Philosophy : currently a pseudo-science

It had its time of glory in the past. In ancient Greece, philosophy was not yet distinguished from the science of that time, thus we might say both were comparable in quality. Then they faced many centuries of near-absence during the dark ages of Christian domination, before resurrecting together and having their glory period in the time of Enlightenment.
Enlightenment philosophy signed its good new insights of truth, by some valuable practical accomplishments (usefulness for mankind, that can be compared with the technical usefulness of science):
However, the situation is now very different, as science made a tremendous lot of progress since that time, leaving philosophy far behind. Philosophy didn't make any comparable progress of methods or knowledge, and thus became a sterile discipline.

Some attempts of reform to remodel philosophy after science have been made, such as the development of analytic philosophy by Bertrand Russel who also contributed to the new foundations of mathematics (set theory). It may be acknowledged that analytic philosophy is a bit less irrational than continental philosophy.
But, apart from a few interesting clues such as his celestial teapot and other remarks on religion, much of the length of Russel's philosophy (such as his theory of the mind) remained of poor value (long developments on pointless details that cannot contribute to the progress of knowledge in any effective way).

For example, after the good fruits of democracy produced by the Enlightenment philosophy, what further political revolution did philosophy bring to mankind ? Well, it brought the Marxist revolution.
Despite its claims, Marxism is not rational. Most philosophers did not notice the problem, and thus welcomed Marxism in their field. Only Karl Popper developed famous writings showing the discrepancy between Marxism and science, by observing the difference between the Marxist and the scientific way of testing a theory against experience (falsifiability), for example the way Einstein's general relativity made precise predictions to be tested.

Despite this, the community of so-called "intellectuals" (of humanities, not scientists) kept holding Marxism as a rational theory and valid philosophy. Of course if you measure a philosophy by its convincing power to the masses, then, Marxism is among the best, just in the same way religions previously were. In fact Marxism is itself a modern religion exploiting the newly fashionable claim of scientificity. But the success of a convincing power to the people (even to be taken as "scientific" by an unscientific class of self-proclaimed "intellectuals") hardly has anything to do with truth and rationality. 
Now you don't need anymore to study and examine it in much details to find evidence for its lack of rationality: just look at its fruits (the Soviet Union). The combination of its convincing power with its utter falsity, just means it is at the antipodes of reason: it is powerfully misleading. We shall discuss this more closely in Part IV.

The irrational character of philosophy, can be inferred from its inability to naturally converge to a consensus on given questions: many philosophers keep presenting opposite views on fixed issues, that remain unresolved for a very long time.

Paul Graham's criticism of philosophy
"When things are hard to understand, people who suspect they're nonsense generally keep quiet. There's no way to prove a text is meaningless. The closest you can get is to show that the official judges of some class of texts can't distinguish them from placebos.
And so instead of denouncing philosophy, most people who suspected it was a waste of time just studied other things. That alone is fairly damning evidence, considering philosophy's claims. It's supposed to be about the ultimate truths. Surely all smart people would be interested in it, if it delivered on that promise.
Because philosophy's flaws turned away the sort of people who might have corrected them, they tended to be self-perpetuating. "
(and many other arguments worth reading too)

Richard Feynman (physics Nobel laureate) made harsh criticisms of philosophy:

