The main argument of this article is to interrogate the lack of trust towards scientific knowledge and its breakthroughs and what I define as unbridled ignorance disseminated by pseudo-scientists or intellectuals.
I also discuss the recent reports of an outbreak of measles in Washington and how we can better this issue and come up with sensible solutions so as to avoid further outbreaks of diseases that were considered to be a thing of the past. The main philosophical arguments to back up my thesis are provided by the works of Karl Popper and David Wootton’s considerations of what it is supposed to be science as opposed to pseudo-science.
Identifying the main problem: Why Science is considered unreliable
The scientific landscape of the 21st century is certainly beleaguered by the crisis of what it is considered to be reliable science, i.e. scientific breakthroughs whose validity cannot be called into question. Unfortunately, this does not to be the case with vaccines. Too many pseudo-scientific groups have popped up, claiming vaccines are dangerous, unreliable, or used by big corporations to make a profit out of us. Facebook, Google, and YouTube have been studying ways to counter this trend, as groups of anti-vaxxers can be easily found on social media. What is the cause of such tendencies? People think they know things and make such claims because they don’t trust researchers or scientists; this is very much the case in Italy, where the stand-up comedian Beppe Grillo and his party, the 5 Stars Movement, have been making anti-scientific arguments that have caused serious health problems. Not only is Italy plagued by very widespread non-scientific audiences, but also the US has shown an equally dangerous trend. Unlike Italy, religious arguments have been made to question the effectiveness of vaccines; evangelical preachers have been saying we need no flub jab because Christ’s death immunised us all”
The irony in all this is, despite the Internet and reliable medical sources, the public is more amenable to believe in such mountebanks. Medical doctors, medical professionals, and clinicians have hitherto failed to persuade the general public that such claims are very problematic; thus, how can we back up their arguments in order to help them? Philosophy can help us, especially the philosophy of science.
Karl Popper, on when a scientific theory is valid
One of the most important philosophers of science in the 20th century is undoubtedly Karl Raimund Popper. One of the main concerns of his philosophy is to prove when a theory can be considered valid. The answer lies in his criterion of falsification. Falsifying a theory, according to Popper, provides a criterion of demarcation; if a theory can be falsified, then it can be considered to be scientifically sounded. Those theories that cannot pass such a test are therefore unsound and non-scientific; hence the demarcation criterion, a boundary between what is sound and what is unsound. On Popper’s view, therefore, theories like those disseminated by anti-vaxxers are self-defeating because they cannot falsified. The demarcation criterion would be enough to disqualify a theory, but making the effort to verify the reliability of science, despite swathes of reliable sites and information outlets,is considered to be extremely tedious.
David Wootton, or what is science?
The question this second section raises is very important: what is a science? In the past, astrology was considered to be science, whilst nowadays is an egregious misbelief. Despite many claims, we all know that the Earth is not flat or that the Earth is not in the centre (geocentrism). This is what David Wootton, philosopher and historian teaching at the University of York, tries to argue in favour of: that what we call science is dependent on the epoch in which we live.We now reject geocentrism or the existence of a thing like witchcraft, but this was not the case in early-modern Europe or in the Middle Ages. Wotton’s argument echoes Kuhn’s theory of science: when science progresses, the we come up with a new paradigm. Science is not static, but it is continuously subject to evolution; therefore, such evolution can help us define what science is and what we should consider to be non-science.
What should we do with non-scientific groups?
Answering this question is not easy because it touches upon many issues, even political ones. Many suggest testing the intellectual grasp of the public before voting;if averages voters, when confronted with basic questions, can’t answer them, then they should be stripped of their voting rights. Whilst this solution, prima facie, could be appealing and helps us solve many problems, it also raises many problems than it actually solves. It behoves teachers to better educate pupils, without having to resort to extreme (and unconstitutional) measures. Thus, the educational system should be bettered and more funded. Should more radical solutions be considered? It’s not an easy issue to discuss without being bias. The main problem, in my opinion, is the lack of authority; everybody is allowed to say what they want because everybody believes they are right and infallible. Criticism is no longer tolerated. And something like that is certainly detrimental to science and scientific disciplines, as they need order and not anarchy. Knowledge is now something subjective: no longer is it ‘I know therefore I am,’ but it is ‘I believe I know therefore I speak.’ And this is certainly troubling for science. Where does this leave us? Maybe the real answer is a better-funded education; will we ever achieve this? I don’t know, but it’s worth trying.
Non-science has been on the rise for far too long. Popper and Woottonhave suggesting better defining what science is and by what criteria should we abide in order to interrogate it. Theories are sound if they can be questioned and what we call science is subject to continuous change. Learning and education need funding: pseudo-science are on the rise because people are no longer educated according to decent standards. Scientists and scholars can put forward sound solutions, but it lies with education to empower people to implement such solutions.