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Science is the ultimate fulfillment of the modern project. Scientists base all their activity on the idea that there is an objective truth about the physical world, and any person who follows a certain approach can discern and affirm that truth. For this reason, one postmodernist strand in the humanities and social sciences sees science as the enemy—in particular, some feminists see science as the ultimate oppressive white male Western activity: science is about raping the world.

Though some have tried to come up with an alternative science, these attempts have been pretty unsuccessful. They tend mainly to be a source of humor at professional scientific meetings. At every such meeting I've attended the last few years, there's been a session on "Junk Science and Pseudo-science," and everybody just laughs through the whole thing.

Along with this scorn of alternative science, many scientists scorn postmodernism as intellectually bankrupt and just plain silly. Justified or not, how do scientists get away with laughing at the rest of the academy that seems so taken with postmodernism? I think it's because science is validated by the accomplishments of technology, such as the laser and the computer. Right there you've got most of the underpinnings of our current economy. And so scientists just say, especially to the postmodernists who critique science directly, "Look, what we do works. Just leave us alone."

On the other hand, it's not as simple as saying science is a modern enterprise. Science is somewhat responsible for some postmodern ideas. Some early 20th-century watershed ideas in physics, quantum mechanics, and relativity have provided analogies for and even justified some postmodern ideas.

Although the practice of science has ...

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November 13, 2000

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