Richard Feynman wrote:
When I sat with the philosophers I listened to them discuss very seriously a book called Process and Reality by Whitehead. They were using words in a funny way, and I couldn’t quite understand what they were saying. (...)
What happened [at the seminar] was typical—so typical that it was unbelievable, but true. (...). A student gave a report on the chapter to be studied that week. In it Whitehead kept using the words “essential object” in a particular technical way that presumably he had defined, but that I didn’t understand.
After some discussion as to what “essential object” meant, the professor leading the seminar said something meant to clarify things and drew something that looked like lightning bolts on the blackboard. “Mr. Feynman,” he said, “would you say an electron is an ‘essential object’?”
Well, now I was in trouble. I admitted that I hadn’t read the book, so I had no idea of what Whitehead meant by the phrase; I had only come to watch. “But,” I said, “I’ll try to answer the professor’s question if you will first answer a question from me, so I can have a better idea of what ‘essential object’ means. Is a brick an essential object?”
What I had intended to do was to find out whether they thought theoretical constructs were essential objects. The electron is a theory that we use; it is so useful in understanding the way nature works that we can almost call it real. I wanted to make the idea of a theory clear by analogy. In the case of the brick, my next question was going to be, “What about the inside of the brick?”—and I would then point out that no one has ever seen the inside of a brick. Every time you break the brick, you only see the surface. That the brick has an inside is a simple theory which helps us understand things better. The theory of electrons is analogous. So I began by asking, “Is a brick an essential object?”
Then the answers came out. One man stood up and said, “A brick as an individual, specific brick. That is what Whitehead means by an essential object.”
Another man said, “No, it isn’t the individual brick that is an essential object; it’s the general character that all bricks have in common—their ‘brickiness’—that is the essential object.”
Another guy got up and said, “No, it’s not in the bricks themselves. ‘Essential object’ means the idea in the mind that you get when you think of bricks.”
Another guy got up, and another, and I tell you I have never heard such ingenious different ways of looking at a brick before. And, just like it should in all stories about philosophers, it ended up in complete chaos. In all their previous discussions they hadn’t even asked themselves whether such a simple object as a brick, much less an electron, is an “essential object.”


"philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds"
(forgetting that, in fact, ornithology has been useful to birds in some ways...)

People say to me, “Are you looking for the ultimate laws of physics?” No, I’m not… If it turns out there is a simple ultimate law which explains everything, so be it — that would be very nice to discover. If it turns out it’s like an onion with millions of layers… then that’s the way it is. But either way there’s Nature and she’s going to come out the way She is. So therefore when we go to investigate we shouldn’t predecide what it is we’re looking for only to find out more about it. Now you ask: “Why do you try to find out more about it?” If you began your investigation to get an answer to some deep philosophical question, you may be wrong. It may be that you can’t get an answer to that particular question just by finding out more about the character of Nature. But that’s not my interest in science; my interest in science is to simply find out about the world and the more I find out the better it is, I like to find out…
(The Pleasure of Finding Things Out p. 23)

From this Feynman's text on science:

"...what science is, is not what the philosophers have said it is, and certainly not what the teacher editions say it is. What it is, is a problem which I set for myself after I said I would give this talk.
After some time, I was reminded of a little poem:

A centipede was happy quite, until a toad in fun
Said, "Pray, which leg comes after which?"
This raised his doubts to such a pitch
He fell distracted in the ditch
Not knowing how to run.
All my life, I have been doing science and known what it was, but what I have come to tell you--which foot comes after which--I am unable to do, and furthermore, I am worried by the analogy in the poem that when I go home I will no longer be able to do any research."

From this Feynman's interview:

"Philosophers, incidentally, say a great deal about what is absolutely necessary for science, and it is always, so far as one can see, rather naive and probably wrong. . . 
My son is taking a course in philosophy, and last night we were looking at something by Spinoza--and there was the most childish reasoning! There were all these Attributes and Substances, all this meaningless chewing around, and we started to laugh. Now, how could we do that? Here's this great Dutch philosopher, and we're laughing at him. It's because there was no excuse for it! In that same period there was Newton, there was Harvey studying the circulation of the blood, there were people with methods of analysis by which progress was being made! You can take every one of Spinoza's propositions and take the contrary propositions and look at the world--and you can't tell which is right. Sure, people were awed because he had the courage to take on these great questions, but it doesn't do any good to have the courage if you can't get anywhere with the question. 
It isn't the philosophy that gets me, it's the pomposity. If they'd just laugh at themselves! If they'd just say, "I think it's like this, but Von Leipzig thought it was like that, and he had a good shot at it too." If they'd explain that this is their best guess.... But so few of them do; instead, they seize on the possibility that there may not be any ultimate fundamental particle and say that you should stop work and ponder with great profundity. "You haven't thought deeply enough; first let me define the world for you." Well, I'm going to investigate it without defining it!
"

Another Physics Nobel laureate, Steven Weinberg, wrote (Chapter "Against Philosophy" of his book "Dreams of a final theory"):

"The insights of philosophers have occasionally benefited physicists, but generally in a negative fashion—by protecting them from the preconceptions of other philosophers.(...) without some guidance from our preconceptions one could do nothing at all. It is just that philosophical principles have not generally provided us with the right preconceptions.

