Criticism of science

Criticism of science
Personification of "Science" in front of the Boston Public Library

Scientific criticisms are a body of analysis of scientific methodologies, philosophies, and possible negative roles media and politics play in scientific research. Criticism of science is distinct from the academic positions of Antiscience or Anti-Intellectualism which seek to reject entirely the scientific method. Rather, criticism is made to address and refine problems within the sciences in order to improve science as a whole, and its role in society.


Philosophical critiques

Historian Jacques Barzun termed science "a faith as fanatical as any in history" and warned against the use of scientific thought to suppress considerations of meaning as integral to human existence.[1]

"All methodologies, even the most obvious ones, have their limits."- Paul Feyerabend in 'Against Method'

Philosopher of science Paul K Feyerabend advanced the idea of epistemological anarchism, which holds that there are no useful and exception-free methodological rules governing the progress of science or the growth of knowledge, and that the idea that science can or should operate according to universal and fixed rules is unrealistic, pernicious and detrimental to science itself.[2] Feyerabend advocates a democratic society where science is treated as an equal to other ideologies or social institutions alongside others such as religion, and education, or magic and mythology, and considers the dominance of science in society authoritarian and unjustified.[2] He also contended (along with Imre Lakatos) that the demarcation problem of distinguishing science from pseudoscience on objective grounds is not possible and thus fatal to the notion of science running according to fixed, universal rules.[2]

Feyerabend also criticized science for not having evidence for its own philosophical precepts. Particularly the notion of Uniformity of Law and the Uniformity of Process across time and space, as noted by Steven Jay Gould.[3] "We have to realize that a unified theory of the physical world simply does not exist" says Feyerabend, "We have theories that work in restricted regions, we have purely formal attempts to condense them into a single formula, we have lots of unfounded claims (such as the claim that all of chemistry can be reduced to physics), phenomena that do not fit into the accepted framework are suppressed; in physics, which many scientists regard as the one really basic science, we have now at least three different points of view...without a promise of conceptual (and not only formal) unification".[4] In other words, science is begging the question when it presupposes that there is a universal truth with no proof thereof.

Professor of Sociology Stanley Aronowitz scrutinizes science for operating with the presumption that the only acceptable criticisms of science are those conducted within the methodological framework that science has set up for itself. That science insists that only those who have been inducted into its community, through means of training and credentials, are qualified to make these criticisms.[5] Aronowitz also alleges that while scientists consider it absurd that Fundamentalist Christianity uses biblical references to bolster their claim that the Bible is true, scientists pull the same tactic by using the tools of science to settle disputes concerning its own validity.[6]

Philosopher of Religion Alan Watts criticized science for operating under a materialist model of the world that he posited is simply a modified version of the Abrahamic worldview, that "the universe is constructed and maintained by a Lawmaker" (commonly identified as God or the Logos). Watts asserts that during the rise of secularism through the 18th to 20th century when scientific philosophers got rid of the notion of a lawmaker they kept the notion of law, and that the idea that the world is a material machine run by law is a presumption just as unscientific as religious doctrines that affirm it is a material machine made and run by a lawmaker.[7]


David Parkin compared the epistemological stance of science to that of divination.[8] He suggested that, to the degree that divination is an epistemologically specific means of gaining insight into a given question, science itself can be considered a form of divination that is framed from a Western view of the nature (and thus possible applications) of knowledge.

Polymath and Episkopos of Discordianism Robert Anton Wilson stresses that the instruments used in scientific investigation produce meaningful answers relevant only to the instrument, and that there is no objective vantage point from which science could verify its findings since all findings are relative to begin with.[9]

The field of ecophenomenology disregards science and technology on ontological grounds, and calls for an openness to the "essential elements of human experience with the world".[10] It wants "to enter... into the sensorial present",[11] and to "recover the moral sense of our humanity" by "recover[ing] first the moral sense of nature".[12] As an invocation to adopt "a kind of deliberate naivety through which it is possible to encounter a world unencumbered with presuppositions."[13] Ecophenomenologists argue that the current environmental crisis is equally physical and metaphysical, and that a fundamental re-conceptualization of human relationships with the natural earth is necessary to help undo the damage done by a culture that takes part in utilitarian exploitation of the natural world. Its because of this that ecophenomenologists attempt to probe beneath western understandings of philosophy, temporality, and teleology, as well as economic, social, and scientific evaluations of nature.


