“Science and Society” classes mislead students who haven’t learned about the complexity of the scientific method in high school or college, writes Phil Mole (great name!) in Skeptical Inquirer. He took a graduate class called “Behavioral Sciences and Public Health” that promised to help students “become sufficiently confused about the complexities of professional life.” And it did!
The course was not a balanced, critically informed discussion of the merits and limitations of science. It was a lopsided diatribe against the arrogance of science and its suppression of other, allegedly valid “ways of knowing.”
We read articles claiming the language, assumptions, and methodologies of science to be inherently sexist and imperialistic, and fundamentally opposed to the role of intuition and the expression of femininity. An article by Ruth Hubbard maintained that scientists construct fact claims in order to justify their own economic positions and prevent the social mobility of women and ethnic minorities (Hubbard 1990). We perused the writings of Sandra Harding and Luce Irigaray and read more testimony that science represents the ideologies of white males seeking to disenfranchise, deflower, and discredit femininity at every opportunity. These authors discussed “alternate epistemologies,” suppressed by chauvinist scientists, and considered conventional science inherently inauthentic.
Many graduate students take “science and society” classes without having taken core science classes in college, Mole writes. If they have taken science, they’ve been taught the end results but not the process of scientific inquiry.
Not surprisingly, students are most appreciative of those descriptions of science that best satisfy their own longings for justice and equality. After learning that science is much more contentious than their high- school and college courses led them to believe, these students crave emotional solace. They want the kind of certainty that only relativism can provide, in which indifference to the very idea of authority erases all real doubts. “Science and society” classes address this need and fill the intellectual void partially created by the incompleteness of the students’ earlier science courses. As a result, postmodernism erases the helpful doubt that stimulates real thinkers to rigorously challenge their own preconceived notions and pursue the difficult pleasure of objective truth.
I took very little science in high school and even less in college, but I did read Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in my Science for Non-Science Majors class, which I took to fulfill the math-science requirement. We actually learned about science in the class, not politics. But, then, I’m pre-postmodern.