Physicists do of course carry around with them a working philosophy. For most of us, it is a rough-and-ready realism, a belief in the objective reality of the ingredients of our scientific theories. But this has been learned through the experience of scientific research and rarely from the teachings of philosophers.

This is not to deny all value to philosophy(...). But we should not expect [the philosophy of science] to provide today's scientists with any useful guidance about how to go about their work or about what they are likely to find.

After a few years' infatuation with philosophy as an undergraduate I became disenchanted. The insights of the philosophers I studied seemed murky and inconsequential compared with the dazzling successes of physics and mathematics. From time to time since then I have tried to read current work on the philosophy of science. Some of it I found to be written in a jargon so impenetrable that I can only think that it aimed at impressing those who confound obscurity with profundity. (...) But only rarely did it seem to me to have anything to do with the work of science as I knew it. (...)
I am not alone in this; I know of no one who has participated actively in the advance of physics in the postwar period whose research has been significantly helped by the work of philosophers. I raised in the previous chapter the problem of what Wigner calls the "unreasonable effectiveness" of mathematics; here I want to take up another equally puzzling phenomenon, the unreasonable ineffectiveness of philosophy.
Even where philosophical doctrines have in the past been useful to scientists, they have generally lingered on too long, becoming of more harm than ever they were of use.(...)
Mechanism had also been propagated beyond the boundaries of science and survived there to give later trouble to scientists. In the nineteenth century the heroic tradition of mechanism was incorporated, unhappily, into the dialectical materialism of Marx and Engels and their followers (...) and for a while dialectical materialism stood in the way of the acceptance of general relativity in the Soviet Union
(...) We are not likely to know the right questions until we are close to knowing the answers.(...)
The quark theory was only one step in a continuing process of reformulation of physical theory in terms that are more and more fundamental and at the same time farther and farther from everyday experience.

homeschooling physicist

"But… many introductory books on philosophy take the tack that “philosophy is not so much a set of answers as a way of asking questions: the important thing about philosophy is not specific answers, but rather the philosophical way of thinking”
Yeah – that is because the answers that philosophers have come up with over the centuries have been almost uniformly bad!
(...)
Ethics is too important to be left to the philosophers.
(...)
children should also be taught not to think “philosophically,” in the manner of current and recent academic and professional philosophers. On the contrary, they should be explicitly told that, for at least the last two centuries, the philosophical enterprise as carried out by professional philosophers has been an obvious failure and that the vast increase in our knowledge of reality during the last several centuries has been due not to philosophy but to natural science."


In the same site: Is philosophy futilemore texts on philosophy
Physicists dissing philosophy:
"Science, philosophy, and religion all make claims to have a broad, integrated view of reality. But, the views of reality they arrive at differ dramatically.
It would be quite surprising if three such radically different approaches to confronting reality were to give compatible pictures of reality.
Of course, they do not.
...in some ways, both the creationists and the postmodernists deserve credit for seeing something that more sensible, moderate folks try to evade: in the long-term, science, philosophy, and religion cannot co-exist
."

One philosopher acknowledges and sums up the importance and relevance of top scientists'harsch criticism of philosophy, so as to take lessons how to consequently reform the academic practice of philosophy.But other philosophers prefer to reject such criticism and keep justifying their flaws anyway.

More debates if you wish :
Weinberg's "Against Philosophy"
Why philosophize
Does philosophy make you a better scientist
Another discussion
Very long discussion which then diverts from the subject

Other philosophers try to justify philosophy's flaws through empty arguments:

How pitiful it is to observe how philosophers are not even able to give a decent answer to a simple question.

