Whitehead on truth-seeking and specialization

by Russ Roberts on October 18, 2011

in Truth-seeking & ideology

I’m reading Gary Taubes book Good Calories, Bad Calories, preparing for a podcast we are trying to schedule. One of the themes in the book is confirmation bias among scholars who ignore research and data that conflicts with their established view. Taubes also argues that specialization has a cost and quotes Alfred North Whitehead:

Each science confines itself to a fragment of the evidence and weaves its theories in terms of notions suggested by that fragment. Such a procedure is necessary by reason of the limitations of human ability. But its dangers should always be kept in mind.

A friend of mine has a son who is majoring in environmental studies. When asked about evidence that suggests that climate change might be more complicated than the consensus that it is a crisis and one that is caused by humans, his son said that the skeptics on climate change are often physicists rather than those who specialize in climate change. Shouldn’t the specialists know more than the dilettantes? Yes and no. They should know more about some things. But on the flip side there is group think and confirmation bias.



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