I recently had an intense discussion with a friend of mine in the social sciences, who was incensed that scientists were so ignorant of, and reflexively hostile towards sociopolitical critiques of science. I think this person had a fair point in saying that most scientists who lashed out at “postmodernism*” had no real understanding of what they were criticizing, but at the same time, I thought that it was a little bit unfair to expect scientists to have specialist knowledge in someone else’s field. I myself (having no pretense of understanding sociopolitical theory) have tried, on occasion, to gain an absolute basic knowledge of the subject, particularly as it relates to its critiques of science. I have come away with the impression that it is inherently hostile to empiricism, and therefore does not have any mechanism in place to distinguish between science and pseudoscience.
Now, I’m perfectly willing to believe (as specialists have told me) that my naive reading of the subject is incorrect. But in view of the fact that a naive reading is the best that the overwhelming majority of scientists can reasonably be expected to have, is it any surprise that so many of us eye such critiques suspiciously?
Since I had this discussion though, I’ve started wondering: why do such critiques seem so inaccessible to lay readers? I mean, it seems like systematic critiques of science could be a tremendously useful thing for practicing scientists themselves to learn about. It would obviously have to be simplified, and useless for the purposes of original research, but surely it must be possible at least to describe these theories in a way that a nonspecialist could understand the gist of them–in much the same way, perhaps ironically, that science popularizers can give broad descriptions of, say, general relativity.
If such primers for lay readers do exist, then I would certainly be interested in reading any that could be recommended. If, on the other hand, they do not exist, then why do they not exist?
*Here to be interpreted as a catchall phrase for “all sociopolitical critiques produced in the last 40 years or so.”