They try to justify their inability of finding decent answers by claims such as : the value of philosophy would be to focus on asking the right questions (or eliminating the wrong questions) and eliminating some wrong answers (a sort of intellectual garbage collecting). But these are just blind unjustified beliefs, as the real effect of their work is just the opposite: to multiply and preciously accumulate wrong questions and wrong answers (intellectual garbage collectioning).
This reminds me the joke "How many Microsoft engineers does it take to screw in a light bulb? None. They just define darkness as an industry standard." and other "It's not a bug, it's a feature".

Talk:Foundations_of_mathematics

"Anyone, a mathematician especially, who appreciates the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” and the “unreasonable ineffectiveness of philosophy" to scientific endeavors must recognize the dangers of letting "philosophy of math" ride roughshod over "foundations of math" and as a last line of defense, of letting "philosophy and foundations of math" ride roughshod over proper pure and applied maths.

Just look at the talk page for "philosophy of math"! What a mess. Note that some of these people actually believe the destiny of science can be mastered thru verbose semantics, concepts, schema, arguments, etc. The last time I looked, the language of science was still written in mathematics. Fortunately, bullshit had not yet taken over in the math journals.

Specialists in foundations and/or philosophy of math often over-estimate the importance of their work to those in other specialties.
"

Consider for example how philosophers of maths play the role of garbage collectioners of the failed/crackpot mathematical inspirations such as "Intuitionism" (= possibly interesting hints not properly clarified) or meaningless conceptual divisions that can be made obsolete by mathematical work (see about the completeness theorem in Part III) that they raise as highly philosophical just because it failed to be mathematically meaningful and thus does not interest any reasonable mathematician.

In reply to the criticism that philosophy lost its usefulness since the Enlightenment time, philosophers often react by glorifying themselves of their uselessness, by the straw man argument that, well, optimized financial productivity is not the right ultimate value, and thus should not be the exclusive purpose of public school curricula. 
But, while I agree that numerical measure of the short-term financial profit should not be the final and exclusive criteria of value for an intellectual discipline, the trouble is that philosophers seem to have no other evidently meaningful alternative criteria of value either, except the very negation of the usefulness criteria (together with their intimate but unjustified conviction). Namely, they seem to be raising wastefulness (uselessness) as their ultimate value, as if the very fact something brings no fruit, could serve as an evidence that it must surely be very spiritual. This reminds me the Shadoks' insights :

"I pump, therefore I am
It is better to pump even if nothing happens, than risk that something is going worse by not pumping.
..
their rocket was not highly developed, but they had calculated that it still had 1 chance over 1 million to work. And they hurried to fail the 999 999 first tests to ensure that the millionth works."

With wastefulness as their ultimate value, their work turns out to be universally wasteful, for whatever purpose including the development of the mind and critical thinking itself. The belief they must be good for the spirit or whatever undefinable ideal just based on the observation of their worthlessness for financial profit, is but a superstition among others. They may of course reject this criticism as straw man too, as this description is not exactly their claim, But it does not matter what they exactly claim: this is what they are doing in practice anyway.

How to explain the failure of philosophy ? Well, apart from the crankiness of its members, an important cause is its traditional obsession for essentialism (focusing on the ultimate nature of everything - well, by the way, this is precisely a usual character of cranks), to be contrasted with science's non-essentialism that we described. Science has its own care for essences when needed; it is just not an obsession. Philosophy just failed to follow this model.
We might also describe the difference between science and philosophy in this way:
Science is the practice of rationality, while philosophy has theories of rationality. And these theories are usually disconnected from this practice, because, in fact, there is no better way to understand rationality, that by practicing it.

But... is this really awful if philosophy is dominated by cranks ? Well, not necessarily. After all, in order for cranks to stop bothering scientists, they need to go somewhere else and find another public. So, philosophy can be considered useful for its social role of a huge intellectual bin where cranks can gather, while science on its own side can stay clean.

