Only in the 1990s has it become safe to defend publicly the concepts "truth" and "reality". Nowadays, it is even becoming increasingly fashionable to jump on the backlash bandwagon against anti-science (and also the allied movements 'Political Correctness' (PC), 'relativism', �social constructivism�, �deconstructionism�, �post-modernism�, and the whole fin-de-si�cle new-(dark)-age shebang). Alan Sokal�s "A Physicist Experiments with Cultural Studies" (Lingua Franca, May/June 1996, pp. 62-64) was a clever and effective device to expose the intellectual shortcomings of some of these obscurantist movements. But by what mysterious causes, in the first place, were they born, nurtured, helped to grow, and allowed to thrive for so many decades? I discovered the correct answers to these questions in 1977. In the oppressive and suffocating atmosphere of the benighted 1970s and 1980s, however, the PC thought police had already ensured that my answers were completely unacceptable to virtually the entire intellectual community (and not merely to one or other section of it, or only to the "establishment"), while the concept "truth" itself was very nearly so. I struggled to publicise my discoveries, with only partial progress so far. In this essay, I submit some of the true facts of the story, and some of the inferences derived from them, for the consideration of journalists, historians, sociologists, ethicists, and others. The related epistemological and ethical questions are shown to be of fundamental importance and in need of immediate attention and urgent resolution.
The (still continuing) work described in this essay was begun in 1977; it has never been supported by any Body; on the contrary, it has been opposed by virtually every one, and by absolutely every institutional Body.
O’Brian to Winston Smith:
What are the stars? They are bits of fire a few kilometres away. We could reach them if we wanted to. Or we could blot them out. The earth is the centre of the universe. The sun and the stars go around it. ... Do you suppose it is beyond us to produce a DUAL system of astronomy? The stars can be near or distant, according as we need them. Do you suppose our mathematicians are unequal to that? Have you forgotten doublethink?
(George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-four, pp. 271-2, Secker & Warburg, London, 1949)
“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Isaac Newton, 1675AD
“If I, too, have seen further, it is also by standing on the shoulders of giants like Newton. But before I could climb on the shoulders of giants, I had to struggle to free my neck from under the boot of the dwarves.”
Theo Theocharis, 1977AD
Roger Highfield, the Science Editor of the London Daily Telegraph, reported on 11 April 1997 (“Science and sociology fight for grip on reality”, p. 14) the publication of the Nature Commentary article “Science as a cultural construct” (Nature 386, 15 October 1997, pp. 545-7) (Throughout this essay, the dates need to be noted carefully):
A war between sociologists and scientists intensified yesterday as the world’s leading science journal, Nature, entered a debate on whether science has “a dubious grip on reality”. ... Yesterday, Prof Kurt Gottfried, of Cornell University, and Nobel laureate Prof Kenneth Wilson, of Ohio University return to the fray. ... Harry Collins said the [two] American[ physicist]s had not bothered to read relevant literature before criticising the Edinburgh group. ... The Science Wars ... began last year  with ... the Sokal Hoax.
If the (so-christened by Social Text in 1996) “science wars” can be said to have one identifiable starting point, that was when the first effective attack (which has developed in the now full-blown science wars) was launched in 1987 by me and a then colleague: Compare the above news report with the following one from a whole decade earlier: Jon Turney, the then Science Editor of the London Times Higher Education Supplement, reported on 8 January 1988 the furious outcry (“Vitriol spilled in attack on science theory”, p. 2) over the Nature Commentary article “Where Science Has Gone Wrong” (Nature 329, 15 October 1987, pp. 595-8):
Teachers of history, philosophy and sociology of science ... are up in arms over an attack by two Imperial College physicists, T. Theocharis and M. Psimopoulos, who charge that the plight of � science stems from wrong-headed theories of knowledge. ... Scholars who hold that facts are theory-laden, and that experiments do not give a clear fix on reality, are denounced. ... Staff on Nature, which published a cut-down version of the paper after lengthy attempts by the authors to find an outlet for their views, say they cannot recall such a response from their readers. “It really touched a nerve”, said one. There is unhappiness that Nature lent its reputation to the piece.
