Newspaper article The Canadian Press

The End of Scientific, Rational Thinking: Donald Trump, Doug Ford and Jordan Peterson

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

The End of Scientific, Rational Thinking: Donald Trump, Doug Ford and Jordan Peterson

Article excerpt

The end of scientific, rational thinking: Donald Trump, Doug Ford and Jordan Peterson

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This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.

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Author: David Chandross, Program coordinator; researcher, Ryerson University

This has been a terrible year for science and evidence-based decision making, which are the newest casualties of the growing wave of populism in North America where "postmodern thought ... is being used to undermine scientific truths."

In the United States, President Donald Trump has repeatedly made false claims such as those that led to the repeal of environmental protections.

In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford, whose election win symbolized an overthrow of a left-leaning government, has already cancelled the "cap and trade" program for emissions control, moving Canada further away from Kyoto emissions targets accepted by the federal government.

Adding to this is bestselling author and University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson who accuses the liberal left in universities as well as liberal politicians of postmodern thinking. This unrelenting attack on postmodern thinking is the core argument that propelled Peterson to fame.

Postmodernism emerged with views that Western morality and universal truths -- as outlined in the modern period of Enlightenment -- should be deconstructed. This created a form of skepticism in which Western morality and later science came into question.

One of the erroneous impacts of this new skepticism is the erosion of public confidence in the conclusions of scientific studies.

The science wars

Peterson's well established critique of postmodernism misses how this arena of postmodernism has become dangerous through the deconstruction of science and outright denial of scientific facts.

Marcel Kuntz argues that this version of postmodernism has led us toward an increasing dissolution of the notion of objective reality. Social critic Noam Chomsky argues that a "turn away from postmodernism" is necessary. He says although "there are institutional factors determining how science proceeds that reflect power structures," that does not mean we should "abuse scientific concepts".

What we see with Peterson, Trump and Ford is a new set of values in which science is just another factor in determining reality. Science has lost its primacy.

Scientific relativism

The political right has embraced scientific relativism. Scientific relativism is based on the idea that scientific observation and analysis are framed within unique cultural biases.

Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper adopted a cautionary stance against science and muzzled his own federal researchers on climate change. But even this was not the catastrophic rejection of science that has currently evolved.

Peterson refers to all forms of relativism as a form of cancer. But Peterson fails to criticize Trump's litany of relativistic transgressions when it comes to science.

Even Peterson's mentor, Bernard Schiff, has now said that Peterson might be more dangerous than those he attacks.

It is paradoxical that both Trump and Ford are embracing postmodernism much more than the left, which they accuse of the same sin. But the left demand factual evidence for decisions. Cap and trade was selected because the only other alternative is a regulation that denies corporations financial incentives to participate.

Peterson should challenge science relativism

One leaves a Peterson lecture with the sense that there is no coherency between ideas; the ground itself has been taken away. …

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