The New Scientism

Kamil Ahsan in Jacobin:

2765274506_049438a5d5_zIn 1964, Stanley Kubrick’s film Dr. Strangelove introduced the character of Gen. Jack D. Ripper, an intensely neurotic, paranoid man who insisted that water fluoridation was a Communist plot hatched against Americans. Ripper was unhinged, of course. But he was also the fictional personification of a real popular anxiety over fluoride’s medicinal benefits.

History is not kind to characters who resist scientific progress: they are consistently painted as inflexible troglodytes. Today, fluoridation sits neatly alongside electrification and other advances, triumphs of the march of technological improvement despite the opposition of a supposedly anti-science public. This is, at least, how the scientific establishment tends to tell it. To them, any criticism of this historical narrative is tantamount to wholesale opposition to science.

This is absurd. There is, of course, no merit to anti-fluoridation quackery. Neither is it correct, contrary to anti-science conservatives, that the scientific community has made a Faustian bargain to keep man-made global warming on the agenda. Similarly, it is unfortunate that after decades of biological discoveries, a third of the American public rejects evolution entirely.

But it is astonishing when defenders of science lump together global-warming-denying conservatives, anti-GMO activists, and grassroots environmental activists, treating each as disturbingly anti-science. This simplistic analysis is rooted in the arrogant assumption that science is somehow above criticism — indeed, that it’s above politics entirely.

More here.