Scientific Fundamentalism

In science, is it truth at all costs?

According to Satoshi Kanazawa, yes.

If the truth offends, it’s our job to offend
Even though some of my colleagues disagree with me, I maintain an extremely purist stance on science. I believe that the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake is the only legitimate goal in science (by which I mean basic science, as opposed to applied science like medicine and engineering), and the truth is its only arbiter. Nothing else should matter in science besides the objective, dispassionate, and single-minded pursuit of the truth, and scientists must pursue it no matter what the consequences.

From my purist position, everything scientists say, qua scientists, can only be true or false or somewhere in between. No other criteria besides the truth should matter or be applied in evaluating scientific theories or conclusions. They cannot be “racist” or “sexist” or “reactionary” or “offensive” or any other adjective. Even if they are labeled as such, it doesn’t matter. Calling scientific theories “offensive” is like calling them “obese”; it just doesn’t make sense. Many of my own scientific theories and conclusions are deeply offensive to me, but I suspect they are at least partially true. Once scientists begin to worry about anything other than the truth and ask themselves “Might this conclusion or finding be potentially offensive to someone?”, then self-censorship sets in, and they become tempted to shade the truth. What if a scientific conclusion is both offensive and true? What is a scientist to do then? I believe that many scientific truths are highly offensive to most of us, but I also believe that scientists must pursue them at any cost.

It is not my job as a scientist to “use” scientific knowledge in any way to improve the human condition; that’s the job of politicians, policy makers, physicians, and other social engineers…The only responsibility that scientists have is to the truth, nothing else. Scientists are not responsible for the potential or actual consequences of the knowledge they create

The issue of course, is not clear cut. For reference, the APA ethical guide includes the statement below, which could be interpreted as implying that, at times, the value of the social good demands prudence in truth-telling, when not silencing a line of inquiry.

Principle A: Beneficence and Nonmaleficence
Psychologists strive to benefit those with whom they work and take care to do no harm. In their professional actions, psychologists seek to safeguard the welfare and rights of those with whom they interact professionally and other affected persons, and the welfare of animal subjects of research. When conflicts occur among psychologists’ obligations or concerns, they attempt to resolve these conflicts in a responsible fashion that avoids or minimizes harm. Because psychologists’ scientific and professional judgments and actions may affect the lives of others, they are alert to and guard against personal, financial, social, organizational, or political factors that might lead to misuse of their influence. Psychologists strive to be aware of the possible effect of their own physical and mental health on their ability to help those with whom they work

Usually, when a conflict arises researchers argue that, in the long run, knowing the truth necessarily leads to more social good than not knowing it; which it likely does. That is, usually it’s argued that there isn’t a fundamental conflict between the values and so a choice between the two, and a prioritizing, is not forced. The relation between the values is left ambiguous. This, however, is not the argument that Kanazawa makes. He argues that truth represents a higher order scientific value than the social good. When you reason this way the effect is that you will tend to show less prudence in truth-telling than otherwise, since you have decided on your fundamental value.

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