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Are men of science scientific?
[From: Mortals and Others, v.1, 1975.］
Ordinary men and women are, for the most part, aware that there are many matters as to which their own personal judgement is not wholly trustworthy. They look about the world anxiously for founts of wisdom, and by placing their trust in them they arrive at a comfortable certainty. Savages trusted the medicine man, who by slow stages developed into the priest. The priest is being succeeded by the physician, the physician by the man of science. The man of science in general (though there are honourable exceptions) is nothing loath to take up the position which the public offers him. He is willing to make pronouncements about the laziness of the wage-earning classes, the superiority of the Nordic races, the eugenic superiority of the rich, and any other topics that may at the moment be of political interest.
For the genuine man of science I have the highest possible respect. He is the one force in the modern world at once genuinely constructive and profoundly revolutionary. When the man of science is dealing with technical matters that do not touch upon the prejudices which he shares with the average man, he is more likely to be right than anyone else. But unfortunately very few men of science are able to retain their impartiality when they come to matters about which they feel strongly. For example, every male student of the human brain is persuaded in advance that men's brains are better than women's. When it was found that the average weight of a man's brain is greater than that of a woman's, this was held as proof of his superior intellectuality. When it was pointed out that an elephant's brain is even heavier, the eminent scientists scratched their heads since they could not admit that their wits were elephantine. Somebody suggested that the important thing is the proportion of the weight of the brain to the weight of the body. But this had a disastrous result : it seemed to show that women were, on the whole, cleverer than men. This would never do. So they said that it was not mere brute weight that mattered but delicacy of organisation. As this was still a matter conjecture, it could be assumed to be better in men than in women.
There is a great deal of pseudo-scientific nonsense talked about heredity. Writers of eugenics are, with few exceptions, Nordics belonging to the professional classes. It follows that the Nordics are the best race and the professional classes the best stock within that race. For these propositions, which are fundamental in the speculation of eugenists, the evidence offered is of a very flimsy kind. The mountaineers of the Alleghenies, who are racially among the purest of the inhabitants of the United States, do not come out so well by the intelligence tests as do the Jews. This shows, we are told, that there is something inadequate about the intelligence tests and that we must take account also of moral qualities. But no evidence is offered that poor whites surpass the Jews in moral qualities.
The study of heredity was revolutionised by a monk named Mendel, who spent his time growing peas. It has become much more difficult than used to be supposed to know what ought to be done if a defect which can be inherited is to be eliminated. Some people's fingers have only two joints instead of three; it seems that the methods that have been proposed for dealing with the feeble-minded would be quite successful in eliminating these people with abnormal fingers but would take thousands of years to eliminate the feeble-minded. This is because the kind of inheritance in the two cases is different. But the alliance between politicians and pseudo-scientists is so strong that it will take a long time before such facts become commonly known. The general public cannot tell which among scientists is to be trusted and will therefore be wise to be very sceptical whenever they hear a man of science giving a confident opinion about a matter on which he has strong prejudices. Men of science are not supermen and are as liable to error as the rest of us.