On manufactroversies

July 8, 2008

Leah Ceccarelli in the Seattle Times:

My own research seeks to reveal what makes today’s manufactroversies work. First, I’ve discovered that modern-day sophists skillfully invoke values that are shared by the scientific community and the public, such as free speech, skeptical inquiry and the revolutionary force of new ideas against a repressive orthodoxy. It is difficult to argue against someone who draws on these values without seeming unscientific or un-American.

Second, the modern sophists exploit the gap between the technical and public spheres. Scientific experts who can’t spare the time for public communication are then surprised when the public distrusts them.

Third, today’s sophists exploit a public misconception about what science is, portraying it as a structure of complete consensus built from the steady accumulation of unassailable data. Any dissent is cited as evidence that there’s no consensus, and thus that truth must not have been discovered yet.

A more accurate portrayal of science recognizes it to be a process of debate among a community of experts in which the side with superior evidence and argument wins. Unanimity of belief never exists, but the process of science moves forward with the weight of a supermajority.

More here.

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  1. Paul Murray
    July 8, 2008 at 9:25 pm

    Leah Ceccarelli points out that Aristotle wrote “Rhetoric” to answer the sophists. Perhaps the academics in the humanities ought stop debating postmodernism, and come to the aid of their collegues in the sciences who are being attacked in ways that they are ill-equipped to defend themselves against.

  2. winnebago
    July 11, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    Umm, that’s precisely what Ceccarelli and the vast majority of those of us that study the Rhetoric of Science are doing. She is super smart, her book is fascinating. Science and postmodernism are not incompatible. Quite to the contrary, the postmodern notion that knowledge is historically situated is consistent with the self-correcting function of science. There aren’t really any serious scholars that accept the idea that because knwoledge is contigent, therefore all knowledge claims are equal — such a caricature is the product of the same type of Sophists that Ceccarelli critiques in her editorial.

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