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Humanities

Blind spot in the March for Science

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In attempting to counteract the lies currently rebranded as 'alternative facts' and 'post-truth', the organizers of the US March for Science on 22 April reveal a blind spot for the afactual — the realm of narratives, norms and values that is not directly dependent on facts. Enthusiasm for the breakthroughs enabled by the scientific method is justifiable. But we must remind ourselves that laws and theories derived from verifiable observations do not constitute all (or even most) of our knowledge.

Many politically engaged scientists cling to the notion that they carefully gather facts about all matters of life into a kind of collage of knowledge, and arrive at judgements based on dispassionate analysis. But this process inevitably entails complex subjective, and ultimately opaque, operations, such as evaluating, interpreting, decontextualizing, generalizing and networking.

Values drive electoral behaviour, and public discourse is shaped by efforts to control the narrative. It is therefore essential for the fields of enquiry that are primarily devoted to evaluating narratives and norms — the humanities — to be at the forefront of efforts to improve public discourse. The ability to interpret, articulate and shape the afactual is still of the utmost importance.

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Correspondence to Alex Holznienkemper.

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Holznienkemper, A. Blind spot in the March for Science. Nature 543, 623 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/543623b

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