I ran into a funny piece of advertising recently. It was for a facial cleaner or some similar product, and the product read, in big friendly letters (as part of the advertising on the front of the package):
Now with “science-y jargon blah blah“!
Okay, so I’m just paraphrasing the semantic meaning here. But, I’m pretty sure that we weren’t supposed to understand what it meant, just be impressed with its efficacy.
Science As Authority
Using the idea of “Science” (the cultural construct) as a way of establishing authority in ads isn’t anything new. Even since science started being something that we listen to, instead of something we learn to do ourselves, marketers have been using it to affect our decisions.
Remember, in a perfect world, scientists have every obligation to share their data with other scientists. This is done for the sake of improving the world of science — to strengthen the academy. But for those of us on the outside — and with the incredible complexity of scientific research today, that’s almost everyone — we just have to take their word for it.
The New Alchemists
The majority of scientists today work outside of the academy. They are in the employ of (not to put too fine a point on it) merchants. These merchants are themselves in the employ of shareholders, themselves. There are times, we can imagine, that this might present conflicts of interest.
It’s a trade-off. With much of research funding coming from private hands, and those hands being bound by (fickle) shareholder obligations, we’re making great strides in areas like consumer electronics and pharmaceuticals.
Patent wars are the result. And patent litigation is probably desperately against the scientific method at its core. The scientific method, at its root, is a collaborative method; that is its power.
But “scientists” working for private ends have a business model of making their patron happy as they try to create wealth through their knowledge. We’ve seen this model before — it’s the way that alchemy functioned in the pre-scientific era.