One would now expect a fair-minded and generous person like the present author to welcome fellow physicists Gottfried and Wilson, and also Alan Sokal (“A Physicist Experiments with Cultural Studies”, Lingua Franca, May/June 1996, pp. 62-64), Steven Weinberg (“Sokal’s Hoax”, The New York Review of Books, 6 August 1996), and all the other late-comers to join me in the fight against anti-science. If only it were that simple. Unfortunately, it definitely is not.
The 22 May 1997 issue of Nature (Vol. 387) devoted an editorial article (p. 321), a news report (p. 325), and a major five page “Briefing” section (pp. 331-335) to the so-called ‘science wars’. As shown above, the one journal whose editors ought to have known best the start of the ‘science wars’ is Nature. Yet, the “in this issue” Contents page iv of the 22 May 1997 issue of Nature summarised meretriciously the ‘science wars’ topic thus:
Over the past two years [1995-1997] the US academic community has been rocked by a heated debate about the philosophical foundations of science. This week’s page “Briefing” [pp. 331-335] reports from the trenches of what has become known as the ‘science wars’ and describes how similar issues have RECENTLY emerged in the UK.
This is only one of MANY times (since 1994) that Nature lied to its readers about the TRUE starting point of the ‘science wars’, and REFUSED to retract the lie. Why?
In the 27 February 1998 issue of the London Times Literary Supplement, Paul R. Gross remarked: “Argument rages in such unexpected places as the Journal of General and Internal Medicine over the possibility of objective research.” (“Postmodernism and the neoconservatives”, p. 17) I can mention many more allegedly “unexpected” places, not only in medicine but throughout the entire spectrum of intellectual endeavour. (In fact I have filled substantial sections of two (as yet unpublished) books with numerous quotations from such allegedly “unexpected” places.) However, in the light of the disclosures below, such places ought not to have been unexpected at all.
The 1997 New York Academy of Sciences Annual Report (p. 4) quoted The Wall Street Journal reporting in 1995 on the sessions of the “The Flight from Science and Reason” conference:
Until recently, professional scientists studiously avoided reacting to these sorts of [postmodernist] ’critiques’. Fortunately, some are beginning to realize that ’antiscience’ is a serious threat that calls for an active defence.... Under the auspices of the New York Academy of Sciences, a high level conference of more than 200 scientists, physicians, and humanists met to consider the contemporary flight from reason and its associated antiscience.
But as shown below, scientists, physicians, and humanists cannot complain that they were not amply forewarned. In the Commentary article “The Decline of Science” in the May 1998 issue of the Notices of the American Mathematical Society (Vol. 45(5) p. 565), Associate Editor Mary Beth Ruskai wrote:
Today, the credibility of science and engineering is reaching depths not experienced since the Dark Ages. � After a recent panel on “gender aspects of the science wars”, someone persistently asked why such seemingly bad scholarship had attracted a following. I had no answer.
Like in all complex human affairs, the causes and contributing factors that have given rise to “The Decline of Science” and also to “The Flight from Science and Reason” are many and varied, but arguably one important factor was stated by Charles A. Ziegler in his letter entitled “Deconstructing Science” to Science (276:1955, 27 June 1997). Ziegler wrote:
The [postmodernist evil empire of the] Academic Left is allegedly in control of most branches of scholarship and has orchestrated the onslaught on science. To the degree that this evil empire has any basis in reality, however, it owes its viability partly to the indifference of the scientific community. ... The lack of substantive dialogue was, in my view, a significant enabling factor in the ascendancy of postmodernist ideas about the nature of science during the TWO DECADES BEFORE 1994. (emphasis added)
Obviously, this is a very serious accusation; in fact, it amounts to a damning indictment of the entire scientific community. However, I must repudiate the suggestion that I, a physicist, have ever been indifferent to the “orchestrated postmodernist onslaught on science”, or “studiously avoided reacting to these sorts of postmodernist ’critiques’“.
Before an incomplete history of this affair is published, I must fill in a significant part of the record. Since the 1970s I (possibly the only physical scientist in the world until the 1990s) endeavoured to arouse both the scientific community and the general public from their complacent and, in the last analysis, harmful indifference, and warn them about the grave dangers of postmodernism.