Several academics have offered critiques concerning ethics in science. In Science and Ethics, for example, the Professor of Philosophy, Bernard Rollin examines the relevance of ethics to science, and argues in favor of making education in ethics part and parcel of scientific training.[14]

Many recent thinkers, such as Carolyn Merchant, Theodor Adorno and E. F. Schumacher considered that the 17th century scientific revolution shifted science from a focus on understanding nature, or wisdom, to a focus on manipulating nature, i.e. power, and that science's emphasis on manipulating nature leads it inevitably to manipulate people, as well.[15] Science's focus on quantitative measures has led to critiques that it is unable to recognize important qualitative aspects of the world.[15]

Media perspectives

The mass media face a number of pressures that can prevent them from accurately depicting competing scientific claims in terms of their credibility within the scientific community as a whole. Determining how much weight to give different sides in a scientific debate requires considerable expertise regarding the matter.[16] Few journalists have real scientific knowledge, and even beat reporters who know a great deal about certain scientific issues may know little about other ones they are suddenly asked to cover.[17][18]


Many issues damage the relationship of science to the media and the use of science and scientific arguments by politicians. As a very broad generalisation, many politicians seek certainties and facts whilst scientists typically offer probabilities and caveats. However, politicians' ability to be heard in the mass media frequently distorts the scientific understanding by the public. Examples in Britain include the controversy over the MMR inoculation, and the 1988 forced resignation of a Government Minister, Edwina Currie for revealing the high probability that battery eggs were contaminated with Salmonella.[19]

Some scientists and philosophers suggest that scientific theories are more or less shaped by the dominant political, economic, or cultural models of the time, even though the scientific community may claim to be exempt from social influences and historical conditions.[20][21] For example, Zoologist Peter Kropotkin thought that the Darwinian theory of evolution overstressed a painful "we must struggle to survive" way of life, which he said was influenced by Capitalism and the struggling lifestyles people lived within it.[9][22] Karl Marx also thought that science was largely driven by and used as capital[23]

Robert Anton Wilson, Stanley Aronowitz, and Paul Feyerabend all thought that the military-industrial complex, large corporations, and the grants that came from them had an immense influence over the research and even results of Scientific experiments.[2][24][25][26] Aronowitz even went as far as to say "It does not matter that the scientific community ritualistically denies its alliance with economic/industrial and military power. The evidence is overwhelming that such is the case. Thus, every major power has a national science policy; the United States Military appropriates billions each year for "Basic" as well as "Applied" research".[27]

In his Industrial Society and Its Future, a.k.a., The Unabomber's Manifesto, Theodore Kaczynski, a primitivist, argues that science "marches on blindly, without regard to the real welfare of the human race or to any other standard, obedient only to the psychological needs of the scientists and of the government officials and corporation executives who provide the funds for research."[28]. He also argues that science is a surrogate activity, i.e., "an activity that is directed toward an artificial goal that people set up for themselves merely in order to have some goal to work toward, or let us say, merely for the sake of the “fulfillment” that they get from pursuing the goal."[29]


  • Stanley Aronowitz,(1988). Science As Power: Discourse and Ideology in Modern Society. University of Minnesota Press
  • Jacques Barzun, Science: The Glorious Entertainment, Harper and Row: 1964
  • Paul Feyerabend, (1987). Farewell To Reason. Verso. p. 100. ISBN 0860911845.
  • Paul Feyerabend, Against Method. London: Verso, (1993) ISBN 9780860916468
  • Paul Feyerabend, Science in a Free Society, Verso
  • Michele Marsonet, Science, Reality, and Language, New York: SUNY, 1995
  • Nicholas Rescher, The Limits of Science, Pittsburgh: the University of Pittsburgh Press; 2nd edition, 1999
  • Robert Anton Wilson, (1999). The New Inquisition. New Falcon Publications.


