There are many fields with rigorous critics; many writers make a living critiquing music, dance, art, and literature. At Accuracy in Media and other media watchdog groups, employees critique the claims of major news organizations. But one crucial field regularly goes without any public criticism: the field of science, and scientific discovery.
“Science lacks for critics,” David Berlinski claimed at a recent Heritage Foundation Bloggers’ Briefing. “It is really remarkable that in the sense in which literature or dance or music has always entered public consciousness with a very rich body of criticism…, science really lacks for its critics entirely.”
Berlinski did mention peer review, noting that “there is certainly a great deal of internal criticism within every scientific field.” However, Berlinski said, “when I’m talking about criticism I’m talking about criticism in a far broader sense, criticism that goes beyond the boundaries of peer reviews and become a cultural philosophy.”
Berlinski’s idea is a revolutionary one: that scientific claims and discoveries ought to be critiqued in popular culture just as the arts are critiqued. His idea is not only revolutionary, however; it is also crucial to the continued freedom of American society. America today runs on technology, and therefore, on scientific discovery. President Obama promised in his inaugural speech that he would work to “put science in its rightful place” as the center of policy. Is it safe to make “science” central to policy, when for all Americans know, the “science” may be deeply flawed?
Berlinski argued that the American people must be educated enough to understand what makes a scientific experiment or study valid. With a firm understanding of proper experiment design and interpretation, everyone would be able to understand whether or not a scientific claim were credible. Berlinksi stated that he thinks it “terribly important” that everyday Americans understand “what a scientific theory is, what it can do, and most importantly of all, what it cannot do.”
Berlinski pointed out that while science may claim to disprove God, it is important to remember what scientific discoveries really discuss. “Do these very rich, measured theories tell us anything beyond what their premises contain and their conclusions concern?” he asked. “Particle physics discusses particles. Nuclear physics discusses nuclear physics. Quantum cosmology discusses quantum cosmology, and general relativity discusses gravity,” he said, driving home the fact that scientific discoveries relate to specific aspects of the natural world; it does not make sense to extrapolate them to apply to a spiritual realm.
“I’m not talking about the sociology of criticism,” Berlinski said. “I’m talking about getting Darwin’s theory of evolution on the table and analyzing it appreciatively but critically as well.” David Berlinski is a senior fellow in the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, and the author of The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions.