Michael Gordin in LA Review of Books:
TRUST THE SCIENCE, we’re told. Wear masks! Science says so! These injunctions are likely to induce a couple of reflex responses. On the one hand, saying that you are in favor of Science — I’ll keep it capitalized for now — is somewhat like saying that you are all for oxygen and cute puppies and pleasant strolls. It is so straightforward as to be anodyne. But then there is the counter-reflex, with the “pro-Science” mantra sounding like a liberal shibboleth, and the Republican Party (or its voters) cast as Those Who Don’t Trust Science. Recent Pew Research Center data back this up a bit, but there’s plenty of leeriness about Science among Democrats as well.
And it gets messier when you actually drill down into specifics. The masks are an exemplary case. Saying that Science supports mask-wearing is unquestionably true, whether you define that support as a consensus among epidemiologists or as the conclusion reached by meta-studies of the scientific literature. Now consider some other questions: Should we open schools when most of the country is not vaccinated? Is it okay to put this nuclear waste depository in the next county? Let’s ask Science! Turns out this Science entity doesn’t have a single voice, and in many cases hearing what it has to say isn’t straightforward. As intellectual historian Andrew Jewett notes at the end of Science under Fire, “Such blanket injunctions to place our trust in science, or religion, or the humanities, or any other broad framework, offer remarkably little guidance on how to respond to the social possibilities raised by particular scientific or technical innovations.”
Nonetheless, the exhortations continue. This implies that there are quite a few people out there who are anti-Science, or at least cautious about placing unbounded faith in it. Those who are anti-“anti-Science” often portray such individuals as tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorists, while the anti-Science people see their detractors as credulous lemmings exposing themselves to myriad physical and spiritual harms.
Enter Jewett, who is anti-anti-anti-Science.