What is technology denialism and why should we be concerned?


Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, several anti-scientific movements have been gaining momentum and endangering public health. Hence, its expansion has become a politically relevant topic and field for researchers and academics.

As early as the 1990s, Gerald Holton wrote Science and Antiscience (1993), showing how irrationality, populism, propaganda, and nationalism formed a perfect cocktail to support the doctrine of totalitarian regimes.

Carl Sagan, for his part, noted in The World and Its Demons (1995) that conspiratorial, antiscientific and pseudoscientific attitudes occupied the traditional place of religion and mysticism in society. However, this panorama is diversified, so it is useful to make conceptual changes that allow to accommodate the growing relevance of engineering and technology.

Taking into account the approach of José Ortega y Gasset, we can understand engineering as the series of actions by which we adapt nature to meet a series of needs related to survival and well-being.

Moreover, technical action is characterized by the minimization of the necessary human effort and presupposes a certain distance, since the production of technical supports only indirectly pursues the satisfaction of those needs. It is, so to speak, a second-order action.

In a similar, but more up-to-date sense, Miguel Ángel Quintanilla has proposed to understand engineering as “a system of human action deliberately aimed at the transformation of specific objects in order to efficiently achieve a result considered to be valuable.” .”

These definitions can help us better understand certain forms of negation that exist today.

The various denial approaches that have left their mark during the pandemic are usually grouped together under the heading of “scientific denial”. This refers to any dogmatic and emotional discourse that systematically denies proven scientific evidence, whether general or specific to a specific field.

The media debates also showed other features of the negationist discourse: referral to false experts, decontextualization or arbitrary selection of data, use of logical fallacies, creating a general doubt and repetition of conspiracy theories.

However, we have also observed forms of denial arising from a deep distrust of technology, based in part on a legitimate presumption about the prioritization of commercial logic in technological development. It therefore seems useful to also speak of technological negationism.

This concept refers to positions dogmatically or emotionally opposed to a set of technological products, that is, to concrete, efficient and valuable objects created by humans to solve problems related to survival and well-being.

With regard to the current situation of the pandemic, we can then distinguish two different types of anti-scientific phenomena. The first is limited to denying the existence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and all scientific discourse about it. The second, for its part, can agree with the analyzes provided by science, but denies the validity of the vaccine technology, that is, its suitability to improve survival and well-being.

Likewise, we can address another threat to public health in a differentiated way, usually under the term pseudoscience. This concept refers to a cognitive field that claims to be scientific, but fails to meet some fundamental features of scientific practice.

In his Logic of Scientific Inquiry, Karl Popper pointed out that pseudoscientific claims are not falsifiable and thus the underlying theories hardly evolve through research.

Mario Bunge added other criteria of demarcation: pseudosciences often postulate entities whose existence cannot be proven, they defend spiritualist views, they have no logic or objective control procedures, they do not develop new problems and hypotheses, and they have no continuity with other disciplines. .

Pseudo-engineering, on the other hand, refers to the production of artifacts that do not conform to the above-mentioned characteristics of a technique, because the objects it creates or modifies are not designed to produce or are unable to produce a valuable result for humans. due to their nature lack of efficacy, so that they do not meet human needs for survival or well-being.

These kinds of actions were very present during the pandemic. It can be seen in the production of counterfeit drugs developed by pseudo-pharmaceutical groups that, for pure profit, sold products that did not cure or prevent the disease and therefore endangered human lives.

However, the phenomenon is not new. For several years now, we have seen products for sale on the Internet that try to solve non-existent problems. A very clear example is that of quantum shields that would protect against ionization by fusion of electromagnetic radiation.

In short, the Covid-19 pandemic is not just reproducing phenomena that can be integrated into the conceptual framework of pseudoscience and scientific denial. It has also spawned new concepts, such as those of pseudo-engineering and technological denialism, that can help better understand the anti-scientific panorama that conflicts with adequate public health.

This article was published in ‘The conversation

Source: La Verdad


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