Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Historians as Whores.

Sure it's misinformation, but it fits the politically correct narrative.

In a post titled "We need to talk about Cosmos...," historian of scienceJoseph Martin (pictured at left), who teaches at Colby College, refers to the falsehoods promoted by Cosmos about the history of science.Cosmos, as our readers will know, has persistently offered a false version of history where religion never positively influences the development of science. Martin writes:
I've been watching with interest as the history of science community, particularly on Twitter, has reacted with consternation to the historical components of Neil deGrasse Tyson's Cosmos reboot. To a large extent I agree with these criticisms. It is troubling that the forums in which the public gets the most exposure to history of science also tend to be those in which it is the least responsibly represented.
But part of me also wants to play devil's advocate. First, Cosmos is a fantastic artifact of scientific myth making and as such provides a superb teaching tool when paired with more responsible historical presentations and perhaps some anthropological treatments of similar issues like Sharon Traweek's Beamtimes and Lifetimes.
Second, I don't know that we, as a community, have adequately made the case that the scholarly view of history we advance is, in fact, more useful for current cultural and political discourse than the naïve view scientists advance. One thing we often see in our research, and parallel work in philosophy of science, is that "right" is often not the same thing as "useful." I'm interested in generating some discussion in why and how, if at all, we can make the case that "useful" and "right" are and should be the same thing in this case for reasons other than internal professional ones.
Let me translate. First, he acknowledges that Cosmos has been legitimately criticized for itsinaccurate portrayal of the history of science. But he wants to defend Cosmos, playing the "devil's advocate." Why? Because the "naïve view scientists advance" -- that science is always good, and religion is always getting in the way -- might be more "useful" when talking to the public, even if it isn't "right." But what does he mean by "useful"? And is he really suggesting it might be OK to lie in the service of defending the prestige of science? Yes he is, and that becomes clear in his next comment:

There has been a lot of this "selling out the principles of scholarship for political reasons" thing going on recently.

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