While it is delightful to recall this enormous debate of the early sixties, it is chastening to locate it in today’s wider context. It is clear from research into abilities that students doing science A-levels are brighter than those doing humanities, a fact acknowledged by pupils themselves, who are agreed that science A-levels are harder. Humanities essays often succeed by means of invention.

 

Moreover the humanistic culture that Leavis was defending is everywhere in retreat. All the existential disciplines – those that depend in some important way on subjectivity – religion, literature, art ─ are in the throes of a protracted crisis. Faith is in decline; literacy standards are in ruins; art is still in a tail-spin of modernist nihilism.

 

Has science triumphed in the dualistic contest? Hardly. The discipline and methodology of the sciences are barely understood in an age of rampant superstition. The popular appetite is for woo-woo.[1] Perhaps it is precisely the modest, provisional spirit of science that makes it so ambivalent a guest in the public square dominated by today’s militant and ungovernable media.

 

True, lip-service is hourly paid to apparently scientific reports and statistical surveys; and Ben Goldacre receives expressions of support from all quarters. But Goldacre seems to be a lone voice battling against individuals and corporations with a vested interest in bad science and a valid philosophy of science seems far from bedded in at an educational level in the population.

 


[1] Superstitious hostility to rational and scientific beliefs; uncritical acceptance of philosophies such as those supposedly derived from aboriginal or eastern cultures; proneness to ‘alternative’ or ‘New Age’ ideologies and practices.

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