When Fake Becomes the Benchmark for True


Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash

Our faith in the process of science is damaged, and it could be replaced by something worse

In a desperate attempt to curb the negative wave of attention it garnered in 2017, Facebook stepped into 2018 announcing its own resolutions. The big one is backing away from news publishers, and favouring content that user’s friends and family put out. Here are a few other alarming headlines from this past week:

Fake news and distrust of science could lead to global epidemics.

Oprah Winfrey has long dabbled in junk, pseudoscience.

Raw water is hard to swallow.

Autism pseudoscience crept into Apple’s Webby-nominated ad.

This has prompted me to think about the ways to foster critical thinking for the sake of staying true to the truth itself.

If people don’t trust experts (or have had ‘enough of them’) and Facebook’s turn away from news distribution further limits the distribution of information, where will well-critiqued expertise find its audience? Do we run a risk of the fake becoming the benchmark? Could our faith in the process of science be replaced by something worse? My sense is yes. And I’m increasingly concerned that we need to get in front of this issue.

Philosopher Thomas Kuhn grasped the realpolitik of science. Steven Fuller, writing in Kuhn vs. Popper, explains how Kuhn understood that:

…scientific revolutions succeed not because the same people are persuaded of a new way of seeing things (à la Popper) but because different people’s views start to count […] The sheer fact that newcomers have not yet personally invested in the old paradigm may be enough to make them open to a radical change in direction.

Fake news and identity-driven beliefs take aim at the notion of falsifiability, which Karl Popper argues was a core ethic of science.

Let’s guard against this, not to prevent a new and better paradigm emerging — like the Copernican replacing the Ptolemaic — but to prevent a turn away from science back towards superstition, the unevidenced and the inexplicable.

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