Ideology vs. Science vs. Sciencism vs. Superman vs. ...

James Farmelant farmelantj at
Wed Nov 3 07:59:55 PST 1999

On Wed, 03 Nov 1999 04:28:50 -0800 Sam Pawlett <rsp at> writes:

>Excellent post.
> The ideology lies in the reductionist methodology and the concept of
>causality used.

The problem lies not so much even with the use of a reductionist methodology in medical science as with the ideology that holds that reductionism is the only legitimate scientific methodology. That leave no room for methodologies based on an emergent holism or upon dialectics. To some extent differences in opinion on this issue among scientists within biology in part seem related to the particular subdiscipline of the scientist. Thus many of the leading molecular biologists (i.e. James Watson) are very ardent reductionists (and indeed it is indisputable that reductionism has enjoyed some spectacular triumphs in moelcular biology, however, it does not follow that it it the only legitimate scientific methodology or even the one most appropriate for all areas of research). On the other hand the paleontologist, Stephen Jay Gould is an advocate of an emergent holism. Lewontin stands out from his fellow geneticists by being a critic of reductionist ideology and an advocate of a dialectical approach to biology.

>Lewontin in his *Biology as Ideology* uses the example
>of tuberculosis, where medical students are taught that bacili is the
>cause of tuberculosis. However, bacili can thrive only in certain
>environments. British coal miners of Marx's era had an extremely high
>rate of tuberculosis because bacili thrive in dirty coal mines.

It is of interest that many 19th century medical investigators such as the pathologist Virchow emphasized the role of social conditions in causing illness. Virchow even went so far as to proclaim medicine to be a social science. However, in the 20th century much of this social emphasis disappeared from medicine.

>Capitalism created working conditions where TB thrives, thus the
>deFn of TB does not stretch the causal chain far back enough to take
>into account the social conditions --a product of class struggle--
>within which diseases develop, spread and die out.

The hypothesis that TB is caused by the tubercular bacillus is not false but it is incomplete since it stops the chain of causality at the microbial level when in fact it is possible to trace the chain of causality into environmental and social levels and it may well be the case that interventions at these levels may in fact do more to reduce mortality and morbidity over the long run than just pharmocological interventions at the microbial level. The fact that the reductionist ideology encourages researchers and policy makers not to push their investigations of the chain of causality further to take into account what is going on at the environmental and social levels can be seen as constituting an ideological distortion of science of the sort that I have pointed to in earlier posts.

> The nature of medical research; who benefits from it, who
>it, for what reasons etc. is also a product of class struggle.

Indeed that is the case but as we have seen here some people draw from this fallacious conclusion that because science is in large degree historically determined, then science is itself an ideology.

>> Is it thus false? Surely not - modern genetics, and the use of
>genetics in
>> drug discovery, cannot in a (to me) meaningful sense be said to be
>> So again, is this science, or is this ideology?
>Tough question. That bacili cause TB is a half-truth and science
>be made up of half-truths. So treating TB as caused by bacilli is
>just treating the symptoms and not the cause. Incomplete science.

Probably, it would be more useful to say that the bacilli are a part of extended chain of cauality, that interventions of various sorts are possible along different parts of this chain and the sorts of interventions that are possible at the microbial portion may not always be the most effective from the standpoint of reducing mortality and morbidity. After all there is plenty of epidemiological evidence that the great reduction in mortality and morbidity from TB and other infectious diseasesin the Western countries

during this century came from such factors as improved housing, working conditions, public sanitation and the like rather than from improved pharmocologics. That is from factors at the environmental and societal levels, which are also BTW largely dependent on the course of class struggles.

>> The distinction that seems to be offered in support of science as
>> to ideology depends on 'the real' - the world in which, if I jump
>off a
>> building, I will not fly, but fall.
>Depends on what you think the ontological status of social relations
>Are they just as real as bacilli?
>> Of course, we do not apprehend the world directely, as sovereign
>> individuals - we apprehend the world through the only kind of
>> that is human - social practice.
> While standing in this society,
>> with my current modes of thought, it is difficult to work out other
>> of genetics, I can conceive of a model of cellular development where
>> gene' doesn't exist as central, or maybe doesn't even exist at all.
>The limitations of the gene-centered view come out in its
>Taking the gene as the locus of the explanation, higher level i.e.
>social, phenomena cannot be explained. When the human genome is mapped
>out, we will not be able to tell once and for all whether the Law of
>Falling Rate of Profit is true or false.
> It is through my interaction
>> with the world that 'something matters'.
>Yes, Kant's central insight.
>Sam Pawlett
>I stood upon a high place,
>And saw,below,many devils
>And carousing in sin
>One looked up, grinning,
>And said "Comrade!Brother!"
>--Stephen Crane

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