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What is technology denial and why should it concern us?

Since the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic in 2004, various anti-scientific movements have grown stronger while threatening public health.

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What is technology denial and why should it concern us?

Since the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic in 2004, various anti-scientific movements have grown stronger while threatening public health. It has been a political issue, and an area of research for academics and researchers.

Gerald Holton, a scientist and antiscientist, wrote Science and Antiscience (1993) in the early 90s. He showed how irrationality and populism combined with propaganda and nationalism to support the doctrine of totalitarian governments.

Carl Sagan, for his part, identified in The World and Its Demons (1995), that conspiratorial and anti-scientific views were taking over the traditional position of religion and mysticism within society. This panorama has changed, and it is now possible to make conceptual modifications to allow for the increasing relevance of technology and technique.

We can see technique in Jose Ortega y Gasset's approach to understanding nature. It is the combination of actions that modify the environment to satisfy a variety of survival and well-being needs.

Technical action also minimizes human effort and assumes some distance. The production of technical support only indirectly meets those needs. It is, in a sense, a second-order act.

Miguel Angel Quintanilla proposed that technique could be understood in a similar, but more current sense. He suggested that technique is "a system of human actions deliberately oriented towards the transformation and efficient attainment of a valuable result."

These definitions will help us to better understand some forms of denialism today.

Banner at a demonstration held in Madrid, July 24, 2020. / Shutterstock / calonge

"Scientific Denialism" is the umbrella that covers all the denial strategies that were used during the pandemic. This includes all dogmatic or emotional discourse that systematically rejects scientific evidence, regardless of whether it is general or specific.

Other features of denial discourse were also evident in the media debates: decontextualization of data or arbitrary selection of data; reference to false experts; use of logic fallacies; manufacturing of generalized doubts and recurrences of conspiracy theories.

We have seen denialism also rooted in a deep distrust of technology. This is partly due to a legitimate concern about the prioritization commercial logic in technological advancement. A technological negationism seems to be a convenient term.

This refers to positions that are either dogmatically or emotionally opposed (i.e., concrete, efficient, and valuable objects that human beings create to solve problems related survival and well-being).

Two types of anti-scientific phenomenon can be distinguished in relation to the current pandemic. The first is to deny the existence of the SARS/CoV-2 virus, and all scientific discourse. While the second may accept the scientific analyses, it does not deny the validity and efficacy of vaccine technology.

We can also address another threat to public safety in a different way. This is usually called pseudoscience. This term refers to a cognitive area that claims to be scientific but doesn't meet the fundamental characteristics of scientific practice.

Karl Popper, in his Logic of Scientific Inquiry pointed out that pseudoscientific claims cannot be falsified and therefore the underlying theories can hardly evolve from investigation.

Mario Bunge also added additional demarcation criteria. Pseudosciences often postulate entities that cannot be proven, they defend spiritualist conceptions and do not have logic and objective control procedures. They do not create new problems or hypotheses and do not share continuity with other disciplines.

On the other hand, pseudo-technique refers to artifacts made from materials that are not compatible with the characteristics of a technique. This is because the objects created or modified by the technique are not intended to produce any useful results for humans or are ineligible to achieve it. They lack efficacy so they don't meet human survival and well-being needs.

These kinds of actions were very common during the pandemic. It can be seen in the production of false medicines developed by pseudo-pharmaceutical groups that, for pure profit, sold products that neither cured nor prevented the disease and, therefore, endangered human lives.

The phenomenon isn't new. There are many products on the internet that claim to solve problems that do not exist. Quantum shields, which are allegedly designed to protect against the ionization and fusion of electromagnetic radiation, is a clear example.

In short, the covid-19 pandemic not only reproduces phenomena but also fits into the framework of pseudoscience or science denialism. It also created new concepts such as pseudo-technique, technological denialism and other theories that can be used to help better understand the antiscientific landscape.

This article was published in "The Conversation".

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