IN HIS seminal 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn argued that science is not an objective form of knowledge by which scientists reveal the laws of the natural world, rather it could be thought of as a social institution, where scientific discourse emerges through the dynamics of the personalities involved, the influence of social conventions, and the interplay of cultural and institutional norms. In other words, rather than unwavering belief in the primacy of objective, verifiable, and replicable knowledge, Kuhn argued that it was more revealing to study science as a social institution governed by either stasis or changes in norms, values and beliefs.
In relation to this perspective, a huge concern for writers such as Richard Williams (2014) has been the ‘over-reliance on and overconfidence in science as a source of knowledge regarding all aspects of human life and, ultimately, all human problems’. In this way, ‘scientism’ is argued by Hacker (2014) to be ‘the attempt to extend the natural sciences beyond their proper sphere of explanatory competence, and the use of the methods of the natural sciences to explain phenomena that require other forms of explanation’.
Particularly from the turn of the decade, scientific credibility, and its continued authoritative cachet, has been used both to justify and mobilise huge changes in our society. For those with their eyes open, the pandemic was orchestrated by a clear alliance between governments, billionaire technocrats and mainstream science. Lockdowns, social distancing, self-isolation, mask wearing and subsequent large-scale vaccination programmes all culminated in an unprecedented transformation in attitudes, behaviours and social norms. It is evident that there will be more changes to come in relation to policy direction, service provision and economic infrastructure. All of this has been leveraged and implemented on the back of ‘scientific consensus’ around the high level of threat to the public.
This has been a similar approach to the mainstream narratives on climate change, where the alliance on climate science emphasises extreme weather scenarios and promotes the idea that we are witnessing the end of civilisation if we do not change our ways. Highlighting what he believes are the real motives behind all this, Patrick M Wood argues that science has never been about progress for all and the betterment of mankind. Ultimately, he argues, science serves the needs and ideological disposition of a technocratic, moneyed elite, and their ambitions both to ‘roll out an ideological takeover of evolution and to then direct and control future life on earth’.
The ‘repositioning of mankind as an enemy of nature’ provides a perfect example of the way in which the message of mainstream science has evolved according to an agenda and a skewed narrative that has been hidden behind the veneer of ‘scientific credibility’. Promoted through the media, academia and other institutions over the last 30 years or so, we have been sold the idea that a) climate change is man-madeand b) environmental impacts and the depletion of the earth’s resources have come about as a direct result of population growth and rising levels of per capita consumption. As if feeling the need to drive home this message further, the UN scientific community have labelled the planet’s current geological period of the planet ‘the Anthropocene’ – a period in history when man’s intervention in nature is now out of control, threatens the extinction of mankind, and will need the intervention of the UN and its ancillaries to save us from ourselves.Any challenges to the ways in which this paradigm of scientific knowledge has been constructed around the changing climate and the reasons for this are swiftly discredited or cancelled.
The rise of interdisciplinary research in both academia and policy clearly demonstrates the powerful influences behind the dominant paradigm of climate science and the way it is being constructed by actors and institutions. A vast amount of funding has been funnelled into climate change research, catalysing a massive rise in interdisciplinary research. In the UK, the University of Surrey, the University of Exeter, Oxford Institute for Environmental Change, and Cardiff University have collapsed the natural sciences and the social sciences together around one singular (and virtually unchallenged aim) – the co-construction of different disciplinary perspectives around a singular agenda. The financial incentives for these interdisciplinary endeavours are vast. Over the last 30 years or so, the social sciences have been adopted and utilised more closely by governments and policy makers, acquiring greater kudos, greater scientific credibility and more funding as a result. Indeed, ‘the science of behaviour’ has done much to highlight the ‘irresponsibility’ and ‘profligacy’ of citizens where, mirroring the grand narrative pushed by the UN, the finger of blame is pointed at individuals whose lack of responsibility in consuming too much, inefficient energy use and buying the wrong products is justified as the reason why governments must take greater control over their lives.
Thomas Kuhn never discussed scientism per se. However, his work exploring science as a social institution provides an excellent starting point for looking at the role of egos, agendas and ideologies as co-creators and powerful instigators of change in our world. This week, world leaders are meeting in Davos to discuss the threat of an alleged ‘disease X pandemic’ and how best to prepare for such an event. Experts have already hypothesised that this disease is likely cause 20 per cent more fatalities than the Covid-19 pandemic. Discussions and preparations for a disease that exists only hypothetically merely confirm ways in which the credibility of scientific knowledge has been pushed to the limits over the last four years. It is almost as if recent times have seen a competition amongst scientists, politicians, and the media to make the most outrageous claim under the umbrella of ‘science’.