  1. ^ Jacques Barzun, Science: The Glorious Entertainment, Harper and Row: 1964. p. 15. (quote) and Chapters II and XII.
  2. ^ a b c d Feyerabend, Paul (1993). Against Method. London: Verso. ISBN 9780860916468. 
  3. ^ Gould, Stephen J (1987). Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle: Myth and Metaphor in the Discovery of Geological Time. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. pp. 120. ISBN 0674891988. 
  4. ^ Feyerabend, Paul (1987). Farewell To Reason. Verso. p. 100. ISBN 0860911845. 
  5. ^ Aronowitz, Stanley (1988). Science As Power: Discourse and Ideology in Modern Society. University of Minnesota Press. p. viii (preface). ISBN 0816616590. 
  6. ^ Stanley Aronowitz in conversation with Derrick Jensen in Jensen, Derrick (2004). Welcome to the Machine: Science, Surveillance, and the Culture of Control. Chelsea Green Publishing Company. p. 31. ISBN 1931498520. 
  7. ^ Alan Watts Audio lecture "Myth and Religion: Image of Man" and "Out Of Your Mind, 1: The Nature of Consciousness: 'Our image of the world' and 'The myth of the automatic universe'"
  8. ^ Parkin 1991 "Simultaneity and Sequencing in the Oracular Speech of Kenyan Diviners", p. 185.
  9. ^ a b Anton Wilson, Robert (1999). The New Inquisition. New Falcon Publications. p. 4. ISBN 1-56184-002-5. 
  10. ^ Stefanovic, 1994: 68
  11. ^ Abram, 1996: 272
  12. ^ Kohak, 1984: 13
  13. ^ ibid: 57
  14. ^ Rollin, Bernard E. (2006). Science and Ethics. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521857546. OCLC 238793190. 
  15. ^ a b Fritjof Capra, Uncommon Wisdom, ISBN 0-671-47322-0, p. 213
  16. ^ Dickson, David (October 11, 2004). "Science journalism must keep a critical edge". Science and Development Network. Retrieved 2008-02-20. 
  17. ^ Mooney, Chris (2007). "Blinded By Science, How 'Balanced' Coverage Lets the Scientific Fringe Hijack Reality". Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved 2008-02-20. 
  18. ^ McIlwaine, S.; Nguyen, D. A. (2005). "Are Journalism Students Equipped to Write About Science?". Australian Studies in Journalism 14: 41–60. Retrieved 2008-02-20. 
  19. ^ "1988: Egg industry fury over salmonella claim", "On This Day," BBC News, December 3, 1988.
  20. ^ Feyerabend, Paul (1983). Against Method. Verso. p. 66. ISBN 9780860916468. 
  21. ^ Aronowitz, Stanley (1988). Science As Power: Discourse and Ideology in Modern Society. University of Minnesota Press. pp. 272–273, 276. ISBN 0816616590. 
  22. ^ Kropotkin, Peter (1955). Mutual Aid. Porter Sargent. p. Preface to the 1914 edition. ISBN 140431945X. 
  23. ^ Aronowitz, Stanley (1988). Science As Power: Discourse and Ideology in Modern Society. University of Minnesota Press. p. 40. ISBN 0816616590. 
  24. ^ Wilson, Robert Anton: 1999, pg 92
  25. ^ Feyerabend, Paul (1987). Farewell To Reason. Verso. p. 102. ISBN 0860911845. 
  26. ^ Aronowitz, Stanley (1988). Science As Power: Discourse and Ideology in Modern Society. University of Minnesota Press. p. 20. ISBN 0816616590. 
  27. ^ Ibid
  28. ^ Kaczynski, Theodore (1995). Industrial Society and Its Future. ISBN 978-1595948151. 
  29. ^ Ibid

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