There is a growing sense that there is a crisis in science, with science being broadly defined to include the soft sciences. The reproducibility crisis, as pointed out by the statistician W. M. Briggs, is close to universal. Across the academy, there is a plague of faulty and fraudulent studies being produced. Worse yet, the systems for controlling fraud seem to be encouraging it. Peer review now means nothing more than politically acceptable in the soft science fields.
Briggs offers one reason for what is happening. He notes that engineering is not having this problem. The reason is the bridge has to actually work as predicted or the engineers suffer a heavy price. Engineering is not science, but it relies upon the sciences to produce practical things. Those practical things must hold up to reality, which controls what comes out of engineering as accepted theory. In other words, everything in engineering gets tested against reality.
The academy, on the other hand, never has to face reality this way. Even in the hard sciences, reality avoidance is common. Theoretical physics has entered a world that is beyond the ability to test. Math is still math, but much of what is done is purely speculative or requires unproven assumptions. In the soft sciences, the rules have collapsed entirely and most of what comes out is narrative framing. The “science” is limited to providing cover for current fads.
Another reason for the crisis in the sciences is modeling. Anyone who has worked with models knows that the model maker can quickly become a god. He creates a model of the world based on what he would like it to be rather than as a reflection of the bit of reality he is trying to understand. Of course, model makers often have a boss who needs to be pleased. That boss could be in a corner office or the boss could be an angry mob of blue-haired harpies patrolling campus.
The point is you can make models do anything. The model maker is like a script writer in that he can make the rules do what he needs to reach his desired end. Bad script writers use clunky plot devices to solve problems for their characters. Bad model makers create a set of rules and data selection methods to close the gap between theory and reality. Since the model will never be tested against reality in the soft sciences, bad model makers can quickly become stars.
Here is where the question of causality comes into play. Is the corruption of the academic domain a symptom of larger societal trends? Has the steady decline of standards in society dragged down the academy or has the corruption of institutions subverted society, including the people in the sciences? Is it simply the natural product of multiculturalism, which needs narratives to hold it together, due to the lack of natural social bonds found in homogenous societies?
You can model this many ways, depending upon how you as the model maker feel about these topics. The last bit is a clue to the problem. The rise of narratives in social discourse tracks with the rise in diversity. Read anything from a century ago and it is free of the narrative structures we find common today. A story about an athlete was mostly the facts about his life. He was not cast as a character in a drama about social justice or the fight against exploitation.
The ubiquity of narratives gets lost in the flood of them. There is a real war going in Europe and the political class speaks of nothing but narratives. They have meetings followed by press conferences to inform the public on the status of their latest narratives and the battle of narratives surrounding the war. Meanwhile, the Russian army slowly grinds down the Ukrainian army. The same can be said of the energy crisis, which is ignored in favor of narratives about climate change.
You get the sense that the people talking about their narratives and messaging, a subset of narrative framing, think that if they get enough people to believe their story, reality will bend to that story. Put another way, if they can model reality with a set of rules and assumption in such a way that only their preferred conclusions are possible, then reality will have no choice but to comply. Like the model makers, the narrative creators have become gods in their creations.
This does not answer the question of causality, but it is clear that the problem of modeling in the sciences has a related problem in the public realm. In elite society, the focus is no longer on the things that are true, like the axioms of mathematics, but rather on the things that are true within the context of accepted rules, like the equity in the distribution of advanced degrees in the sciences. One is true whether you believe it or not, while the other is only true if you accept the assumptions.
A century ago, smart people understood this difference. Models of realty had to account for those things that are axioms of the universe. Over that time a steady shift has gone on where objective reality is excluded from the discussion of the narrative and at the same time, the narrative challenges objective reality. Put another way and getting back to the Briggs post, models are no longer tested against reality, but reality is being tested against the models.
This helps explain why supposedly serious academics sit in front of congressional committees and claim to not know the definition of a woman. They are not simply clinging to fashionable politics. At the heart of it is the claim that reality simply does not comport with the new model of society, so we have to dismiss that bit of reality, in this case biological sex. Just as the model makers can feel like a god, the narrative makers believe they can bring reality to heel.
There is a lot here that deserves further examination, but it is clear that the crisis in science correlates with the crisis in the West. The causality is not clear, but what is clear is that what passes for the smart fraction is no longer willing or able to accept that there are things that are true regardless of opinion. They are questioning the very basics of reality by claiming there is no difference between relations of ideas, their models and narratives, and matters of fact and observable reality.
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