OK, philosophy is so diverse that it may also be possible to find there a minority of decent approaches: a possible example (I only looked briefly)

Remarks on logical positivism and falsificationism

As philosophers can easily notice, there is a flaw in the way Weinberg takes the example of logical positivism and its unfortunate consequences for criticizing philosophy. Indeed, logical positivism was rather made by scientists themselves, precisely as a movement against philosophy, and was popular among scientists but not among philosophers, who quickly rejected it. Thus, philosophers cannot be responsible for these troubles.
Let's explain this issue in more details.

Once understood well, the statement of the principles of science we made at the start of this Part II, including the "logical positivism" principle, is not affected by Weinberg's criticism of logical positivism: the troubles only come from a caricatural form of logical positivism not balanced by the other principles we stated (conceptual reconstruction of reality).

The difference made by philosophers between verificationism (as stated by logical positivists) and Popper's falsificationism (that was later widely taken as a reference of scientificity) has to be dismissed.
Once analyzed well, these are more or less two ways of popularizing the same logical concept. Well, the details of the formulation of logical positivism can have been imperfect and deserve a few corrections. But the main difference is not about what they really mean, which is the same, but a difference of "how they feel", how they might be misinterpreted by irrational people.
To the eyes of a large public as well as many philosophers, Marxism and Psychoanalysis made an impression of being "verified", thus scientific. But this impression of "verification" was a mere illusion, obtained by emptying of meaning the concept of "verification". Then, Karl Popper discovered that another phrasing, "falsificationism", was better suited and efficient to explain how Marxism and Psychoanalysis are false sciences, as they do not stand to the practice of verification used in real science. This was okay, but then he went to wrong conclusions by mistaking this difference of usefulness (for irrational people to more easily notice the lack of scientificity of some ideologies) for a deep conceptual difference. The result is that he replaced the initial misinterpretation of the nature of science, by another misinterpretation, that does not carry the same risks of misuse but can carry some too.

As Weinberg said, the main possible value of philosophy is to refute some errors of other philosophers. So, Popper was good for warning against Psychoanalysis and Marxism as pseudo-sciences, while David Stove was good for warning against the irrationality of Popper and other science philosophers (Feyerabend, Kuhn...).

About clarifying scientific concepts

An example of a "philosophical subject"  is about noticing that modern theories such as relativity and quantum physics, failed to go through a work of cleaning up their fundamental concepts and vocabulary to a comparable extent as classical physics had succeeded before. So they are still often presented inside the language, intuition and even mathematical parameters of classical physics. This conflict between the modern intended theories and the classical intuitions and language still used to expressed them, brings these theories an unfortunate reputation of being counter-intuitive.

That's right, but: what's the use of making a philosophy about it ? This is not a genuine subject for philosophy. This is just a task for science professors to clean up existing knowledge. And this is an administrative problem to pay attention to this question, and provide incentives to:
- publish better courses cleaning up each possible subject, once for all in the world (or several times, of course, but each time caring to do better again than previously);
- For each subject where such a work was already done by someone in the world, take the new view and reform teaching after it.
 
Unfortunately, while such works exist (as I'm caring myself to do some), the education system is so conservative that the necessary changes are not done (because professors are usually so busy repeating over and over again the same old teachings in boring old ways, and are so "the best in their fields", that they have no time to seriously care whether a better way might already have been produced by somebody else).

But hopefully, in a future time when the cleaning up will have been done, what will remain of the philosophy whose thesis was to claim that the cleaning up is not done yet ? Rather do the cleaning up, than philosophize on its lack.

