Howled down in a pomo world

Deirdre Macken has a great piece on today’s Fin, riffing off Cardinal “I spend a lot of time studying this stuff” Pell to the general issue of the challenge to expertise in both productive (Wikipedia) and unproductive (climate science rejectionism) forms. Paywalled unfortunately, but here’s the link for anyone who can use it.

Macken, correctly I think, points to postmodernism as a contributor to the process. I’ve discussed this before (do a search) and I know it’s more complicated than that, but the vulgarised version of postmodernism as denying any special status to scientific knowledge as compared to other “knowledges” has certainly been embraced on the political right in a way that few of its original proponents could have anticipated.

31 thoughts on “Howled down in a pomo world

  1. My experience of post-modernist critiques of science was more to do with critiquing the idea of science as unequivocally positive. I don’t recall much discussion of the scientific method, more to with the way science was constructed within the dominant discourse as a force for good that always delivered useful technologies to enthusiastic consumers. I remember having a much more jaundiced view of “Beyond 2000” type TV programmes afterwards. It’s pity that the idea of post-modernism has been debased by the right. Foucault, if he can be called post-modern, produced monumental works of history and philosophy, what did Gerard Henderson ever do.

  2. @PatrickB

    What goes around comes around.

    I am not convinced the post-modernist critiques (more than 1 and equally valid?) of “the idea” of science have been debased only by ‘the right’. Couldn’t it be the case that at the time when this critique was flourishing, ‘the right’ happened to be in power in some powerful places in this world?

    It is difficult to say very much in a blog post and being precise is even more difficult. However, the project of criticising ‘the idea of science’ because of consumer behaviour seems to me to be evidence of confusion in line one.

    But I strongly agree with your last sentence.

  3. I think the key here is “vulgarised version of postmodernism” which is at best many steps removed from the work of people like Foucault, Deleuze etc (neither of whom ever accepted the label of ‘postmodernist’). The idea that science has a history and reflects the relations of power that surround it seems like a pretty sound one to me; not that such a claim nullifies science – it just complicates it.
    cheers
    Dave

  4. “The idea that science has a history and reflects the relations of power that surround it seems like a pretty sound one to me”

    FALSE. Charles Darwin- Evolution. IPCC- AGW. Science can and does undermine powerful interests, irrespective of your obviously ahistorical and uninformed seeming.

  5. @Mel

    Hard to disagree with the complete quote:

    “The idea that science has a history and reflects the relations of power that surround it seems like a pretty sound one to me; not that such a claim nullifies science – it just complicates it.”

    Truth, finally, does out. But frequently there is money in hindering its progress.

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