Can social rationale be allowed to inhibit scientific progress?
There are always many perspectives to a problem. Whenever a group of people use similar kind of logic to think about a problem, they use what we can call a ‘Common rationale’. But people come from various backgrounds, each having its own biases and opinions. Each having a unique ‘Common rationale.’ Hence, in a society of 7 billion people, not everyone can think about a problem in the same way, even when they all agree on the final solution. A ‘Social rationale’ like this cannot exist. There can be no common way of thinking.
However, whenever there is a predicament, a lot of people tend to form groups based on their ‘individual rationale’ (personal logic). They support a ‘Common Rationale’. In such cases, there are bound to be multiple groups at each level (right from a national and international level down to the neighbourhood and individual level), each with their own common rationale. Among all these rationales, one tends to rise up as superior to all others due to the influence of number and power. We shall call this ‘Social Rationale’: the rationale presented by the dominant group in that scale and context. For example, there are various political systems in this world: Monarchy, Oligarchy, Communism, Capitalism, Democracy, Totalitarianism etc. Most countries believe in democracy. This will be the Social Rationale at the international level. However, a lot of countries still follow other political systems. Going down the levels, each state of a country has its own set of political groups believing in different ideologies (but with some point of agreement). In Delhi for example, there is the AAP, the BJP, the Congress and so on, but the Social Rationale supports the AAP as of the present. We can observe a similar scenario even at the neighbourhood level. Thus, Social Rationale is different for each scale and each context.
Why is Social Rationale not true?
A notable idea has emerged. The rationale that we can call ‘Social’ is not the rationale of the whole society. Research has shown that people often don’t express their true opinions in groups due to the risk of feeling inferior. A day-to-day consequence of this can be observed in the vastly-different results obtained by a raise of hands and a secret ballot. While both methods aim to highlight the social train of thought, the public nature of the former may lead to biases and hesitation. Social rationality, here, severely biases the results obtained from the vote. The latter voting method, however, is influenced solely by individual rationale. Thus, when an approach like the former is followed in riots and uprisings, an incorrect idea of the social rationale is presented. The influence of power dynamics, economics and powerful people only makes this observed ‘Social Rationale’ more untrue. This also explains the hype usually associated with riots and other pertinent public controversies. This directly connects to the point of manipulability of Social Rationale. The general public doesn’t question things as much as it should, so as to make the right decisions. The lack of articles critical of the Indian space mission Chandrayaan 2 will be a direct example of this. While the mission was an achieved milestone for India and ISRO, the expected amount of data was not received. The general public has clearly seems to largely be in agreement about its success which is a definite sign of manipulation. In the past, manipulation has even gone to an extent where the Canadian government silenced science altogether.
Why else is it problematic?
There are many problems associated with the idea of social rationale itself, even if it is not true. First, explaining the scientific stance for a problem to the general public is very difficult. The scientific stance on a certain issue doesn’t concern the people as much as their plastic needs. Most people don’t think much about the long-term implications of policies and programmes. Add to that the fact that pure logos doesn’t convince the general public. Rather, it is its combination with pathos and ethos that makes the difference. Scientists, by their very nature of thinking logically, primarily use logos to explain their point while politicians employ elements of pathos and ethos too. This explains the difficulty faced by the scientific community in convincing society as compared to politicians. The killing of scientists like Galileo is also clear evidence of this difficulty in expression. Additionally, society also does not have enough scientific knowledge to be able to make informed decisions. Due to the lack of interest, most people don’t even try to educate themselves. In an attempt to correct science and solve problems, they unintentionally end up creating more problems. Third, Social Rationale changes with time. This happens at all levels but is primarily driven by individual rationale. The situations and motifs constantly change and so do individual thought-processes. They think differently each time and so, they decide differently too. The most supported ideology keeps changing and so, social rationale keeps changing. This fluctuation proves out to be terrible for scientific progress as the bet keeps changing time and again. Lastly, Social rationale is focused on individualistic desires rather than a problem-solving motif. There are no connections between opposers and supporters. They, in other words, work for their own good. This practically makes scientific research a medium for politics. Progress will thereby become severely restricted. Fewer problems will be solved with more crucial resources being wasted aimlessly.
How and why does it inhibit scientific progress?
The general public wants to know where their money is being spent. So, they like to keep a track on some of the major researches and experiments that are taking place. When so many people are supervising the research, someone or the other is bound to start facing problems with specific researches and even a certain branch of science as a whole. On the other hand, people also like to feel in control of things and so, they tend to form uprisings. A good example would be a group of animal-rights patriots rioting against the testing of medicinal drugs on animals. Such acts clearly show how social rationale inhibits scientific progress. With online forums and social media, becoming a part of an uprising has become even easier. Scientific progress is inhibited even more. Moreover, as Erica Chenoweth’s research has shown, a mere 3.5% of the population needs to protest to make a serious change. The various branches of science are connected in various ways. Thus, when research in one segment is inhibited, other areas are automatically influenced. In the drug testing example, not only was the medical industry affected but also other animal-physiology researchers.
How is the scientific community better at handling this?
The scientific community wants to answer questions which aim to discover how things work as causal systems. They, in general, have a ‘Scientific Attitude’. This attitude is driven by large-scale collaboration and a problem-solving motif. Scientists primarily apply their understanding of science to make and challenge logical propositions. Furthermore, they use peer-reviewing to prevent other colleagues from jumping to conclusions. This methodical approach ensures that inhibition is driven by logos and not pathos or politics. Social rationale, on the other hand, does not have a ‘Scientific Attitude’. Rather, it takes the pathos-driven approach to deal with problems.
How does social rationale deal with it better?
Despite all the above-mentioned benefits, there is one fundamental problem with the scientific community. It often fails to recognise the existence of illogical aspects of things: culture, sentiments, attachment etc. This becomes troublesome when logic and emotion clash. Social rationale helps maintain the emphasis on a problem, even when it is untrue and unreliable, using its reluctance to change. This constantly encourages scientists to try and solve the problem. Using its campaigning capability, it prevents cases like the one when physicians stopped researching for over 50 years from occurring again. Scientific progress thus keeps taking place. Social rationale often also helps scientists in getting their ideas through to the policymakers. The rioting ensures that the higher authorities like President Donald Trump don’t ignore some crucial problems like Climate Change. Thus, social rationale also deals with it well too.
Scientific progress is invaluable to us humans. It influences a lot of our daily life and economics as a whole. It is also responsible for technological innovation which in turn secures human future. The scientific community directs science well. But allowing scientists to deal with science in isolation does not work. Social rationale gives invaluable inputs that prevent scientific progress from going off-track. If we want to ensure that scientific progress, and in turn welfare, takes place neither social rationale nor the scientific community can be solely allowed to inhibit scientific progress. They must work simultaneously, with the government taking the right decisions whenever there’s a clash. After all, a government exists to serve the people as Abraham Lincoln defines it.
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Written on 13 November 2019.