I believe that I already had a fuller answer as to “The Decline of Science”, “The Flight from Science and Reason”, and the “Origins of the Cult of Scientific Irrationalism” in the 1970s and 1980s than any of the (still few) authors who noticed the problem after 1993. I recognised in 1977 the fundamental epistemological errors, the obscurantist character, the anti-science effect (though not intention), and the grave social dangers of the post-modern relativism preached by the disciplines now known as “science-studies”, and I struggled to combat them. I (possibly alone in the world until 1993) spent a great deal of time and effort to raise and discuss this vexatious issue in hundreds of scientific, philosophical, cultural, political, and popular forums. However, in the oppressive and suffocating climate of the benighted 1970s and 1980s, only a handful of my submissions were ever published.
It is still quite appropriate to repeat my warnings from 1983 (“Is there a scientific method?”, Education in Chemistry 20:120-121, July 1983) and hope that now they will be heeded:
I do not believe that the [science-studyer] authors of these ill-founded attacks against science want to sabotage science; but they provide ample ammunition to the avowed enemies of science. It is the duty of every scientist, and especially of every science teacher, to try to combat, at least in their own field of expertise, these preposterous attacks.
It is surely wiser for those who have not succeeded in reaching a satisfactory understanding of truth, reality and objectivity, and for those who have failed to detect the rationale of the courses of thought and action leading to discoveries, to either admit their ignorance or concede their incompetence. In any event, they should try harder, in accordance with the genuine scientific spirit, by investigating further and deeper these difficult subjects; rather than persist with trumpeting their absurd philosophies.
If there is one thing the world does not need more of in the age of the atom bomb, it is irrationality. But if the scientists, and the public in general, are so complacent as to accept uncritically such illogicalities from their philosophical leaders, then they deserve every unpleasant consequence which may befall them, as a result of the actions of their political and military leaders.
This warning was published in 1983, BEFORE the then UK government began imposing severe cutbacks to scientific research and higher education later in the 1980s, and well before the USA government did likewise in the 1990s. Moreover, in this 1983 publication I named (and lambasted) four science-studyers whose views I deemed effectively (though not intentionally) hostile to science. One of them was Thomas S. Kuhn. The significance of this point will transpire soon.
Naturally, I addressed my warnings to everyone, but especially, as I made clear in another of my few published documents (with M. Psimopoulos, “Where science has gone wrong”, Nature Vol. 333, 2 June 1988, p. 389), to “scientists and philosophers” (in whose disciplines postmodernism originated - see below) and also to (and I quote) “historians, physicians, journalists, police officers, and so on”, i.e. to all those whose primary professional objective must positively be the determination and the establishment of truth. Regrettably, my warnings were then universally ignored, to the further detriment of our entire contemporary post-modern society, but especially the above professions. It is not too late to be heeded now.
The letter under the heading “Irving and ‘Interpretation’” by history teacher Steven Mastin in Teaching History No. 99 (May 2000, p.4) is truly remarkable:
Surely in our post-modern age [David Irving] is expressing an historical opinion based on the evidence he has selected. Is that not what we teach our children about Key Element 3 and ‘Interpretation’ [UK History National Curriculum]? Is his work not simply an example of interpretation? However, Irving’s ‘interpretation’ is no interpretation at all. He is WRONG. TRUE truth does matter, despite what post-modernists suggest. Historians argue and produce endless footnotes for the very reason that truth matters! That is what history is all about. (emphasis in original)
Another notable article, “All quiet on the postmodern front” by history professor Arthur Marwick, was published in the Times Literary Supplement of 23 February 2001, pp. 13-14. Marwick correctly stated:
The Great War (also referred to as “the culture wars”, “the history wars”, or “the science wars”) � was, in the 1980s, marked by phenomenal victories on the part of the postmodernists. � [But] the postmodernist tide [is] now definitely ebbing.
When was the UK National Curriculum created? In the late 1980s, i.e. at the zenith of post-modernist power. (Evidently, it has never been adequately corrected.) But what did everyone do in Arthur Marwick’s ‘Great War’? How many fought on the side of Steven Mastin’s ‘TRUE truth’ during the benighted 1980s, when doing so was a really dangerous heresy and a truly risky undertaking?
