Resignation.

I was shocked to the core when I read it. I mean my whole existence put in doubt by one simple stinging paragraph. How could I go on after having been so exposed? And that by such a high authority, as The Times Higher Education, no less. Wondering what I’m babbling about? I’ll let you see for yourselves. The following was posted in the THE by neuroscientist Russell Foster yesterday as his patent answer to the cocktail party question, “and what do you do?”

“Well,” I say, “as a scientist my occupation grapples with the fundamental nature of truth. It is worth reflecting that before the emergence of a robust scientific class in the 19th century, truth was defined by the whim of the ruling class. Indeed, we scientists wrested truth away from the claws of religious dogma and liberated humanity from the leaden hand of ignorance and, in the process, provided the evidenced-based infrastructure required for a truly democratic society – namely individual liberty and equality of opportunity. I suppose I’m just part of that meritocratic force that has defined our civilisation.”

First of all I wish to apologise to all of my readers for having deluded you for so long by maintaining the very obvious fiction that something like science or the search for truth existed before the nineteenth century. My efforts in this direction have now been exposed for the tissue of lies that they so obviously are and I can only hang my head in contrition and shame and beg for your forgiveness. I think under the circumstances it would be foolish for me to go on with the charade that I call my blog so I shall be ceasing all postings with immediate effect and withdrawing to a penguin colony in Antarctica to contemplate the error of my ways.

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23 Comments

Filed under Myths of Science

23 responses to “Resignation.

  1. And science caused democracy? Blimey!

  2. Like Herzog’s Depressed Penguin

  3. And Foster really believes scientists will always find the ‘truth’? What profound hubris!

  4. “Well,” I say, “as a scientist my occupation grapples with the fundamental nature of truth.”

    He’s in the wrong field. If he wants to grapple with the fundamental nature of truth, he needs to be in philosophy, not science. In science, we grapple with reality, rather than with the nature of truth.

  5. Faye Getz Cook

    My suggestion is that you take up science, as an untrained amateur of course, and leave the humanities alone. They are obviously of no importance if scientists can make pronouncements on them in the international press with no apparent training and unchallenged by reporters. Maybe somebody will give you a prize for your thoughts the way prizes are handed out when scientists share their thoughts on historical topics equally innocently. Woman preaching and all. Hey, am I wrong???

  6. Michael Weiss

    An amusing quote, not only for his misapprehensions about older science, but also because of his notions about how things are today.

    However, it seems to me that science did undergo a qualitative change during the 19th C. I think you’ve written about that before.

  7. ⌛⌛⌛ “Repent, Harlequin❢” Said the Ticktockman ⌚⌚⌚

  8. nccomfort

    “Amusing” understates the case. I love science and if I didn’t enjoy the company of scientists I’d not be doing what I do. But the *arrogance* of quotes such as this is widely prevalent in their popular writings, and that arrogance diminishes both the scientific enterprise and, by extension, all of us who shape it and are shaped by it.

    By all means, let’s keep science healthy and vigorous–in part by ensuring that historians and other scholars take scientists to task for remarks like this.

    Damn the penguins! Full speed ahead!

  9. Wasn’t it Asimov who said that religion and science began to go their separate ways when people started putting lightning rods on church steeples? Alternatively, perhaps they indicate the two can get on fairly well together, when the hubris level remains low.

  10. Hilarious – I just read the full article and the man’s a born comedian! I love the faux humility of that final sentence – he should try his hand at fringe theatre!

  11. So glad publicly-funded scientists are no longer dependent on the ruling class.

  12. xzd<azA sorry, but one of my dogs just put a paw on the keyboard of my laptop. But wait, it's just as meaningfull and "true" as the nonsensical babbling comming from Russell Foster. Nathaniel Comfort has it spot on:Arrogance!

  13. I’ve been told that certain Australian aborigines believed that their souls were housed in special shiny stones. Each native carefully hid his own portable pineal gland in a secret place, only taking it out on rare ceremonial occasions. I don’t know if this tale is ethnologically accurate, but I’m always reminded of it when I read triumphant accounts of “science” like Comfort’s or, for that matter, the corresponding denunciations of “science” because the “science” in these discourses seems to me to be a fetish object, a whole that turns out to be just another one of the parts. Certainly whatever is referred to by the word has very little obvious relation to the human activities studied in serious histories of science and even less to the shambling, heterogeneous mass of practices, institutions, economies, concepts, images, dreams, reagents, instruments, animals, and people that constitute the reality of the thing. Well, we’re all doomed by the smallness of our minds to inhabit cartoons, but you’d think we hold out for better cartoons.

  14. Faye Getz Cook

    Seriously, resignation may not be the best course of action: ‘Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.’ Or words to that effect. I’ve never known a working scientist who described what they do the way Foster did, and one wonders just how seriously to take him. Less seriously than he would appear to take himself, for a start. Why, one wonders, do we keep fighting the Science Wars again and again? Unlike university places in the UK, knowledge isn’t a zero sum game. We don’t have to diminish history to promote science.

  15. Tut, tut. No need to resign ’til the Apocalypse in 2060. Besides, I love laughing about all the Alchemical Magick hereabouts.

    • laura

      Wasn’t 2060 just the earliest *possible* date? If somebody had forced him to actually predict the end date, Newton would have put it well into the 22nd century.

      Actually, reading Westfall recently I was impressed at how sensible Newton’s views of the Apocalypse seemed by 17th century standards.

  16. Pingback: Resignation. | Brain Tricks: Belief, Bias, and ...

  17. laura

    I’m reading Robert Inwood’s book on Robert Hooke tonight and came across this quote from Wallis on the early concerns of the Royal Society, which seems apropos:

    “…the circulation of the blood, the valves in the veins, . . . the lymphatick vessels, the Copernical hypothesis, the nature of comets and new stars, the satellites of Jupiter, the oval shape (as it then appeared) of Saturn, the spots in the sun, and its turning on its own axis, the inequalities and selenography of the Moon, the several phases of Venus and Mercury, the improvement of telescopes, the grinding of glasses for that purpose, the weight of air, the possibility or impossibility of vacuities, and nature’s abhorrance thereof, the Torricellian experiment in quicksilver, the descent of heavy bodies, and the degree of acceleration therein, and divers other things of the like nature.”

    He and his friends probably would have been crushed to learn they represented nothing but the leaden hand of ignorance.

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