Problems with modern scientists

Science as researched and practiced today is profoundly broken.

The problem is not inherent to the field, but to practitioners who have adopted certain approaches and reinforced them, both by rewarding colleagues who take the same approach and by discouraging non-conformists to join the field. I'm smart and serious, yet I don't feel welcome in the scientific community. I expect better.

 

They attempt to solve metaphysical problems, something for which the discipline is not suited

Reason (or science / rationality) and intuition (or faith / religion) have their respective places. They answer different questions. They complement one another but neither replaces the other. What we have seen in the past several decades, with the rise of atheism and the continuous discrediting of traditional religions, is an obsession with science as the answer to all the important questions in life. This is misguided. Science by definition measures causes and effects - the what. It does not not explain why anything happens.

The incredible arrogance of scientists to presume they understand the grand meaning of it all would be laughable were it not so dangerous. We are quickly losing the hallmarks of our intuitive brilliance (think cathedrals, poetry, novels). They are being replaced by uninspired and drab nonfiction. Think of how many people try to quantify great works of art. They use machines to create poetry. They write self-help books based not on introspection but on humorless self-measurement. There is no soul. And there are no solutions.

It's partially a product of our colorless industrial-capitalist society. We produce things, and everything is commoditized. It's all measurable, and everything (they say) has a price. This leaves no role for the things that make us human: our great works and our great ideas.

 

THEY FAIL TO RECOGNIZE THE INHERENT SUBJECTIVITY OF MOST PHENOMENA

Science is as biased as any other field. Unfortunately, the appearance of objectivity makes it appear that scientific conclusions are somehow separate from the vagaries and faults of human behavior.

There is no such thing as literal objectivity. Every approach (for example, a particular research method) has its downfalls and deserves careful consideration. Polling, a social science that some try to make into a hard science, is inherently subjective. The method one chooses dictates the results. The phrasing of questions determines how people respond. People can and do use the results to make certain points and influence certain behaviors. In the case of polling, no amount of wordsmithing can make a poll perfectly subjective. Thus it is the responsibility of researchers and the public to understand the biases inherent in the research method, either correcting for them or discounting information that may not be perfectly reliable.

The hard sciences are subject to bias as well. The mere fact that a scientist chooses to engage in a particular course of study indicates a bias. Either the person is personally interested in that (because of hobbies and passions, or because there is a monetary interest involved) or the person is compelled to participate (because of employment or funding). In any case, the subject of research influences results. It means that that particular area receives more study, and that in turn other areas receive less (i.e. they are neglected). As humans we have an unavoidable tendency to seek confirmation of our existing beliefs, so when studying something we are personally interested in, we will subconsciously design research methods that further our intended outcomes. Even if the research itself is conducted rigorously (for example, by a double blind method or using equipment that avoids human error), the fundamental structure of the research biases the results.

Many scientists are scrupulous about their work and seek to avoid bias. However, they can never do so completely. Research conducted with ulterior motives (for instance, by giant corporations or by political organizations) is more obviously biased, but research by seemingly neutral third parties can be even more damaging because it gives the appearance of objectivity (building trust among the public) when in fact it does not exist.

 

There is a sharp and increasing divide between hard and pop sciences

It has always been the case that serious science, as reported in journals like Nature, had limited reach. Any organization that attempts to communicate findings will make mistakes (for example, local news reports often grossly overinterpret findings, or misinterpret them entirely). This was tolerable insofar as the public understood these organizations were not experts on science.

The problem we have today is that pop scientists masquerade as legitimate (i.e. accurate and objective) purveyors of scientific information, when in fact such individuals are poorly qualified. They do more harm than good, because they deliver incorrect or misleading information while giving the appearance of expertise. Bill Nye, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, "Doctor Oz," and Sanjay Gupta come particularly to mind, with their wildly inaccurate analogies and oversimplifications that distort underlying facts. They are popular not because they deliver valuable information, but because they give the appearance of doing so. People will drive a luxury car for because they want to be seen (not because of any superior engineering), so too will many people watch pseudoscientific shows so as to reassure them of their knowledge; conducting serious investigation would be too hard and wouldn't reap the same psychological and social benefits. Equally as problematic, many pop scientists seek power (i.e. fame, money, influence). They want to be celebrities — not conduct valuable research

Even where this is not the case, and pop scientists and watchers in fact have good intentions, they are delusional in their methods.

