Such Is Some Modern “Scholarship”

by Don Boudreaux on January 8, 2023

in Education, Not from the Onion, Truth-seeking & ideology

Someone – please forgive me for not remembering who – recently on Facebook provided a link to a 2017 pre-publication version of a paper titled “Epistemic trust and the ethics of science communication: against transparency, openness, sincerity and honesty.” (The paper was formally published in a 2018 number of Social Epistemology.) The paper’s author is Stephen John, who is Professor of Philosophy of Public Health at Cambridge University’s Pembroke College. Here’s the abstract that appears with the pre-publication version:

It is commonly claimed that scientists should hold certain communicative virtues, such as sincerity, openness, honesty and transparency. This paper uses the case of climate science to argue against these claims. Rather, based on a novel account of the range of ways in which non-experts learn from experts (detailed in Section 1), there are reasons to deny that scientists are under any basic obligation to be sincere, honest, open or transparent. Furthermore, not only are these claims analytically confused, they are epistemologically and politically dangerous. Sections 2-4 argue for these claims. The conclusion proposes an alternative standard for ethical communication: that scientists should not engage in “wishful speaking”.

This journal isn’t available through JSTOR, and so I don’t now have easy-enough access to the full, published version of the paper. But if the abstract is any clue, we have here further evidence of the terrible corruption of “higher education,” at least in the humanities and social sciences.

I confess that I’m still not 100 percent convinced that this paper – again, judging from the abstract – isn’t a spoof meant by the author to expose the idiocies and pretenses of too many of today’s academicians. But given how far so many people in the academy have fallen, I suppose we should take at face value Prof. John’s denial that “scientists are under any basic obligation to be sincere, honest, open or transparent” (at least when they are communicating with non-‘experts’).

The publication of papers such as this one is consistent with today’s utterly detached-from-reality ‘histories’ of James Buchanan and of W.H. Hutt.

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