A famous philosopher : Wittgenstein

I once happened to visit a university course of philosophy, the teacher was presenting some views which, he said, he took from Wittgenstein, who he agrees with. And what was the claim ? It essentially meant that there does not exist such a science as mathematics with any open problems, since by nature, all mathematical propositions are tautologies (mere ridiculously useless combinations, or rather reiterations, of the same of trivialities). Well, my question is : why would people believing such idiocies be worth the care to explain why they are wrong ? Just have a look at Godel's speedup theorem, for example, and more generally, all known facts about incompleteness such as Chaitin's work on randomness in mathematics... during that course I tried to mention Godel's incompleteness theorem as an illustration of the falsity of this philosophy. He dismissed my point, claiming to know the topic and denying that any point could be made there (the discussion was too short to enter any detail) so that the conversation ended without any common understanding. It turns out to be a well-known fact that Wittgenstein himself never understood the incompleteness theorem.
Another example of what I see as a logically necessary but quite non-trivial fact : Communism Cannot Work. Both this logical fact and its non-obviousness had some concrete consequences...
See also the testimony of how his attitude has nothing to do with reason.
Apart from this, well, it can be true indeed as he denounced, that many people commit the error of trying to speak the unspeakable in such a way that it is not going anywhere. Nevertheless the problem is not that there is any well-defined absolute limit to expressibilility. I don't see one. Rather, what I generally see in the world is a lack of imagination in the people's thoughts and use of language to express any wise and interesting ideas. Because not only the pure language of maths is already able to express a lot of things, the ordinary use of language being not strictly mathematical, remains open to the possibility of stimulating diverse thoughts beyond pure maths, thus escaping any well-defined boundary. Here I mean not only the possibility to tell lots of sterile bullshit as so often happens, but also, eventually, to develop high intelligent thoughts as well. I experienced this myself as I found some non-standard ways of using ordinary language to explain things in diverse texts...

Postmodernism and "science studies"

A community of ideological flaws can be seen between Marxism, which dismisses its opposing theories (economic liberalism) as a mere matter of social forces rather than of truth (so as to use ad hominem as an excuse to not bother arguing rationally), and the postmodernist "science studies".

Everyone should know about the Sokal affair, an episode of the Science Wars:
"The physicist Alan Sokal submitted the article “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” proposing that quantum gravity is a linguistic and social construct and that quantum physics supports postmodernist criticisms of scientific objectivity. Social Text published the article in the Spring/Summer “Science Wars” issue in May 1996. Later, in the May 1996 issue of Lingua Franca, in the article “A Physicist Experiments With Cultural Studies”, Prof. Sokal exposed his parody-article, “Transgressing the Boundaries” as an experiment testing the intellectual rigor of an academic journal that would “publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions

However Sokal's hoax should not be overestimated, as it was only directed to a precise movement (postmodernism) that should not be confused with the whole of philosophy or social sciences: in this interview Alan Sokal said:

"I should make clear that I don’t think my parody article settles anything. It doesn’t by itself prove much – that one journal was sloppy. So it wasn’t the parody itself that proved it, it was the things that I and other people wrote afterward which I believe showed the sloppiness of the philosophy that a lot of postmodernist literary theory types were writing. But again, I wasn’t the first person to make those criticisms. It was only after the fact that I went back into the literature and found philosophers had made many of these criticisms long before me. All I did in a certain sense was to find a better public relations method than they did."

But he also expresses his skepticism on the possibility for philosophy of science to fulfill its goal of understanding the scientific method:

"So I guess you’re right that I’m skeptical that there can ever be a complete over-arching theory simply because science is about rationality; rationality is always adaptation to unforeseen circumstances – how can you possibly codify that? But that doesn’t mean philosophy of science is useless, because all of these attempts that have failed as final codifications of scientific method nevertheless contributed something."

Anti-Science Phenomenon
"Practitioners of the social sciences have not learned, in their own disciplines, much that is operationally indisputable, readily reproducible, and internationally agreed to; so they cannot easily conceive such a thing to be possible in any field. Knowing in their own discipline that ideology governs "knowledge" as well as theory, they presume that must be so in all fields."