The rise of pop science (through publications such as Scientific American and Psychology Today, as well) marginalized hard science to the domain of professionals and obscure publications. It limits the reach of meaningful discoveries. Ostensibly trying to spread valuable knowledge, they are only inflating their own egos.

Hard scientists (the ones who conduct research out of public sight) also share responsibility. Most have not worked hard enough to propagate their message beyond the halls of academia. They see that as the responsibility of others, or don't see themselves as capable of such dissemination. They don't strive for decision makers (such as voters, consumers, and government officials) to understand the findings and act upon them. Their research may be less valuable (i.e. have less of an impact) as a result.

They also write in a dry, pedantic, uninspiring style that makes the work less accessible (limiting its reach) and intelligible (limiting comprehension). The problem is that scientific journals, the biggest granter of legitimacy, require this style and punish creativity. Good writing is both accurate and sensible. One can communicate the same ideas using beautiful or lifeless language. One can clearly and precisely explain a concept using sensible grammar or contrived constructions. One can write for all or shirk the responsibility and write for a few thousand.

Ultimately, there should be less of a stark division between the hard scientists who prize accuracy and the pop scientists who prize reach. Everyone involved in scientific endeavors should prioritize both.

A reasonable proposal: dedicate 10% of one's time to propagating findings within the scientific community, and another 10% to propagating findings to non-experts with influence over decisions. This is a reasonable expenditure that will not impede research, and the feedback from non-experts will help produce more actionable research moving forward.

 

They see complex socio-historical phenomena in falsely rational terms, thus furthering traditional power structures

Issues like institutional racism are far too complex to be seen from a reductionistic rationalist approach. Theoretically (or more precisely, ideally), one can view problems like income inequality as simple functions of the laws of nature. This Darwinian approach assumes that nature's way of picking winners and losers is fundamentally fair, and thus undeserving of challenge. It ignores the fact that humans created these institutions (capitalism, in particular, is not a fact of life but a human construct) and thus have the capacity to abolish or modify them. By enshrining (or worse, ignoring) social problems, they maintain and advance the power structures (particularly patriarchy and white privilege) that dominate our current society. In this regard they are not the pioneers they claim to be, but instead reactionaries.

Many educators and practitioners of the social sciences are to blame here. The tendency has been to convert social sciences into hard sciences, robbing them of depth and thus their capacity to advance social justice. Social scientists are ceding their leadership role.

Social constructs relating to our humanity (whether that be race, gender, economy, etc.) are messy, and approaching them from the perspective of a traditional science misses depth and gravely sacrifices accuracy.

Changing this mindset requires an honest recognition that our society (and, perhaps, fundamental human nature) is neither fair nor inherently virtuous. We have and continue to do terrible things. Yet we have the capacity to atone, and to learn. To do so we must be willing to challenge rather than revere the traditional pillars of our society. Science dethroned religion as the primary way for many people to understand their world; we can argue the virtues of this transition. In this case, scientific inquiry can help topple the institutions that unfairly manipulate and enslave humans, resulting in unambiguous benefits.

 

They dismiss non-traditional, and especially non-Western, approaches too quickly

Read the Wikipedia articles on acupuncture, for instance. They contain extensive and unconditional language on the clinical invalidity of such treatments, without addressing their

This speaks to a general hostility toward any approach to medicine that doesn't rely on traditional cause and effect relationships. People find results from these treatments, and whether they are placebos or not is entirely irrelevant. This is borne of a physicalist obsession that discounts anything not explained simply using physical phenomena. Humans are not simple systems that respond uniformly or precisely to treatments, so studying us as such misses the value of alternative treatments. Rather than seek to discredit them, they should investigate the psychological impact that the treatments can provide.

There's also a general dismissiveness toward any approach not sourced from the Enlightenment. It's a form of cultural imperialism.