By 1988 (the very year when the UK National Curriculum was being drafted), to the standard post-modernist objection that “truth, if it exists, is elusive and never attainable”, a then colleague (M. Psimopoulos) and I had devised this rebuttal:
How can one be certain that one knows the truth? This is often difficult to answer. But we suggest that this is the very question that every professional (not only scientists and philosophers but also HISTORIANS, physicians, journalists, police officers and so on) ought to be trying to answer, instead of denying the very existence of truth. If one does not do so, this conduct must be seen for what it really is: a breach of professional duty. (“Where Science Has Gone WRONG”, Nature Vol. 333, 2 June 1988, p. 389)
In “Waiting for the beast” (New Statesman, 22 May 1998, pp. 52-53), A. N. Wilson stated: “Few professional scientists would have difficulty in exposing the absurdity of [Thomas S.] Kuhn’s basic premise.” I would like to challenge anyone to name ONE professional scientist (apart from me and my associates) who actually DID expose the absurdity of Kuhn’s basic premise BEFORE 1993. (And when exactly did A. N. Wilson himself begin criticising Kuhn in print?)
The real truth is sad: Throughout the benighted 1970s and 1980s all those professional scientists who displayed any philosophical pretensions were actually falling over themselves to embrace, teach, and promote one or other obscurantist manifestation (including Kuhn’s) of (post-)modernism. The explanation of this unpalatable fact is also unpalatable: (Post-)modernism was the dominant zeitgeist of the benighted 1970s and 1980s, and hence virtually everyone (not just professional scientists) were jumping on the proverbial bandwagon. The zeitgeist gradually and painfully began to change in the less benighted 1990s, but, excepting me, the CAUSE of the change (contrary to appearances and pretensions) owes nothing to professional scientists. The latter simply began jumping on the 1990s anti-postmodernism bandwagon.
Another latecomer to the science wars is the American Journal of Physics, an official organ of the American Institute of Physics. In the April 1998 American Journal of Physics “Guest comment: The Science wars” (66, 282-283 (1998)), Roger G. Newton made the following revealing admission:
To some extent, we physicists may have been unwitting supporters of the relativists. In contrast to earlier times many of us now eschew the words “truth” and “reality”.
I have already made it absolutely clear that I, a physicist, have never eschewed the words “truth” and “reality”, nor have I ever been an unwitting supporter of the relativists. On the contrary, I have been struggling since 1977, possibly alone among physical scientists until 1993, in the teeth of official indifference at best or usually even hostility, to promote the indispensability in science of the words “truth” and “reality”, and refute the relativists. Happily, one of my rare successes was a Comment article by M. Psimopoulos, N. Bedding, and T. Theocharis published in Search Vol. 13, No. 1, 1987, p. 46. I mention this particular article because its title was, plainly: “Reality Defended”. But more pertinently, the American Journal of Physics itself is one of the precious few journals that thankfully published in M. Psimopoulos & T. Theocharis, “... To See It As It Is ... To Know It As It Isn’t ...”, American Journal of Physics 54, 969 (1986) the following warning by M. Psimopoulos and me:
We submit that if one believes that there exists no objective reality (or even if one has doubts as to its existence), one then has no motivation to try to discover it. Such a person is therefore less likely to make any new discoveries.
In the same article we then went on to cite evidence published a few years earlier in the very same American Journal of Physics (C. Sharp Cook, “Is Physics Approaching a State of Stagnation?”, Am. J. Phys. 48, 175 (1980)) that the eschewal in physics of the words “truth” and “reality” may have actually harmed physics in the way we indicated.
Without delay in April 1998, I submitted a letter making all these (and other) important points. Oddly, the Editor decided not to print my letter. Why did the American Journal of Physics, by having suppressed my April 1998 letter, mysteriously forfeit the kudos of publicising in 1998 the not insignificant fact that in 1986 it (very unfashionably for that time) promoted the word “reality”?