Also, the end of the above quoted Weinberg's chapter "against philosophy" tells about the relations between science and "science studies" by sociologists.
Some interesting observations are without problem:

"For instance, Sharon Traweek has spent years with elementary particle experimentalists at both the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and the KEK Laboratory in Japan and has described what she had seen from the perspective of an anthropologist. This kind of big science is a natural topic for anthropologists and sociologists, because scientists belong to an anarchic tradition that prizes individual initiative, and yet they find in today's experiments that they have to work together in teams of hundreds. As a theorist I have not worked in such a team, but many of her observations seem to me to have the ring of truth, as for instance: The physicists see themselves as an elite whose membership is determined solely by scientific merit. The assumption is that everyone has a fair start. This is underscored by the rigorously informal dress code, the similarity of their offices, and the "first naming" practices in the community. Competitive individualism is considered both just and effective: the hierarchy is seen as a meritocracy which produces fine physics. American physicists, however, emphasize that science is not democratic: decisions about scientific purposes should not be made by majority rule within the community, nor should there be equal access to a lab's resources. On both these issues, most Japanese physicists assume the opposite."

But other aspects present a strong opposition:

"It is simply a logical fallacy to go from the observation that science is a social process to the conclusion that the final product, our scientific theories, is what it is because of the social and historical forces acting in this process. A party of mountain climbers may argue over the best path to the peak, and these arguments may be conditioned by the history and social structure of the expedition, but in the end either they find a good path to the peak or they do not, and when they get there they know it. (No one would give a book about mountain climbing the title Constructing Everest.) I cannot prove that science is like this, but everything in my experience as a scientist convinces me that it is. The "negotiations" over changes in scientific theory go on and on, with scientists changing their minds again and again in response to calculations and experiments, until finally one view or another bears an unmistakable mark of objective success. It certainly feels to me that we are discovering something real in physics, something that is what it is without any regard to the social or historical conditions that allowed us to discover it.

Where then does this radical attack on the objectivity of scientific knowledge come from? One source I think is the old bugbear of positivism, this time applied to the study of science itself. If one refuses to talk about anything that is not directly observed, then quantum field theories or principles of symmetry or more generally laws of nature cannot be taken seriously. What philosophers and sociologists and anthropologists can study is the actual behavior of real scientists, and this behavior never follows any simple description in terms of rules of inference. But scientists have the direct experience of scientific theories as desired yet elusive goals, and they become convinced of the reality of these theories.

There may be another motivation for the attack on the realism and objectivity of science, one that is less high-minded. Imagine if you will an anthropologist who studies the cargo cult on a Pacific island. The islanders believe that they can bring back the cargo aircraft that made them prosperous during World War II by building wooden structures that imitate radar and radio antennas. It is only human nature that this anthropologist and other sociologists and anthropologists in similar circumstances would feel a frisson of superiority, because they know as their subjects do not that there is no objective reality to these beliefs—no cargo-laden C-47 will ever be attracted by the wooden radars. Would it be surprising if, when anthropologists and sociologists turned their attention to studying the work of scientists, they tried to recapture that delicious sense of superiority by denying the objective reality of the scientists' discoveries?
Relativism is only one aspect of a wider, radical, attack on science itself. (...) These radical critics of science seem to be having little or no effect on the scientists themselves. I do not know of any working scientist who takes them seriously."

A delicious self-criticism article by Bruno Latour : "Why Has Critique Run out of Steam" (doc+ref - pdf - beginning + references in web archive), questioning the field of social studies he created himself, considering how it turned out to lead to conspirationism, denialism, and endangering our planet by the way it is used by political lobbies for denying scientific evidence on global warming:

"...I myself have spent sometimes in the past trying to show the "lack of scientific certainty" inherent in the construction of facts. I too made it a "primary issue." But I did not exactly aim at fooling the public by obscuring the certainty of a closed argument–or did I? After all, I have been accused of just that sin. Still, I'd like to believe that, on the contrary, I intended to emancipate the public from a prematurely naturalized objectified fact. Was I foolishly mistaken? Have things changed so fast?
In which case the danger would no longer be coming from an excessive confidence in ideological arguments posturing as matters of fact–as we have learned to combat so efficiently in the past–but from an excessive distrust of good matters of fact disguised as bad ideological biases! While we spent years trying to detect the real prejudices hidden behind the appearance of objective statements, do we have now to reveal the real objective and incontrovertible facts hidden behind the illusion of prejudices?
..."



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