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An Illustration Of Type I Scientism

Regular readers will recall there are two Types of Scientism. Type I is belief that Science is needed to verify commonplace truths. Type II is the belief that only Science can provide truth.

Both are false. Type II Scientism leads to empiricism, atheism, and similar mental maladies. These are all bad, but it’s still not clear if Type II is the worst form of Scientism. For you usually arrive at Type II through the gateway of Type I.

A Type I headline might be “Men Stronger Than Woman On Average, Study Finds.” The study was not necessary, or at least it wasn’t throughout all of human history. Studies like this (and there are some) highlight another science error, which is Fantasist or Willed Science. Fantasists will say “Women are as strong as men”, and so will need scientific evidence (of Type I) to prove to them it is not so. That some will not believe this evidence is an error opposite of scientism. Even scientists themselves commit this fantastical error, usually because they are in love with a Theory (as the Fantasists are). I do not pursue this here.

You and I, dear readers, have dissected many Type I papers over the years. From this “research”—I mean ours, not the papers—we have discovered that a leading cause of Type I Scientism is the need to publish. Forcing scientists to speak when they have nothing interesting to say causes lousy work to be artificially elevated. It clogs journals.

Scientists have some pride, even then they know what they are made to push is weak and is better left unsaid. To cover their shame, they write badly, hoping a blizzard of jargon and bloated sentences will make their piles of words look shiny (this may not be consciously planned). And so journals, like port-a-potties after Grateful Dead concert, fester.

Even this would be okay, except for the Expansion Effect. The Expansion Effect is the flooding of the system of sub-par talent (“Every child should go to college”). This further bloats content, causing a drag on the system as separating the metal from ore takes more and more time.

The worst part of Type I Scientism is false advertising and the subsequent encouragement of non-scientists to view scientists with more esteem than they deserve. That leads to Type II Scientism, which itself leads to utilitarianism and a host of other sins.

Enough of that. Here’s the headline: Growing up in a house full of books is major boost to literacy and numeracy, study finds.

While the average number of books in a home library differed from country to country — from 27 in Turkey to 143 in the UK and 218 in Estonia — “the total effects of home library size on literacy are large everywhere”, write Sikora and her colleagues in the paper, titled Scholarly Culture: How Books in Adolescence Enhance Adult Literacy, Numeracy and Technology Skills in 31 Societies. The paper has just been published in the journal Social Science Research.

“Adolescent exposure to books is an integral part of social practices that foster long-term cognitive competencies spanning literacy, numeracy and ICT skills,” they write. “Growing up with home libraries boosts adult skills in these areas beyond the benefits accrued from parental education or own educational or occupational attainment.”

This is Type I all the way. Kids given books are more likely to read than kids not given books is not a subject of worthy research. Especially when it must be obvious that the parents who own the books are smarter, on average, than those that don’t. And that means the kids are smarter, on somewhat less of an average, given the partial heritability of intelligence.

What do the authors say? In their conclusion they ask:

Now that we have established that scholarly culture as indicated by the size of home libraries, confers enduring cognitive skills in literacy, numeracy, and technology, the next burning question becomes: “How does this come about?”

“Role modelling”, they say, “Children emulate parents who read.”

Then comes the jargon and Expansion Effect:

Acquisition of specific strategies proposed by significant others or discovered in books themselves: children build “toolkits” of strategies that they apply in multiple situations (Swidler, 1986). Stimulation of cognitive skills through family social practices: books are interwoven with positive affect, specific mental activities, know-how, and motivational states (Reckwitz, 2002). Storytelling, imaginative play, charades, and vocabulary development come to mind (Evans, et al., 2010). We suggest that scholarly culture is a way of life rather than concerted cultivation (Lareau, 2011).

Good grief.

12 thoughts on “An Illustration Of Type I Scientism Leave a comment

  1. Next question; Why are legitimate, worthy, papers so often denied publication? (and I suspect you can think of a few examples) Scientism is active on multiple fronts.

  2. Here is how they quantified home libraries for survey respondents between the ages of 16 and 65:

    About how many books were there in your home when you were 16 years old? Do not include magazines, newspapers or schoolbooks. To give an estimation, one metre of shelving is about 40 books. Answer categories were: 10 books or less; between 11 and 25 books; between 26 and 100 books; between 101 and 200 books; between 201 and 500; more than 500 books.

    I didn’t see any mention of school libraries or reading programs in the methods section…

  3. Brian:

    Why do you believe that

    “legitimate, worthy, papers [are] so often denied publication”?

    I’d be genuinely interested in any actual data about this.

  4. Lee Phillips

    Well, it’s a bit hard to cite papers which have never seen the light of day. I do, however, know of a clinical / research oncologist whose submitted papers have been routinely been spiked for 30 years. Why? Not for lack of scientific rigor, rather they undermine dogma.
    I have no doubt that Dr. Briggs can supply examples of climate research which, for “denying” P.C. Scientism, is iitself banned from publication. Happy?

