Cognition & Reality

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Scientific Authoritarianism

A genuine grasp of current genetics research would take years to acquire and involve the rigors of a postgraduate education. The same is true of any branch of physiology. An ordinary citizen, even one who is otherwise well-educated, cannot hope to bring any level of technical expertise to evaluating claims about the genetics of mental disorders. As I explained in yesterday’s post, even doctors are at sea when it comes to this topic, although they may not realize it. Therefore, belief in those claims depends, at least in part, on faith and obedience.

That is why, rather than supporting explanations of psychoemotional difficulties based on individual experience, which would ostensibly be more consistent with an American emphasis on individual responsibility, our society has gravitated toward explaining aberrant behavior with reference to physiological, “disease” processes beyond a person’s control.



  1. So who trumps who here? All disciplines bring their own articles of faith to the table with them. Science emerges from experiment to experiment and can prove things which are simple enough to be reduced to equations. I’d say that’s only part of the story but then I’m a myth man.

    Comment by james stauffer — Saturday, 13 November 2010 @ 8:04 pm | Reply

    • It’s a complicated situation. Science is more or less monolithic with respect to its rules, but it has become so specialized that even the best scientists rarely have more than a glimmering about what’s going on next door. Then you have to figure in science journalism, which is another iteration in the problem. Regardless of their training, journalists reporting on scientific findings are inevitably forced into simplifications that are OVERsimplifications, and into the flashiest interpretation of research results. Furthermore, scientists are not immune to promoting their work through emphasizing its most exciting possibilities.

      Consequently, the public receives a mythologized version of research results, replete with extreme conclusions and exaggerated predictions. Let’s not forget that the progress of science usually obsoletes most findings by the time they are in general circulation. Worst of all, the distorted “science” that emerges from this process is applied to public policy by politicians much more interested in polling results than in research results.

      Comment by drtone — Sunday, 14 November 2010 @ 11:53 am | Reply

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