Demarcation happens anyway
It is generally acknowledged that attempts to demarcate science from non- or pseudoscience, based on a priori standards, have failed. —Paul Newall
Newall is correct of course that a priori standards cannot demarcate science from non-science. Historians and philosophers of science have made a very persuasive case in this regard. But what’s often missing from the discussion is that despite the lack of fixed, coherent standards, scientists demarcate anyway. We fund biochemistry and particle physics while eschewing (and even castigating) ESP, intelligent design, and astrology. For all the talk about the intractability of demarcation problem, in practice it’s handled quite easily.
Now it may be true that our arguments are inconsistently applied. And that, as Larry Laudan has argued, some of the criticisms against ID also applies to other branches of science . But this mild duplicity doesn’t appear to bother us as much as affording legitimacy to intelligent design. And I have to say that I kind of agree with this approach. ESP and ID should not be treated as science, however whimsically I may apply an ever-shifting standard of what constitutes science.
This dilemma is where, I feel, historians and philosophers should be expending greater effort. That is, even if we cannot really demarcate, we already do so. Are there any costs–educational, moral, intellectual–for this double standard? Can we acknowledge the subjectivity embodied in any individual instance of demarcation while maintaing credibility? Can we acknowledge that subjectivity has always necessarily been a part of science, and that does not diminish its power?And can we discuss this intelligently in the public sphere?
And so after an extended blogging break, I’ve tried to finally (and very briefly) start addressing a topic I promised to over a month ago.
 Laudan, Larry, Science at the Bar-Causes for Concern, Science, Technology, & Human Values, Vol. 7, No. 41 (Autumn, 1982), pp. 16-19
Also see the follow up in the Winter 1983 issue.