Yet another latecomer to the science wars is the Physics World, an official organ of the UK Institute of Physics. Its June 1997 issue contained a remarkable Editorial article entitled “Reality is not a hoax” (p. 3), whose whole purpose was to defend the concept “reality” in science. To repeat, I have been struggling to do precisely this since 1977, in the teeth of official indifference at best or usually even hostility. Happily, one of my rare successes was a Comment article by M. Psimopoulos, N. Bedding, and T. Theocharis published in Search Vol. 13, No. 1, 1987, p. 46 whose title was, remarkably: “Reality Defended”. Very similar articles I had submitted more than once to both the Physics World and its predecessor (before 1988) the Physics Bulletin. Regrettably, neither the Physics World nor the Physics Bulletin ever published any of my submissions. Nevertheless, what is very unusual with the June 1997 Physics World “Reality is not a hoax” Editorial article is that it contained the very rarely uttered phrase: “I have to confess that I made a mistake”. This encouraged me to submit for publication the following letter to the Editor:
When you stated, “I have to confess that I made a mistake”, in the June 1997 Editorial article of Physics World (“Reality is not a hoax”, p. 3), you displayed a rare and commendable ethos. You were referring to your failure, in June 1996, to appreciate the importance of, in particular, what has become known as the “Sokal Hoax”, and, in general, “the increasing friction at the interface between the natural and social sciences.”
However, Physics World as an institution has cause to be more sorry than the extent conceded by the present editor. In the 1970s and 1980s I, virtually alone, had been trying to direct attention (in virtually all appropriate science and philosophy forums (including the Physics World) and also in many public ones) to the indispensable role in science (and society) and the utmost importance of the concepts “truth”, “reality”, and “objectivity”, and also to the grave dangers of neglecting (never mind rejecting) them. Regrettably, too few newspapers and magazines (not including the Physics World) published my submissions. As a result, a great deal of avoidable harm was caused.
I attached to this letter copies of a few verifying documents. Receipt of this letter was duly acknowledged, with the note that it is receiving attention. However, I was not very hopeful that it would be published - for reasons that will become apparent later. Indeed, having received its due and long attention, my letter was never printed. In a letter dated 28 August 1997, the Editor, Peter Rodgers, wrote to me: “I regret that due to a large number of letters submitted recently and pressures on space, we shall be unable to publish it.” I received this letter on 3 September 1997, the very day in which the September 1997 issue of Physics World came out. The whole of page 9 was filled with a news report by Martin Durrani entitled “Glimmer of peace appears in the science wars”, and subtitled: “Furious clashes on the nature of science have taken place recently between sociologists and scientists”.>>
Interestingly, in every single issue of Physics World since then, its Editor has found ample space to print much larger articles on this same topic than my short letter. The same Editor himself returned to this same topic with the Physics World November 1998 most relevant Editorial article (p. 3) entitled “What Revolution?” from which I quote:
Steven Weinberg, the Nobel prize winning theoretical physicist, has looked more closely at Kuhn’s work and in a stylish essay entitled “The Revolution That Didn’t happen” [The New York Review of Books XLV(15), 8 October 1998, pp. 48-52], he concludes that Kuhn was wrong about many points. Weinberg’s assault on Kuhn has been inspired, at least in part, by the RECENT controversy between various scientists, mostly physicists, and certain sociologists of science on the meaning of “truth” and “reality” in science. � What concerns Weinberg � is Kuhn’s claim that “we may have to relinquish the notion � that changes of paradigm carry scientists � closer and closer to the truth”. As Weinberg writes: “And it is just these conclusions that have made Kuhn a hero to the philosophers, historians, sociologists, and cultural critics who question the objective character of scientific knowledge, who prefer to describe scientific theories as social constructions, not different from democracy or baseball.” (emphasis added)
It is instructive to quote more illuminating passages from Steven Weinberg’s “stylish essay” entitled “The Revolution That Didn’t Happen” in (also billed as “The Non-Revolution of T. S. Kuhn” on the front-page of) The New York Review of Books XLV(15), 8 October 1998, pp. 48-52]:
I [Weinberg] first read Thomas Kuhn’s famous book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions [2nd ed, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1970] a quarter century ago. � It was not Kuhn’s description of scientific revolutions that impressed me so much when I first read Structure in 1972, but rather his treatment of normal science. � Kuhn’s ideas have been invoked again and again in the RECENT conflict over the relation of science and culture known as the science wars. � What does bother me on rereading Structure and some of Kuhn’s later writings is his radically skeptical conclusions about what is accomplished in the work of science. And it is just these conclusions that have made Kuhn a hero to the philosophers, historians, sociologists, and cultural critics who question the objective character of scientific knowledge, who prefer to describe scientific theories as social constructions, not different from democracy or baseball. (emphasis added)
I stand corrected, but the obvious inference is that Weinberg recognised Kuhn’s “radically skeptical conclusions about what is accomplished in the work of science”, not when Weinberg “first read Thomas Kuhn’s famous book a quarter century ago” (i.e. in 1972), but only recently, after Weinberg saw that “Kuhn’s ideas have been invoked again and again in the RECENT conflict over the relation of science and culture known as the science wars”. In fact Weinberg openly admits that in 1972 Kuhn’s work on the whole “impressed” him.
