The above quote is the title of an essay by Michel De Montaigne written over 400 years ago. The author of "Who Rules in Science" would do well to read it.
As a senior citizen I enjoy reading about current affairs, culture, and science, and bought this book because I felt that I should learn more about the modern philosophers of science. Several people had written very comprehensive reviews of this book on the Amazon web site and gave it a high rating, so I assumed it must be worth a read. In hindsight, that was a big mistake.
James Brown, the author, is a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto. He states in his preface that "this book is an introduction-an opinionated introduction-to the issues (of who rules in science) for the general reader." The operative word here is "opinionated" and the non-operative words are "general reader."
Early in the book, he begins a discussion of the "Sokal Affair" which was a hoax perpetrated by the physicist, Alan Sokal, on the editors of the journal Social Text, in which he fooled them into publishing an article which, on the surface, appeared to be quite a piece of erudite writing but in reality was nothing but nonsense. If I had not already known what this was about, I would have had a hard time figuring out what he is talking about, because it is certainly not presented in a straight forward manner. His main purpose in bringing up the Sokal Affair is to show how easy it is to fool even supposedly very intelligent people, the unstated implication being that those fooled were somehow deceived because their views of the philosophy of science are wrong.
Some of the reviews at Amazon describe the content of the book in great detail, but in summary it is a discussion of the views of the "social constructivists" in science, who believe that there is a large personal and social impact on the way science gets done and interpreted, as opposed to the views of the "realists", who believe that reason and logic are the only tools which can create a scientific truth independent of human nature.
The author is firmly in the realist camp. To advance his views at the expense of his opponents he sets them up as straw dogs so that he can attack their ideas at his leisure. Even the few actual examples from science he uses are also selected to make it appear that his ideas and criticism are the only correct point of view.
When his argument seems weak, he does not hesitate to abandon reason and logic and resort to assertion, sarcasm, exaggeration, and snide remarks about his opponents' views. He will call an idea nonsense without explaining why, and call his opponents' thinking "silly", "absurd", or "unparalleled ignorance". It is hard to avoid the impression that like a religious fundamentalist, he regards his ideas as the only true religion for scientists.
The book is filled with quite a bit of philosophical jargon and references that the "general reader" would not know. Without any sense of irony, he himself notes that "jargon itself frustrates the average reader."
There are constant references to various "-isms" and "-ists" such as, "Realism embraces objectivity, but it is clear for instance that instrumentalists and verificationists, are also objectivists in the sense that social constructivists are not".
At one point, he complains that he finds someone's statements irritating because they have a habit of making major claims that are not explained or justified beyond citing some author. This is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.
"Evidential reason" appears to be his God, and that this can exist somehow independent of the human mind that creates it. He believes and has faith in his objective rationality and therefore can use rationality to prove that it exists. Sort of Descartes, "I think, therefore I am."
There is a satirical program on Canadian television called "Air Farce". One of the frequent skits is called "The Confused Philosopher". The character in the skit keeps asking himself a series of questions that he never really will be able to answer. This image came to mind frequently as I was reading this book.
The last sections of the book on "The Democratization of Science" and "Science With a Social Agenda" are written in a more calm and reasonable manner. He is at his best when not attacking the views of others. He still insists, however, that values do not in any way determine the theories we come to believe in, but does concede that in practice this is difficult to sort out. In my own humble view, it would take some sort of a scientific God to be able to do this.
Brown's biggest problem is that the value bias he so highly condemns in others, is so highly evident in his own views that he becomes his own worst enemy.
Apparently the author has done very little reading in the neurosciences, sociobiology or psychology. In the bibliography there are no references to any works on the operation of the human brain and the amazing discoveries on how our senses work, how we learn and form memories, and what part nature and nurture play in developing the way we perceive and reason about the world. It seems to me that the research and writings of people like Steven Pinker, Antonio Damasio, E.O Wilson, Rita Carter, and John Searle are much more pertinent to the philosophy of science than many of the people the author has focused on attacking. Even Mark Twain in his book "What Is Man" had a much deeper understanding of the reality of the human condition than James Brown seems to have.
To be honest, it is probably the style and method of presentation that turned me off this book more than the content itself. I did learn the names of some of the important players in the philosophy of science and I now have to find an author who can clearly and objectively explain what the ideas of these people really are.