Science and Technocracy

Reading Warren Weaver’s 1948 article, “Science and Complexity,” I was struck by his description of science and his impassioned argument for its importance:

Science clearly is a way of solving problems – not all problems, but a large class of important and practical ones. The problems with which science can deal are those in which the predominant factors are subject to the basic laws of logic, and are for the most part measurable. Science is a way of organizing reproducible knowledge about such problems; of focusing and disciplining imagination; of weighing evidence; of deciding what is relevant and what is not; of impartially testing hypothesis; of ruthlessly discarding data that prove to be inaccurate or inadequate; of finding, interpreting, and facing facts, and of making the facts of nature the servants of man.

Increasingly, we seem to live in a “post-factual” era, where experts are maligned as mere technocrats; where knowledge is dismissed as perspective.

There are good arguments against technocracy: history has numerous examples of the dangers of sidelining personal experience in favor of detached technical expertise. But science is not technocracy. We can embrace science, embrace facts, without resorting to a totalitarian technocratic system. As Weaver writes:

Yes, science is a powerful tool, and it has an impressive record. But the humble and wise scientist does not expect or hope that science can do everything. He remembers that science teaches respect for special competence, and he does not believe that every social, economic, or political emergency would be automatically dissolved if “the scientists” were only put into control.

 

 

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