Article Originally Posted at American Thinker, May 2, 2010
Like the "fatal error" message that pops up unexpectedly on a computer, the phrase itself is menacing: "post-normal science." I ran across the phrase as I was reading Climate Change and the Death of Science. The author's explanation did nothing to allay my anxiety.
Once there was modern science, which was hard work; now we have postmodern science, where the quest for real, absolute truth is outdated, and "science" is a wax nose that can be twisted in any direction to underpin the latest lying narrative in the pursuit of power. Except they didn't call it ‘postmodern' science because then we might smell a rat. They called it PNS (post-normal science) and hoped we wouldn't notice.
This death sentence for science left me with the same enervating feeling I get at the precise moment I realize my hard drive is crashing. How could science, too, fall into the grasp of postmodernism's insanity? The author continues:
What has become of science? We thought that science was about the pursuit of truth. Then we became perplexed at how quickly scientists have prostituted themselves in the service of political agendas ... scientists refusing to share their data, fiddling their results, and resorting to ad hominem attacks on those who have exposed their work to be fraudulent.
Science has succumbed to the same virus that beset literature, art, economics, and the rest of the social sciences: postmodernism. Postmodernism is a progressive virus that negates reason, objectivity, and truth -- replacing them with relativism, subjectivism, and pragmatism. Having colonized every other branch of academics decades ago, postmodernism has now come for science.
There is no universally agreed-upon definition of "postmodernism." Like the philosophy itself, it means whatever the person who espouses the position wants it to mean. Three general tenets are acknowledged: Objective truth is unknowable, objectivity is fallacy, and modernity is a failure. By the last they mean that the Renaissance, Enlightenment, and the Industrial Age are all malevolent failures of reason and objectivity, as they failed to solve the world's existing problems and created new ones. Stephen Hicks, Ph.D. explains in his book Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault:
Postmodernism rejects the Enlightenment project in the most fundamental way possible... [it] rejects the reason and the individualism ... And so it ends up attacking all of the consequences of the Enlightenment philosophy, from capitalism and liberal forms of government to science and technology.
Postmodernism developed into a political philosophy with Marxist/socialist roots. Its general tenets reflect a deep-seated disdain for the philosophical roots of Western thought, specifically repudiating individualism, an inherently American trait, as well as Western characteristics of objectivity, truth, reason, and logic -- all concepts fundamental to scientific method.
That's where post-normal science (PNS) comes in. According to the "inventors" of PNS, Silvio Funtowicz and Jerome Ravetz, it is supposedly a scientific method of inquiry appropriate for cases where "facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent." What they describe however is more accurately recognized as politics than science, which is precisely the point: In postmodernism, everything is politics. And the aberration from "normal" science to post-normal science is designed for the purpose of manipulating and controlling high-stakes political artifice like "man-made global warming." This is not about determining "truth," which the advocates of post-normal science don't believe in -- it is about the power and control of politics.
Ravetz, again, quoted in Climate Change and the Death of Science:
This is a drastic cultural change for science, which many scientists will find difficult to accept. But there is no turning back; we can understand post-normal science as the extension of democracy appropriate to the conditions of our age.
For us, quality is a replacement for truth in our methodology. We argue that this is quite enough for doing science, and that truth is a category with symbolic importance, which itself is historically and culturally conditioned. [Emphasis added.]
Really? Science as the extension of democracy? "Quality" as a replacement for "truth"? How exactly does that work? Which czar defines quality? Who determines what "truths" are replaced -- East Anglia University's miscreant peer-reviewers? Absent standards and objective truth, there is no science. There is simply narrative, which is better-suited to propaganda than truth. Is it any wonder that we bitter clingers who still cleave to objective truth feel like we've fallen down Alice's rabbit hole?
Where did this insane movement come from, and how has it managed to captivate the world? Postmodernism's historical roots are in nineteenth-century existentialism, skepticism, and Marxism. Postmodernism evolved into an anti-rational movement based largely on the sophistry of "modernism's failure" -- specifically, objectivity's failure to eradicate war, poverty, and famine. Postmodernism emerged in its current political form around the middle of the twentieth century, when it was embraced by the new left. By the 1950s it was obvious that Marxist-socialism -- declared by the new left to be vastly superior to capitalism -- was both morally and economically bankrupt. The economic collapse and subsequent starvation of millions in the USSR, along with other atrocities committed by the regime, created severe ideological dissonance amongst Marxist cheerleaders. Intellectual leftists from both sides of the Atlantic needed to distance themselves from such public failings.
They found their new home in postmodernism. As only intellectual elitists can do, instead of abandoning their failed beliefs, they abandoned the principles that proved their belief system wrong.
In this instance, they ignored the fact that Marx's economic philosophy was based on rational objectivity. Ironically, postmodernism's rejection of reason, logic, and objectivity provided that rationalization. Accepting the premise that facts and falsehoods are culturally or socially constructed allowed them to sidestep the issue. As Hicks noted, "Postmodernism gives you, in effect, a get-out-of-jail-free card against any rational attack on your system."
The amalgamation of the "old" postmodernist left, whose anti-modernist philosophy was based on sophistry, with the "new" socialist left, whose political philosophy was based on delusion, created a new political vanguard with a shared animosity for capitalism. Since both camps were heavily populated with elite intelligentsia, they were well-positioned to pursue their objectives through the education system. Subjectivity, relativity, and pragmatism became keystones of a new "education philosophy." As its belief system did not make any strenuous intellectual or moral demands, it readily attracted acolytes from a generation looking for neither.
Postmodernism's education cartel has dictated the terms and conditions of education for decades. They own the education departments in major universities, where the curriculum is likely to include the twelve-volume set Teaching for Social Justice edited by William Ayers. The portal between education departments and your child's classroom provides a conduit for an endless stream of postmodernism's collectivist garbage. Think not? How else to explain the likes of textbooks like Rethinking Math: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers? We should not be surprised that science has capitulated, too.
Running under cover of academic freedom and educational "philosophy," postmodernists have managed to do what other strains of totalitarianism only dreamed of: insinuate their beliefs into every aspect and level of education.
Not since the Middle Ages has the West needed to regain the sure footing of classical values so badly. The path we're on is headed in the opposite direction.