science; I’m asking us all to really ponder the genuine reason for why, exactly, our culture en-masse pursues science at all. This is a vitally important question to ask ourselves, because the answer to this question reveals the true, unaltered reason for why we value education itself.
Thus, a better question is why does our culture value traditional education? Why do people learn stuff?
Well, generally speaking, education is pursued in order to gain social standing in the workplace. Few and far between are the students taking classes at a college or university just for the fun of it. Culturally speaking, education is a means to an end. Education brings with it receipts of qualifications; qualifications that are used to strengthen our ability to look more attractive to the job market.
Let’s make some more generalizations; since we are talking about American culture, and therefore hundreds of millions of people cooperating to maintain a particular way of life, generalizations are quite called for. Ideally, a young person in America identifies something that they are interested in pursuing as a career early on, is blessed with a strong familial support structure that rears them with confidence and drive, receives excellent marks in the American Indoctrination Program granting them scholarships and financial aid, and is able to fund their way through their secondary (actual) education without issue or accruing burdensome amounts of debt. Looking around, it quickly becomes apparent that the ideal is not the norm.
However, ignoring the observation that most people’s lives do not follow this ideal progression of events, let’s tease apart a subtle implication of just such an ideal. One can gain a wealth of insight into the psyche of a people by assessing what they tend to think the “best case scenario" is. Firstly, I didn’t say that ideally, a young person in America identifies something that they are interested in pursuing early on. That's not what I said. I said that a young person in America identifies something that they are interested in pursuing as a career earlier on. There is a crucially important difference between these two statements, because it doesn’t matter if a young American has identified something that they are interested in pursuing; it is only a viable option if it’s something that can someday become a means of providing for themselves, and optimally for a family as well.
I ask our secondary questions again: Why does our culture value traditional education? Why do people learn stuff?
Americans seek out education because education makes them a better commodity. Having B.A., M.S., or PhD at the end of our name let’s us pimp ourselves out for higher-paying labor, thus securing a more comfortable lifestyle. Hell, every American "action figure" even comes with its own 9-digit serial number for Christ’s sake. We’re living, breathing, marketable products. Why am I currently studying biology and social medicine? Well, because I’m interested in biology and anthropology of course, but it’s also because I will earn one of those qualifiers at the end of my name. With that qualifier, I can bolster the advertising flier about myself that I send to prospective employers. Though I happen to be one of those that thoroughly gets to enjoy my education since what I’m passionate about pursuing is conveniently also a viable career field, I am not learning these things solely to learn; it is still a means to an end.
As a culture, we tend to value education only insofar as it’s an investment that can generate future monetary wealth, not for the sake of the pursuit of knowledge itself. Knowledge and education tend to come with hefty price tags in America; few other countries have as much financial restriction to education as America does. If a person is going to spend the tens-or-hundreds of thousands of dollars on an education, that person is generally going to make sure this investment pays them back in the long run with a lucrative job. As scientific progression represents the gestalt educational progress of a culture of people, we can again turn our attention back to our initial question: What is our culture’s motivation for scientific progression?
In the same way that a young American must find a way to make money with what they are educating themselves in, scientific progression in America is almost entirely market-driven. In the same way that I have a monetary-based ulterior motive behind my studies at the U of R, the scientific community as a whole is structured around the ulterior motive of one day using what is being learned as a means for generating profit.
Once again, this is not to imply that there is not genuine science being done. Of course I’m not saying that; there is always people who will pursue a thing just for the sake of knowing a thing, however one must understand that the most enlightening scientific procedures are often the most costly. It takes millions of dollars to carry out the large-scale studies that need to be performed in order to assess the validity of certain theories about human health, for example. Every scientific experiment or study proposed needs to be given the proper monetary grants to conduct the requisite research, and depending on the results determined by these experiments and studies, there may or may not be a way to turn those results into something marketable. Thus, exactly like the individual student’s costly investment in higher education, the grants given to groups of researchers represent significant investments on the part of those who actually fund them. If the student cannot find a way to make their expensive education pay them back with interest, then that education was a poor investment. Likewise, if the investors providing a grant for a particular kind of research or study cannot see how that study will pay them back later with interest, then that study will most likely not be funded.
Thus, the vast majority of the scientific progress we have gained is entirely based upon a culture that is trying to market something, not just learn about it. If there was no monetary gain to be had from learning about that thing, then its’ investigation would remain outside of our desire to pursue. We have commoditized learning, we have commoditized education, and we have commoditized scientific progress. This is why I say that one must understand on a fundamental level that what our culture calls “science” is in fact an abomination of the term. We have not science. We have marketing.
