Standen, Anthony. Science is a Sacred Cow. New York: Dutton, 1950.

 

Standen, Anthony. Science is a Sacred Cow. New York: Dutton, 1950.

This is an amusing and thoughtful book dealing with the limitations of science. The author is
trying to set the limitations of science and to deny the view that science is something special. He
considers math to be the only true science with physics an effective second; biology is a poor
third and psychology ranks with the social sciences. He has particularly bad things to say about
Lundberg, LaPiere, and Stouffer, among others.

In their slavish imitation of physics, psychologists and other social scientists insist on
measurement and quantification but have completely missed the two things which characterize
great science: the importance of the questions asked (the hypotheses) and the importance of the
subject matter (humankind). Social sciences have lost the core of science by attending only to its
trappings. (Incidentally, Standen's humanism keeps showing through.)

The limits of science specified by Standen are clear: all generalization must remain at the level of
probability, and generalizations based on experience need not be true (as opposed to
mathematical statements). Science cannot disprove anything or exemplify the negative case.
Statistical limits abound, and while the Heisenberg principle may sound like a good analogy it
really is not, because our ordinary notions of causality are not threatened by relativity. He stresses
also that scientists do not teach the history of discovery but are selective in their reporting of the
facts. Furthermore, what is true in science today is out of date within a few years. He has it, too,
that measurement does not prove the existence of that which is measured; moreover,
measurements are often inferential rather than a comparison with some standard. He also points
out that our "measurements" of atoms (cloud chambers) are not observations of atoms
themselves: one cannot say, "I saw a tiger," when in fact one saw nothing more than the tracks of
a tiger.

The chapter, "Watch those Scientists," (pp. 201-221) warns the laity about scientists: "They can't
ask the right questions, they don't know how to get the answers, and they can't tell us what to do
with the answers when they have got them. And since it is these people who have a position of
extraordinary prestige among us, although they know so little that is worth knowing, we must
watch them very carefully, for they are not to be trusted to do anything for men or to men." (p.
202)