Friday, March 02, 2007

Word of the Day: "Scienciness"

Scienciness n. the use of technical jargon, figures or statistics to lend a veneer of scientific credibility to cockamamie ideas, crackpot theories and ideological nostrums. The normal scientific method involves drawing (tentative) conclusions about the natural world from observation and experimentation; scienciness turns the scientific method on its head by presupposing conclusions about the world and then looking for data that appears to confirm them. (Creationism is the most notable case.)

Scienciness can therefore function as an effective propaganda technique, particularly when such propaganda is directed against minority or marginalised groups. An example is the anti-gay psychologist Paul Cameron's famous "Obituary Study," in which he attempted to demonstrate a significantly shorter lifespan among homosexuals by counting obituaries in various gay publications. In a critique of the study, Gregory Herek of the University of California at Davis observes that it "provides a textbook example of the perils of using data from a convenience sample to generalize to an entire population."

Scienciness, then, can be said to be a species of truthiness--but one which is parasitic upon the tension between emotion-based or faith-based reasoning on the one hand, and the appeal of science as a reliable source of knowledge about the world on the other, that is characteristic of contemporary political discourse.

By the way, I'd like to be able to claim credit for this term, but it's been around for a while.