Epistemological scientism lays claim to an exclusive approach to knowledge. Human inquiry is reduced to matters of material reality. We can know only those things that are ascertained by experimentation through application of the scientific method. And since the method is emphasized with such great importance, the scientistic tendency is to privilege the expertise of a scientific elite who can properly implement the method. But science philosopher Susan Haack (2003) contends that the so-called scientific method is largely a myth propped up by scientistic culture. There is no single method of scientific inquiry. Instead, Haack explains that scientific inquiry is contiguous with everyday empirical inquiry (p. 94). Everyday knowledge is supplemented by evolving aids that emerge throughout the process of honest inquiry. These include the cognitive tools of analogy and metaphor that help to frame the object of inquiry into familiar terms. They include mathematical models that enable the possibility of prediction and simulation. Such aids include crude, impromptu instruments that develop increasing sophistication with each iteration of a problem-solving activity. And everyday aids include social and institutional helps that extend to lay practitioners the distributed knowledge of the larger community. According to Haack, these everyday modes of inquiry open the scientific process to ordinary people and they demystify the epistemological claims of the scientistic gate keepers. (p. 98)
The abuse of scientism is most pronounced when it finds its way into public policy. A scientistic culture privileges scientific knowledge over all other ways of knowing. It uses jargon, technical language, and technical evidence in public debate as a means to exclude the laity from participation in policy formation. Despite such obvious transgressions of democracy, common citizens yield to the dictates of scientism without a fight. The norms of science abound in popular culture and the naturalized authority of scientific reasoning can lead unchecked to a malignancy of cultural norms. The most notorious example of this was seen in Nazi Germany where a noxious combination of scientism and utopianism led to the eugenics excesses of the Third Reich (Arendt, 1951). Policy can be informed by science, and the best policies take into account the best available scientific reasoning. Law makers are prudent to keep an ear open to science while resisting the rhetoric of the science industry in formulating policy. It is the role of science to serve the primary interests of the polity. But government in a free society is not obliged to serve the interests of science. Jurgen Habermas (1978, Ch 3) warns that positivism and scientism move in where the discourse of science lacks self-reflection and where the spokesmen of science exempt themselves from public scrutiny.
Arendt, Hannah, (1951/1973). The Origins of Totalitarianism. New York: Harcourt Brace
Haack, Susan, (2003). Defending Science Within Reason: Between Scientism and Cynicism. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books
Habermas, Jurgen, (1971) Knowledge and Human Interests. Boston: Beacon Press (Ch. 3, "The Idea of the Theory of Knowledge as a Social Theory")
Hayek, Friedrich A., (1952). The Counter-Revolution of Science: Studies on the Abuse of Reason, Glencoe, Illinois, The Free Press.