Not Even Trying: The Corruption of Real Science by Bruce G. Charlton

Henry Bauer

Abstract


Bruce Charlton describes in trenchant tone and terms the state of contemporary modern science in what I've called its decadent third stage (Bauer 2013). Lacking citations, the book is really an extended essay, but no informed observer will doubt the comprehensive accuracy with which Charlton points to present-day careerism, bureaucracy, overspecialization, dysfunctional incentives, and snowballing dishonesty; there is too much "science" (Bauer 2014) and too much influence of self-interested forces from outside science (commerce, politics, the media), and insiders fear to rock the boat even when they recognize that it needs rocking. All of that is in the starkest contrast to the popular misconception of science (Charlton's "Real Science") as a disinterested search for truth.

Charlton dates the "extraordinarily rapid-yet dishonestly concealed-collapse" from that ideal Real Science (in my view accurately [Bauer 2013]), from about the middle of the 20th century, paralleling what has happened outside science (Barzun 2000). Though Charlton describes his aim as "opening eyes to the obvious, of clarifying the already-known" (p. 135), the book nevertheless illuminates causes and connections in ways that can be fresh and useful, for example in asserting inevitability: "The main problem is that when science becomes big, as it is now, the social processes of science come to control all aspects of science" (p. 116).


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