It is not only Weinberg who in the early days was impressed by Kuhn’s work. Thomas Kuhn died in June 1996. The very same editor of Physics World (who in his November 1998 most relevant Editorial article (p. 3) entitled “What Revolution?” praised Weinberg’s negative re-assessment of Kuhn’s ideas, in the August 1996 issue of Physics World (p.51) published an obituary article “Thomas Kuhn 1922-96” by Pierre Noyes (who “is a professor at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, California, US”). Noyes wrote: “When Kuhn gave me [in 1958-1959] an early draft of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions for comment and criticism � my response was enthusiastic.”
By now it has become manifestly obvious that the best known and most influential ‘deconstructionist’ of science (and also of the scientific method and the resultant truth) was, from the 1960s until his death in 1996, Thomas Kuhn. But if more documentary evidence is demanded that can prove this claim beyond any doubt, it can be supplied:
It is probably the most influential book on the nature of science of the past century. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn (1922-1996) has sold nearly a million copies in 20 languages since it was published in 1962. It is the one philosophy book that most scientists, as well as many in the arts, will have heard of. Kuhn’s impact on our understanding of science is undeniable. His key concepts - paradigm, revolution, gestalt switch and incommensurability - are now part of popular scientific discourse. (Steve Fuller, “Paradigm lost”, New Scientist, 15 July 2000)
If it is objected that the above is a rather subjective evaluation by one individual, then consider the following:
Thomas Kuhn’s very famous book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions [1st ed, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1962] is the most cited single book, on any subject, of this century. (E. Garfield, ‘A different sort of great books list: the 50 Twentieth-century works most cited in the Arts and Humanities Citation Index, 1976-1983,’ Arts and Humanities Citation Index, second semiannual, 1994, pp 7-11; also Philosophy, 70, 1995, p 609.) (The Arts and Humanities Citation Index is a compilation of the references to authors and works made in footnotes to academic papers.)
If only just a single physical scientist of Weinberg’s eminence had registered early the slightest objection to “Kuhn’s radically skeptical conclusions about what is accomplished in the work of science”, the postmodernist ideas about the nature of science would not have ascended so high. And apart from me, have there been any scientists who fought the postmodernist onslaught on science before 1993? If there had been at least a few, undoubtedly things would have been very different – much, much healthier. Regrettably, it appears that there had been NONE.