  5. Brian:

    “Happy?”

    My mood is neutral, as I really didn’t expect you to have anything to back up your claim, so your response was predictable. “Happy” would be the result of a pleasant surprise, such as you actually having some evidence.

  6. Absence of evidence equals evidence of absence, no? I am not a professional scientist (unless you count a degree in anthropology; God, what was I thinking?)
    Really, I am not in a position to track down peer reviewed articles on the shortcommings of peer reviewed articles. Of course you are welcome to do so.
    By the way, the word happy does not always mean joyful (or gay?) In ideomatic English it can also mean satisfied. I am satisfied though it seems you are not. Let us leave it at that.
    Best wishes, Brian

  7. Lee Phillips

    Absence of evidence equals evidence of absence, no? I am not a professional scientist (unless you count a degree in anthropology; God, what was I thinking?)
    Really, I am not in a position to track down peer reviewed articles on the shortcommings of peer reviewed articles. Of course you are welcome to do so.
    By the way, the word happy does not always mean joyful (or gay?) In ideomatic English it can also mean satisfied. I am satisfied though it seems you are not. Let us leave it at that.
    Best wishes, Brian

  8. You’ve only spotted the top of the iceberg. Now that it’s been SCIENTIFICALLY DEMONSTRATED that households with more books are associated with literate children, the next step is a nationwide, federally mandated War on Illiteracy to guaranteed that every household with children has the recommended minimum of 43, err 127, err 218 books. The Department of Education will generate recommended booklists, and publish RFPs for US Standard Home Libraries, eligible for state and federal subsidies. Households with non-standard books, or fewer books than the recommended minimum, will be publicly shamed via social media as Enemies of Literacy. Nancy Pelosi, Sting, Beyonce, and that creepy SNL guy in the prison suit will all film PSAs holding an approved book. Like all previous wars not involving actual combat–like the ones on Poverty or Drugs–children will actually become less literate than they are today.

  9. I was once asked to lecture to a university Public Speaking class — someone had erroneously told them I was a fabulous public speaker.

    The first, #1 Rule I listed for them was “You must have something you want to say. If you don’t have anything to say, sit back down.” The professor of the course spoke to me after class, congratulating me on my lecture, but challenged Rule #1. His point was that if his students followed Rule #1, they would never get up to speak. “Yes, ” I said, “that is the point.”

    Researchers who publish lousy, poorly conceived, poorly executed journal articles should have followed Rule #1.

    Science, as a field of endeavor, needs just one Great Paper from every researcher — not ten million paper-wasting articles from ten thousand researchers.

  10. BRIGGS Says this: “…there are two Types of Scientism. Type I is BELIEF that Science is needed to verify commonplace truths. Type II is the BELIEF that only Science can provide truth.” [EMPHASIS added]

    How can anyone possibly know if a given bit of research was done out of curiosity, or, the researcher’s BELIEF that science is needed to verify the obvious, that only science can provide truth?

    For the most part, nobody can possibly know if such “belief” was the motive.

    But look what Briggs concedes: “…a leading cause of Type I Scientism is the need to publish. Forcing scientists to speak when they have nothing interesting to say causes lousy work to be artificially elevated.”

    !!!!!!

    If the work is done out of the “need to publish” — to boost the impressive statute of one’s curriculum vitae (CV), where publication tally is the overriding metric [not quality], where does motivating “belief” in science reside??

    There isn’t any such belief. There is no such thing as “scientism.” The scientific researcher’s “belief” that science, and only science, can give the answer has no part in this drama at all. Because its not about “belief” … its all about ego and metrics — a CV padded by a higher tally of publications is the yardstick du jour. That yardstick does not include [much] quality, only quantity, of papers published.

    “Scientism” is a canard used by those invoking it to attack science that is nibbling way at the realm of unknown in which primitive beliefs (faith) resides. Better to protect that faith by ignoring discovery and reality than have to concede one’s belief was wrong. This vice-like death grip on false beliefs, unfortunately, is a key element of human nature (be they beliefs about deity, one’s child’s integrity, which city’s sports team is better, etc., generally matters not).

    Notice “scientism” is defined with the researcher’s core belief about science being the defining factor.

    Also ponder the last time, or any time, you saw “scientism” addressing an alternative explanation to the researcher’s alleged belief in the need for science. That versus when you observe “scientism” invoked as the basis for condemning the entire discipline of science…

    Do you see how & what “scientism” is purported to fundamentally consist of does not comport with how the concept of scientism is applied?

  11. I’m of a generation who used public (lending) libraries, learned from my mother who went once every two weeks to borrow and return books. Our home library consisted of books my parents probably read, or were given as birthday or Christmas gifts–but mostly popular/best seller fiction for adults–not something a school child would pick up to read. I don’t recall seeing my father read a book until after he retired, when his free time thus permitted such. My reading habit was inculcated by my mother’s trips to the public library–not the 47 books in the home.

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