The common scientifically-minded person I meet, not unlike a religious person with their religious text of choice, lives their life based on the assumption that what they find in peer-reviewed literature is somehow sacrosanct. This is extremely naive, and leaves that individual blind to a higher level of truth and understanding about the world around them. The peer-review system of scientific progression has been hijacked by the commoditization of the knowledge we’re trying to gain from the scientific process itself. This produces an entirely unavoidable bias in two distinct ways:
First, the way grants are invested into any one particular study is entirely based on how much money the investing party (usually a wealthy corporation) thinks can be made with the results. Why hasn’t there been a more genuine effort to investigate the progression of renewable, decentralized energy sources? Well, because the the funding for such studies generally comes from energy companies, and energy companies know that the decentralization of energy production away from oil, natural gas, and nuclear energy sources will cause a dramatic drop in profits. Thus, nobody really cares about genuinely following where the science is going, at least not on a mass scale. Rather than wholeheartedly investigating technologically superior forms of energy production, the abomination of commoditized American science clings to inferior forms like combustion because those sources can be maintained in a centralized fashion that ensures the profits are funneled back to the investing corporation. Why would a wealthy investor grant funds for the progression of technologies that stand to put him out of business? Why would a wealthy transnational drug company invest in the genuine long-term study of intravenous ultra-high-dose vitamin treatments for various diseases when there is no patentable, marketable product that such a study can provide that company to turn around sell to the public? Even worse, what if those intravenous vitamin treatments prove to be more effective than the drugs they’re already trying to sell at eliminating a particular aliment? That’s pretty much a worse-case scenario for them, and there’s usually active opposition to the publication of such data in the most prestigious of medical journals for this very reason.
Secondly, when a study is approved by a grant-writer, the way that study is performed is ever-so-subtly NOT based on the scientific method alone. In order to understand this, we must review the basis of what the scientific method actually is, and how it is to be carried out. A question is asked. Then, a possible answer to that question is proposed. Then the scientist does everything within his or her power to prove that answer to be wrong. By laboring to prove oneself wrong, rather than simply trying to prove oneself right, bias is eliminated from the equation. This is the beauty of the scientific method; it unbiasedly leads to more accurate conclusions. If the scientist can’t prove the possible answer wrong, it becomes plausible that it is the correct answer. More stringent methods are then used to attempt to prove the answer to be wrong. If after performing all the tests the scientist can think of to prove it wrong, it still remains right, then it becomes accepted that the proposed answer to the initial question is correct. This, however, is not the way many scientific investigations are actually run. On paper they of course it appears that they comply with this method. In person of course the scientists will claim they are following the scientific method. But since the knowledge being gleamed by the study has already been commoditized by the investors of the grant funding the study, there is always the overarching pressure on the scientist to arrive at the “correct” data. “Correct”, in this case, implying the kind of data that the investing firm can use to market a product. The scientific method demands for a biochemist to prove that a new experimental drug is unsafe and ineffective, and if that scientist can’t prove as much then it's accepted that the drug is safe and effective. The investing cooperation, however, demands that the scientist proves that the new experimental drug is safe and effective right from the get-go, because the whole reason they gave the scientist the cash to perform the study in the first place was with the assumption that the study will further the progression of that drug to market. A drug company doesn’t want its drugs to be proven unsafe or ineffective; that’s just bad for business and makes the whole study a gross waste of time and money.
The commoditization of knowledge leads to biased, shitty science. There’s no way around it. The nature of what is investigated is biased towards the betterment of the wealthy corporation that picks and chooses what to fund in the first place, and the process of the scientific method itself is defiled by the subtle switch from trying to disprove a hypothesis to trying to prove a hypothesis. This is not science. This is a cherry-picked investigatory process that is inherently motivated to truncate or misrepresent reality in order to more efficiently sell a product to people who can’t tell the difference.
When you open up the Brittish Medical Journal, or the American Journal of Pediatrics, or any such highly-respected scientific publication, you are not looking at science in its purest form. You are looking at a marketing catalogue that is aimed at an audience of people with fancy vocabularies. If at any point in the reading of a scientific paper one stumbles across a “TM”, a patent number, or a “C” with a circle around it, it must be understood that the information presented is in some way motivated to be a fabrication of reality; there is always the overarching motivation to arrive at the “correct” data to support a conclusion. Honest scientists learn very early on in their careers that being too prude to the practice of bending the truth is a great way get one’s grant, and therefore all their personal income as a result, dropped, or otherwise not re-signed at the end of the contract. Business wants the “right” answers to be gained from a study, not necessarily the honest ones.
Our culture has created a new form of religion, spelled “s-c-i-e-n-c-e”, and that religion is entirely premised upon the worship of our culture’s own false god, spelled “m-o-n-e-y”. With American science, we seek to prove ourselves right, under financially-fuelled bias, rather than seeking to prove ourselves wrong as the scientific method actually demands. We hold blinders to the sides of our scientific vision to ignore the amazing alternative possibilities out there to what we are currently doing, and cover our ears like a child throwing a tantrum when information is spoken that challenges our ability to profit from our fellow citizens. So long as the basis of our motivation for scientific progress is molested by the motivation to gain arbitrary monopoly dollars from that progress, American science will remain a sad abomination of what science is supposed to be.
So, one last time: Why does our culture value science? Why does our culture value education?
Maybe we should be asking: Does our culture truly value science and education at all, or are we just going through the motions, like a ritual of worship to our monetary god? All hail the almighty dollar.
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Nailed it, nailed it, nailed it. For a culture that fucking loves science, we sure are bad at it.ReplyDelete
This is why I say that one must understand on a fundamental level that what our culture calls “science” is in fact an abomination of the term. We have not science. We have marketing.
You may also enjoy Dr. Briggs' posts on scientific fallacies and over-certainty in statistical thinking.
We see some faults in the teachings of religion as some of the people interpreted them in their own ways. Some took it to their advantage and started creating conflicts for their selfish motives. guarantorReplyDelete
Breathtakingly beautiful use of words.ReplyDelete