The good of man must be the end of the science of politics.
Obviously, our modern society is facing a crisis. The majority of media argues it is financial, other personalities propose it is also grounded in ecology, but I will argue here that it lays in a crisis of value created by a profound disinterest in wisdom. As a scientist, I am convince that knowledge is an important resources for our species. However, knowledge is intrinsically neutral and the social values condition how it will be used. As a knife could be either a tool or a weapon, knowledge could help society to follow either humane or inhumane path. By values, I do not speak about morality but rather a set of shared knowledge grounded in consensual wisdom and aiming specific common purpose or goals (e.g. the humanist movement and its values of guidance by reason and the results of science).
Our current socio-economical system seems to lack specifically this two components: sharing and purpose. Of course some would argue that economic growth represent such shared goal, but is-it really shared? Is-it really a goal, or just a mean? The shared nature of knowledge has nevertheless known nice progress in the last decade. Internet and the Open Culture community have greatly change the state of affaire regarding both the access and the co-creation of information. But information is totally disembodied, it is even more neutral than knowledge. With the Web 2.0, communities with shared purpose have emerged and their activity appears as more than simple aggregation of information, sometimes more than structured knowledge. But these islands of human being interacting are not necessarily engaged in building collective wisdom. Some are, but they still represent a minority. But is there not an ancient collective human project specifically oriented towards knowledge? Science, indeed! But what is the current relationship between Science and society?
Well, it appears that the major part of the knowledge generated by Science is oriented on “technological progress”. Our international academia has of course a big impact on how human being behave and conceive their future, but scientists are now relegate to over-creating contents without even having the time or the motivations to think about the use of these knowledge. The dictatorship of the “publish or perish” is obviously accepted: the whole system of Academia selects now the more productive scientists without taking into account that Science has a responsibility, a purpose beyond grabbing new contents or technics.
Or, like humans themselves, society need purpose.
Historically, similar crisis have came across the path of our species. The Renaissance was one of them. And the solution did not come through technology or ground knowledge but rather through art and philosophy. Unfortunately, both are now in crisis too. The art being like Science deeply impacted by productivity constrains; and philosophy by being restricted to some happy few. Moreover, as part of the Academia, philosophy is also constrained by productivity and publishing pressure. The 20th century has known multiple new streams. Floating between Art and Science, some have raised this issue of purpose. However, the modern sociopolitical system has never been so inclined to invest into this question. As the budget in weapon industry overcome those of education, the investments in Science suffer from a big bias toward technology compared to purpose. Cognitive science is in the same situation. The way media cover its progress is symptomatic: scientists have pinpoint… Scientists discover the secret of… Unfortunately these titles end by another brain regions, genes or other specific technical devices. Science becomes a way of cataloguing things? Where are the questions challenging our model of thinking? Where are the research demonstrating the intrinsic bugs of our system?
Because in the same way as the major population appears to lose interest in Politics, Science has lost its voice for questioning its authorities. I would suggest that it is mainly caused by the lack of financial independence. But in the same way Internet changes our way of dealing with facts, outperforming media coverage with social networks or questioning political authority more than passively receive their propaganda, it has the potential to give birth to a new kind of Science, a visionary Science, purpose driven.
This comes with two main phenomena: interdisciplinarity and openness. The first is well illustrate with cognitive science and even more with complex systems. Both are interested in issues encompassing multiple fields. We can see in both how approaching cognition or complex systems demands the active collaboration of specialists and more importantly people able to help in this catalyze. This question of interdisciplinarity is linked to the second aspect, the openness. Paradoxically to this need of dialog between fields, publishing industry tends to constrain the access of the knowledges to their respective disciplines. The Open Access movement has shown during the last decade how this could change. Interestingly, the critical faculty towards mainstream theories was more present in these open-access journals than those of the old-school publishing industry.
What’s the next step then?
How can we achieve a visionary and purpose driven Science?
It seems that the last step would be to release the financial and academic constraint. Sociology of Science has indeed demonstrate that compared to other human activity, Science is not only driven by money power but also credibility. Now, the credibility is given by the Academia itself. The release of critical faculty towards mainstream theories in Open Access journals is deeply linked to this second factor. When the major journals are those where most of fake results appear, they are nevertheless where ideas follow the current model. One of the cause is that publishing a paper require to pass both editorial and reviewers barriers. Of course Science must be control but the number of retractions correlating with the impact factor of journal, it seems that this system is not specifically efficient. Instead of facilitating the emergence of new ideas, it appears to favor the establishment of those already taken as granted. Yes, it is not a total barrier but it severely slow down the overall process and tends to select conformists instead of mavericks. The solution to me would be to create a new model that fits those mavericks. An independent and open science, a Science were critical faculty is more important than productivity, a Science that aim the elevation of humans instead of pursuing the goals dictated by politics and financial institutions.
I see your point about the risk of establishment with the strong link between science and funding.
But isn’t it the Parisian “salon” that motivated most of the French painters in the XIX century? And isn’t it against this that developed impressionism, with “le salon des refusé”? In other words, if establishement and institutional funding didn’t existed, would there be as many people getting involved in art?
I see the crisis in art as follow: there is no barrier any longer, after Duchamp and other modern artists, the joke is over, there is no rules to break. The shock effect is gone and we are like in the Monty Python’s “meaning of life” where I could have in my office two colleagues having sexual intercourse I wouldn’t even care and carry on business as usual.
Don’t we need an establishment in science to have then a Open Community reaction?