The Limits of Liberal Science, Laura K. Field

Published in The Bulwark, November 04, 2021

a review by Laura K. Field of The Constitution of Knowledge, by Jonathan Rauch… the book is an argument for the supremacy of “liberal science” as arbiter of objective truth… Field broadly accepts the premise but objects to its, in her opinion, proposed hegemony of liberal science over all other ways of processing and assessing reality… she quotes “Rauch’s bold claim:”

You have to check your own claims and subject them to contestation from others; you have to tolerate the competing claims of others; you have to accept that your own certainty counts for nothing; you have to forswear claiming that your god, your experience, your intuition, or your group is epistemically privileged; you have to defend the exclusive legitimacy of liberal science even (in fact, especially) when you think it is wrong or unfair. (Page 91)

… and suggests the following rewrite:

You have to check your own claims and subject them to contestation from others; you have to tolerate the competing claims of others; you have to accept that even your own feelings of certainty are fallible; you have to honestly admit that you do believe your mode of engagement to be epistemically privileged (and be able to give reasons why), while at the same time sustaining a radical openness to counterarguments from any and all quarters, even (in fact, especially) when you think it is wrong or unfair.

… i like her proposed changes… it’s a statement of principal that i can and do live by, with varying degrees of success, like any fallible human being…

… i have several related thoughts…

… i remember Kellyanne Conway’s statement, “Facts don’t matter. What people believe matters.”… one of the greatest political truths ever spoken… much as i loath her politics and involvement in aiding and abetting 45, this one statement is both profound honesty and profound truth… i respect her for it… extended a bit further… at the end of the day, for most of us, any truth we claim certainty about is, at bottom, a belief founded on the work and ideas of others… nobody has time to completely investigate and verify all of the “truths” by which they lead their daily lives…

… the second thought flashing through my mind is about the story of Nosferatu as told by Werner Herzog in his movie Nosferatu the Vampyre… in his telling of the story, Nosferatu arrives to suck the blood of unfortunate citizens of Wismar Germany… he brings the plague with him… the heroine, Lucy, tries to persuade the scientific/technocratic authorities that Count Dracula is the problem… they dismiss her… she subsequently sacrifices herself to bring about his demise… the ultimate sacrifice which, unfortunately, is only a victory over the immediate pestilence… science and bureaucratic institutions are not up to the challenge… however, neither is purity and self sacrifice…