An series of pictures at a joke website recently titled, “15 Paranormal Photographs Explained by Science” intended to do a public service by debunking fraudulent photos about purportedly supernatural happenings. It actually did a public disservice. None of the photographs, at least those of which I remember, appeared to actually be explained by science. They were explained by journalistic, forensic, or historical investigation of some time into the background of the photograph in question. The problem with this silly piece (the genre of which routinely produces funny things I imagine) and any number of other claims to “science” just like it is that they are not science and that’s okay. Explaining something via historical background is also a viable way of knowing things. But, because a few shrill voices in the public square who continually engage in extended mutual mental onanism (Edward Feser’s term), everybody thinks that anything that leads to knowledge is science, and incorrectly think that if something is not experimental science, that is does not lead to knowledge.
Its a fallacy of equivocation. “I believe that only experimental science leads to knowledge. But I know this other thing…it must also be experimental science.” Robert Park and Sam Harris are fond of this epistemological move. “Only science yields knowledge. I don’t know what a word means, I will quote the dictionary. Btw, everything in my book is science.” Park’s most famous version is, “I don’t know what somebody believes, but if I suppose that he believed it, I can then claim to know that he did…also science.”
- You can know things that are not experimental science.
- You know that this is so.
- To claim that good old fashioned observations are the same as science is a disingenuous move designed to make you look smart to your peers.
- The article in question is, I know, meant to be a joke. But its rhetorical move used too often for me to count.