Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Bullshit or Not?: Steve Fuller Edition

There's an old sketch film called Amazon Women on the Moon and one of the sketches is a parody of the old Leonard Nimoy show, "In Search Of...". In the sketch, the show is called, "Bullshit or Not?" with the tagline "Bullshit or not? You decide." So I've stolen it for what may become an occasional series of posts when I find a quotation I find interesting.

The first one is from the book Science, by sociologist Steve Fuller who some of you may recognize as an expert witness in the Dover trial called to support the intelligent design folks. Feel free to leave one word comments, "bullshit" or "not" or to explain your position in as much depth as you'd like, but I'd love to hear which way most of you are leaning. The one rule is "No ad hominem." The focus is not on Fuller it is on the claim made.

Here's the quotation:

Although 'science' and cognate terms can be found in most Indo-European languages, 'scientist' does not appear until well into the nineteenth century. The significance of this fact should not be underestimated. It is one thing to think of the organized pursuit of knowledge as something that can be analysed independently of other social practices; it is quite another to think of its pursuit as a full-time job, a profession that requires specialist credentials...the possibility of a 'scientist' suggests that only certain people have really applied their minds to fathoming specific domains of reality. Through their training and commitment, these people have supposedly acquired intellectual skills that make them exemplars of to whom other members of society should defer when seeking insight into these domains. The model for this development is clearly the priesthood, whereby a a society comes to accept the idea that its members cannot properly deal with their souls without third party mediation.
So by creating a class of professional scientists, have we thereby given rise to a new sort of Catholic priesthood wherein the secret knowledge of the universe is kept from the masses except through the approved channels of the hierarchical organization? Is this why scientific literacy is a problem? Is this why things like intelligent design seem appealing to those not inside the structure? Bullshit or not? You decide.

Extra credit
: Name the person in the nineteenth cetury who coined the term "scientist."