The Role of the Ivory Tower in Legitimizing Science

Anyone know how to get in touch with the Doxacon folks to get transcripts or whatnot from the conference events? I’d love to cull that material.

Here’s my latest thesis that I’m using as a mental punching bag:

Why does the academy seem to have a legitimizing effect on the work of science? Let’s start with perhaps two trivial examples by way of illustration.

Dr. Frankenstein in Mary Shelley’s famous novel works alone, having explicitly left the University of Ingolstadt before beginning his work on animating a corpse. His work is perceived to be unnatural almost because it is done alone, outside the academy. The public at large is horrified by the results. By comparison, contemporary electro-bio-chemist Dr. V. Reggie Edgerton of UCLA does absolutely horrifying experiments on rats to study the interplay of the brain, the spinal column and the body systems which is not only accepted calmly, but is lauded as having potentially enormous medical benefit down the road. And yet, I have this nagging suspicion that if the images of his experiments as they’re done in the clean, institutional settings of his academic lab were transported to the basement of his home, our perception of him would radically change.

In Spiderman, the arch-nemesis Green Goblin, aka Norman Osborn, is a corporate industrialist. In various portrayals of the character’s development he specifically uses the corporate structure and legal system to gain increasing control over Oscorp. Control which allows him to avoid oversight of his work. His work which is designed to covertly develop the tools for his villainous alter-ego the Green Goblin. Osborn isn’t even a PhD. His motivation is always greed, not knowledge.

So what is it about the ivory tower that helps create the aura of validity around scientific work? Is it simply Scientism, the post-modern religion of our secular culture that preaches Natural Materialism as an assumed worldview, and the academy as the church of that faith? Or is there more to it than that? I have to assume that there is more to it. After all, more and more people, especially in the USA, are overtly anti-intellectual, anti-science, and deeply rooted into fundamentalist pre-modern and modernist religious structures — and yet the pattern remains. More to the point, Shelley was working in a radically different culture in which science was still highly suspect.

No, I think there is some kind of assumption at work that the structure and nature of the university somehow constrains scientific work to within the confines of some kind of socio-culturally acceptable ethical boundaries. The problem is, it doesn’t. It doesn’t even come close.

This is not an essay which is going to attempt to answer the question. This is merely a draft to get the idea on paper and to scratch off the obvious red herring. It is a call for comment.

Keep in mind, that this is part of a long running project to produce art which is some kind of contemporary investigation of human nature through both a science fiction and Orthodox Christian lens.

Sight and Sound, a Partnership

I can happily report that I had a fantastic meeting today with Nick, and that, God willing, we intend to publicly display sight and sound installations as efforts by those with an Orthodox liturgical function engaging in non-liturgical art.

Whether this does or does not ultimately fold into my Orthodox “science fiction” idea is yet to be determined, but insofar as the primary goal of that is to compile art which attempts to answer the question “what is a human person” from the Orthodox perspective, I’d be quite shocked if it had no relevance at all towards that goal.