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Scientism

William Deresiewicz with an insightful article in The American Scholar arguing that we’ve fallen into the trap of scientism: the belief that science is the only valid form of knowledge.

Reading fiction increases our ability to empathize with others? Did we really need science to tell us that? Apparently, we need science to tell us everything. ….

In The Prisoner of Sex, Norman Mailer wrote that he was “sufficiently intimate with magazine readers to know the age of technology had left them with an inability to respect writing which lacked the authority of statistics.” I don’t know about readers, but I do know about editors, and most of them don’t like it when you rest your argument on literary sources. They want numbers, studies, sociology. Aristotle, Montaigne, and Emerson are not valid authorities on the topic, say, of friendship, but a study of 50 college students is enough to convince an editor of anything.

Oh, those studies. They always have a lot of data, but they so often miss the point. Their focus is too narrow, or they ignore the important factors, or they fail to grasp the underlying questions. They’re either jaw-droppingly obvious or head-clutchingly misguided. Science is bad enough, where it doesn’t belong, but the social sciences are even worse, precisely because they pretend to scientific rigor. As Alan Bloom pointed out, when the social sciences committed themselves to the principle of measurement, they gave up the ability to talk about anything that can’t be measured.

Still curious? Reading fiction is good for you.