Post-Modern Science

Would Copernicus and Galileo have been right to lie about the nature of the solar system if that lie prevented the undermining of the Catholic Church, which most everyone at the time felt to have substantial positive benefits?

I think the answer for most of us is "no."  Science is about finding the truth, and the effects of those truths on social and political institutions are what they are.

But we have now entered the era of post-modern science, where writers on scientific ethics now conclude that its OK for scientists to lie as long as they are on the right team

James Garvey, a philosopher and the author of The Ethics of Climate Change has written a defence of Peter Gleick at the Guardian:

What Heartland is doing is harmful, because it gets in the way of public consensus and action. Was Gleick right to lie to expose Heartland and maybe stop it from causing further delay to action on climate change? If his lie has good effects overall – if those who take Heartland's money to push scepticism are dismissed as shills, if donors pull funding after being exposed in the press – then perhaps on balance he did the right thing. It could go the other way too – maybe he's undermined confidence in climate scientists. It depends on how this plays out.

Post-modernism has been quite fashionable in the social sciences for decades, but this entry into the hard sciences is new and disturbing. For reference, here is the Wikipedia entry on post-modernism

In its most basic form, postmodernism is an intentional departure from the previously dominant modernist approaches such as scientific positivismrealismconstructivismformalismmetaphysics and so forth. In a sense, the "postmodernist" approach continues the critique of the Enlightenment legacy, fundamentally seeking to challenge the traditional practices and intellectual pillars of western civilization just as the Enlightenment challenged tradition, theology and the authority of religion before it.

Postmodernism postulates that many, if not all, apparent realities are only social constructs and are therefore subject to change. It emphasises the role of language, power relations, and motivations in the formation of ideas and beliefs. In particular it attacks the use of sharp binary classifications such as male versus female, straight versus gay, white versus black, and imperial versus colonial; it holds realities to be plural and relative, and to be dependent on who the interested parties are and the nature of these interests. It claims that there is no absolute truth and that the way people perceive the world is subjective.

"Fake but accurate" is a good example of post-modernist thinking.


  1. Matt:

    I think it's somewhat unfaire for you to lump climate science where cause->effect relationships are poorly understood at best in with the hard sciences. :)

  2. Mark2:

    Catholic church didn't ask Galileo to lie. They asked him to write his findings in Latin, so that they would be read by the intellectual community, and not the common man. The church, at the time, knew that some of what they were teaching about scientific issues, was wrong, but they felt if their parishioners learned about all the changes too quick they would abandon the church. Gallileo went ahead and wrote his discoveries in Italian, which is what upset the church.

    Why the church would get into the teaching of science is beyond me. I don't quite understand where in the bible it says that the earth is the center of the Universe, or that it is flat. They would not have had issues if they stuck to moral and historical teaching related to the bible.

  3. TJIC:

    > What Heartland is doing is harmful, because it gets in the way of public consensus

    So...speaking a minority opinion is harmful?

    It's hard to find evidence of a totalitarian ideologue more clear than that!

  4. caseyboy:

    Actually the Bible describes the earth as a circle, Isaiah 40:22. The Catholic Church has been tripping all over itself regarding science since the "difficulties" that arose with Galileo.

  5. Another guy named Dan:

    It reminds me of a scene from pne of PJ O'Rourke's books where a spokesman from a third world dictatorship was quoted as saying "Their article said that the government was censoring the press. This was a lie so we could not allow them to print it."

    This thinking is also manifest in the whole attitude shown towards scientists from outside the IPCC inner circle - "We'll gladly debate our results with any real climate scientist. Dr. X, however doesn't agree with us, so he's not a real climate scientist".

  6. Floyd McWilliams:

    The funny thing is that Gleick's lies were so unnecessary to accomplish what Garvey thinks is admirable ... Judith Curry emailed someone from Heartland and got the same information that Gleick phished and breathlessly announced as something shameful. (Namely that Heartland tries to influence opinion on global warming by giving talks, sponsoring conferences, and writing articles. Cue the OH NOES gif!)

  7. Ted Rado:

    If science becomes subserviant to the current popular opinions, it might as well be fiction. Man's search for explanations to obseved phenomona is as old as man himself. If political correctness rules, forget science.

    Whether the "Climate Change" hypothesis is correct or not will become evident over a number of decades. I am sure sound science will prevail as long as the work is done in an objective, scientifically sound manner.

  8. Dan:

    I don't think your analogy is at all accurate. The article is about him lying to Heartland about his identity to get the files, not lying to the public about the science. (If he actually faked the strategy document, I agree with you, but that's not what this is talking about). Him lying to Heartland is more akin to hacking or breaking and entering than to a fraud on the public.

    This has nothing to do with post-modernism, it's classic "ends justify the means." This particular question is more like Wikileaks (is it permissible for Pvt. Manning to betray his employer and leak files if the information being exposed would expose government wrongdoing).

  9. Dan:

    Which is to say––what, in the Gleick case, is "fake but accurate"?

  10. theodorerud:

    Could somebody explain to me:is there a difference between post-modernism and pre-moderism? If so, what is it?

  11. caseyboy:

    theodorerud - pre-mondernism = caveman

  12. a_random_guy:

    If his lie has good effects overall ... then perhaps on balance he did the right thing.

    The end justifies the means. Where have we heard that before? One little immoral act commited with good intentions, then another, then another. "But I meant well!" It sounds like James Garvey is a philosopher who has forgotten ethics.

    As near as I can tell, "post-modernism" is tripe for "doing what you want, and finding some way to justify it afterwards". Guess what, some things are absolute; ethical behavior is one of them. Each unethical act is an attack on society and civilization.

  13. Dude:


    Here is the answer to all that is climate change

  14. Matt:


    Biblical references to the earth as a circle go all the way back to Genesis 1:9

  15. ErisGuy:

    "philosopher and author"

    Never been a shortage of those willing to excuse lying, justify falsehood, and praise themselves for manipulating the lesser races and classes in the service of the "greater good." If only his degree could be revoked.

    "What Heartland is doing is harmful, because it gets in the way of public consensus"

    The purpose of my life is to get in the way of public consensus. I live to do harm, apparently.

  16. Mark2:

    @Matt et al I guess if the Bible says the Earth is a circle, then they would be saying it is flat. Ah well. I was under the impression that much of what the Christians believed was due to beliefs from Greek science.

  17. DoctorT:

    "Post-modernism has been quite fashionable in the social sciences for decades, but this entry into the hard sciences is new and disturbing."

    I've beat this drum before, and I'll do it again: climatology is not a hard or soft science for the vast majority of today's climatologists. (See Matt's comment at the top.) Today's climatologists believe that their careers and funding depend upon telling governments and environmental organizations what they want to hear (energy production and technology are destroying Mother Earth), not what is true. Such climatologists have the ethics of con men and shills (and we are the marks).

    Garvey is yet another pseudointellectual who echoes the typical left-winger line: the best government is one in which the enlightened elite (otherwise known as power-hungry, pseudointellectual, arrogant fools) hold power.

  18. IGotBupkis, Three Time Winner of the Silver Sow Award:

    Indeed, postmodernism is a societal cancer which will destroy our civilization by undermining basic underpinnings which it derives from its legacy of Greek thought. Future generations will look back at this movement and ask "What the f*** was wrong with these people?"

  19. JamesB:

    Do-gooders' syndrome?