Why has Kuhn been so influential? Undoubtedly, the chief reason must be the warm endorsement of his ideas in the 1970s by the science establishment itself, of which Weinberg has been a leading member since the 1960s, maybe earlier. To be specific, Kuhn’s ideas were embraced enthusiastically in 1977 by Science. Published weekly by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Science has indubitably been for many decades the world’s leading organ of the science establishment. I am referring to the article by Science staff writer Nicholas Wade “Thomas S. Kuhn: Revolutionary Theorist of Science”, Science 197, 143-145, 8 July 1977. I must say at this point that I first came across Kuhn’s work by reading in July 1977 this very article, and it APPALLED me – the very same work that IMPRESSED Weinberg in 1972. In response, I submitted to Science for publication the following letter to the Editor:
Any so-called “paradigm” that appears merely to work and does not claim to be (at least an approximation to) the truth of nature is a Santa Claus-type theory and cannot legitimately claim to be scientific. For sound scientific practice in general, the words “truth” and “reality” are indispensable. Moreover, any non-accidental advancement (both theoretical and practical) in every scientific field is heavily predicated on knowing and using correctly a theory that is close to the truth. In fact the closer the theory is to the truth, the greater the probability of advancement. Any so-called ‘paradigm’ that dispenses with truth is epistemologically flawed, culturally obscurantist, and socially dangerous. I regret that Science has endorsed one such erroneous paradigm, that of T. S. Kuhn (Wade, N. “Thomas S. Kuhn: Revolutionary Theorist of Science”, Science 197, 143-145, 8 July 1977), and suggest that a serious reconsideration of these fundamental issues be carried out urgently.
Regrettably, to the further detriment of science, Science did not publish my disapproving letter. Instead, Science predictably published two other letters that approved of Kuhn’s ideas (“Changing Norms: Before and After Kuhn”, Richard J. Wurtman (MIT), Walter M. Elsasser (John Hopkins), Science 197, 514 (1977)). To the best of my knowledge, apart from me in 1987 (“Where Science Has Gone Wrong”, Nature 329, 15 October 1987, pp. 595-8), no other physical scientist ever published any objection to the warm endorsement of Kuhn’s ideas by Science in 1977.
Significantly, on the Editorial page of every issue in the (by comparison with nowadays) enlightened 1970s, Science proudly printed the following noble but demonstrably meretricious Editorial statement:
Science serves its readers as a forum for the presentation and discussion of important issues related to the advancement of science , including the presentation of minority or conflicting points of view, rather than by publishing only material on which a consensus has been reached.
Ironically, the very same Science staff writer, Nicholas Wade, who wrote the “Thomas S. Kuhn: Revolutionary Theorist of Science” article in the 8 July 1977 issue of Science (197, 143-145), only one month later, in the 12 August 1977 issue of Science (197, 646), wrote another article whose link to the earlier one evidently and sadly neither he nor anyone else noticed. I am referring to “A Pyrrhonian Sledgehammer” Science (197, 646), from which I must quote:
A new committee has been formed with a high ambition to combat the public’s propensity for belief in the supernatural. � “It’s a very dangerous phenomenon, dangerous to science, dangerous to the basic fabric of our society”, says Lee Nisbet, executive editor of the Humanist. � “We feel it is the duty of the scientific community to show that these beliefs are utterly screwball” Nisbet declares.
What was it that made me understand in 1977 what (still too few) other physical scientists only noticed after 1993? It is the very same reason why the physics establishment have, a la Stalin, written me out of history and made me a non-person. It is also the same reason why many years ago (in the 1980s) I devised the parable “(Post-)Modernist Revolution in Medicine:
Imagine a seriously ill patient taken to the hospital. Also imagine the doctor in charge saying, “In our post-modern era, the time is ripe to start a revolution in medicine. Let us first discard (or at least “deconstruct”) the antiquated and obsolete notion “diagnosis”. Let us free our profession from the oppressive rule of this tyrannical concept. It will then be no longer our professional obligation to waste so much intellectual effort and time on such an unnecessary procedure.” When his puzzled assistant asks: “But what treatment are we going to apply to the seriously ill patient?”, he replies: “Having made things so much simpler and easier for our profession, let us then arbitrarily apply any, just any, treatment, starting with, say, the conventional pneumonia treatment.” When that does not work, the doctor says, “We may now try the typhus treatment.” When that, too, does not work, the doctor says, “Let us now try the cholera treatment.” And so on, and on.
Obviously, that would probably entail the end of the patient, and definitely also the end of SCIENTIFIC medicine. We would still have some form of NON-scientific medicine which we might justifiably call VOODOO medicine. For good medical practice, the one-and-only CORRECT diagnosis is an absolute MUST. In fact for sound scientific practice in general, the one-and-only TRUE theory is ALWAYS an absolute MUST. Anything else is either deconstructionist claptrap or (post-)modernist flim-flam.
Of course such a full-blown (post-)modernist revolution in medicine has not happened; not quite; not yet. Nevertheless, it has already come to pass that “the possibility of objective research” in medicine HAS been questioned in professional medical journals, and I argue that the situation can still deteriorate further not just in medicine but in every domain of culture.
In the nineteenth century, whenever a new electrical phenomenon was discovered, the physicists of that time used the particle model of the electron, and it worked in explaining the phenomenon. In the 1920s the so called “diffraction of electrons” was discovered, and the physicists again tried the particle model of the electron, but in this case it apparently did not work. Luckily, the wave model of the electron did work, though it failed to work with most of the other phenomena.
At that point in the 1920s the physicists collectively as a profession decided that the electron, and also light, etc. either have no UNIQUE nature (and they began talking about their DUAL nature) or if they had, it was not their business to find it. (I have coined the shorthand phrases “Diabolical Duality” and “The Encounsciousment of Doublethink” to designate these weird (post-)modernist (in the 1920s!) developments.) By now it ought to be obvious to every genuine scientist that this is NOT scientific physics. This we can aptly and usefully call VOODOO physics. If one has not understood this point, then in contemporary matters one cannot begin to really understand ANYTHING non-trivial; and I do not mean just anything non-trivial in quantum physics, or just anything non-trivial in physics, or just anything non-trivial in science; I also mean anything non-trivial in philosophy, in culture, in society. It is that SERIOUS, because this virulent infection has become a pandemic and has spread universally.
In Directions in Physics (John Wiley and Sons, 1978, p. 36), the eminent quantum physicist Paul Dirac wrote:
Most physicists are very satisfied with the situation. They say “Quantum electrodynamics is a good theory, and we do not have to worry about it any more.” I must say that I am very dissatisfied with the situation, because this so-called good theory does involve neglecting infinities which appear in its equations, neglecting them in an arbitrary way. This is just not sensible mathematics. Sensible mathematics involves neglecting a quality when it turns out to be small - not neglecting it just because it is infinitely great and you do not want it!
Earlier still, the eminent mathematician Jean Dieudonne (a leading member of the Bourbaki team) was quoted in Nature (401, 23 September 1999, p. 328) as having said:
When one arrives at the mathematical theories on which quantum mechanics is based, one realizes that the attitude of certain physicists in the handling of these theories truly verges on delirium. � One has to ask oneself what remains in the mind of a student who has absorbed this unbelievable accumulation of nonsense, real hogwash! It would appear that today’s physicists are only at ease in the vague, the obscure, and the contradictory.
Thus in tandem with ‘voodoo physics’ goes ‘voodoo mathematics’.
Before any mathematical and physical scientists (and especially quantum physicists) dare to accuse any others of the very serious charge of intellectual imposture, they first ought to look at themselves in the mirror and pull out the huge beams in their own eyes. Only then will they be in a good position to put their own tower-of-Babel of a house in order.
Like in all complex human affairs, the causes and contributing factors that have given rise to the much talked about “Decline of Science” and “The Flight from Science and Reason” are many and varied. But if there is one prime and ultimate cause, it is what I have justifiably termed “voodoo physics”. Moreover, this is the most dangerous cause because it is the least recognised one – because it is the most effectively concealed one. Without this correct diagnosis of the very serious malaise of our sick (post-)modern society, there is little prospect for any substantial recovery. Merely treating the superficial symptoms is futile; the malignant cancer itself at the very core of our culture has got to be confronted, combated, defeated, and eliminated.
In “The many failings of post-modernism” (The Spectator, 27 September 1997, p. 48 (which is a book-review article of: Richard J. Evans, In Defence of History, Granta, 1997)), Samuel Brittan wrote:
[What is] the basis of the post-modernist absurdities?... Alas, we do not have any good general theory explaining these periodic revolts against enlightenment and telling us in which conditions they flourish or wither.
I must say that I have had a “good general theory explaining these periodic revolts against enlightenment and telling us in which conditions they flourish or wither” for more than two decades now. However, all the appropriate specialist forums plus the popular media have always been singularly disinclined to publicise my theory. Of necessity, the present essay could only give some small hints as to the full and precise nature and content of this theory.
Theory & Science