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Short description: Attitudes that reject science and the scientific method

Antiscience is a set of attitudes that involve a rejection of science and the scientific method.[1] People holding antiscientific views do not accept science as an objective method that can generate universal knowledge. Antiscience commonly manifests through rejection of scientific ideas such as climate change and evolution. It also includes pseudoscience, methods that claim to be scientific but reject the scientific method. Antiscience leads to belief in conspiracy theories and alternative medicine.[2] Lack of trust in science has been linked to the promotion of political extremism and distrust in medical treatments.[3][4]


In the early days of the scientific revolution, scientists such as Robert Boyle (1627–1691) found themselves in conflict with those such as Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679), who were skeptical of whether science was a satisfactory way to obtain genuine knowledge about the world.

Hobbes' stance is regarded by Ian Shapiro as an antiscience position:

In his Six Lessons to the Professors of Mathematics,...[published in 1656, Hobbes] distinguished 'demonstrable' fields, as 'those the construction of the subject whereof is in the power of the artist himself,' from 'indemonstrable' ones 'where the causes are to seek for.' We can only know the causes of what we make. So geometry is demonstrable, because 'the lines and figures from which we reason are drawn and described by ourselves' and 'civil philosophy is demonstrable, because we make the commonwealth ourselves.' But we can only speculate about the natural world, because 'we know not the construction, but seek it from the effects.'[5]

In his book Reductionism: Analysis and the Fullness of Reality, published in 2000, Richard H. Jones wrote that Hobbes "put forth the idea of the significance of the nonrational in human behaviour".[6] Jones goes on to group Hobbes with others he classes as "antireductionists" and "individualists", including Wilhelm Dilthey (1833–1911), Karl Marx (1818–1883), Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) and J S Mill (1806–1873), later adding Karl Popper (1902–1994), John Rawls (1921–2002), and E. O. Wilson (1929–2021) to the list.[7]

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in his Discourse on the Arts and Sciences (1750), claimed that science can lead to immorality. "Rousseau argues that the progression of the sciences and arts has caused the corruption of virtue and morality" and his "critique of science has much to teach us about the dangers involved in our political commitment to scientific progress, and about the ways in which the future happiness of mankind might be secured".[8] Nevertheless, Rousseau does not state in his Discourses that sciences are necessarily bad, and states that figures like René Descartes, Francis Bacon, and Isaac Newton should be held in high regard.[9] In the conclusion to the Discourses, he says that these (aforementioned) can cultivate sciences to great benefit, and that morality's corruption is mostly because of society's bad influence on scientists.[10]

William Blake (1757–1827) reacted strongly in his paintings and writings against the work of Isaac Newton (1642–1727), and is seen[by whom?] as being perhaps[original research?] the earliest (and almost certainly the most prominent and enduring) example[citation needed] of what is seen by historians as the aesthetic or Romantic antiscience response. For example, in his 1795 poem "Auguries of Innocence", Blake describes the beautiful and natural robin redbreast imprisoned by what one might interpret as the materialistic cage of Newtonian mathematics and science.[11] Blake's painting of Newton depicts the scientist "as a misguided hero whose gaze was directed only at sterile geometrical diagrams drawn on the ground".[12] Blake thought that "Newton, Bacon, and Locke with their emphasis on reason were nothing more than 'the three great teachers of atheism, or Satan's Doctrine'...the picture progresses from exuberance and colour on the left, to sterility and blackness on the right. In Blake's view Newton brings not light, but night".[13] In a 1940 poem, W.H. Auden summarises Blake's anti-scientific views by saying that he "[broke] off relations in a curse, with the Newtonian Universe".[14]

One recent biographer of Newton[15] considers him more as a renaissance alchemist, natural philosopher, and magician rather than a true representative of scientific illuminism, as popularized by Voltaire (1694–1778) and other illuminist Newtonians.

Antiscience issues are seen[by whom?] as a fundamental consideration in the historical transition from "pre-science" or "protoscience" such as that evident in alchemy. Many disciplines that pre-date the widespread adoption and acceptance of the scientific method, such as geometry and astronomy, are not seen as anti-science. However, some[which?] of the orthodoxies within those disciplines that predate a scientific approach (such as those orthodoxies repudiated by the discoveries of Galileo (1564–1642)) are seen[by whom?] as being a product of an anti-scientific stance.

Friedrich Nietzsche in The Gay Science (1882) questions scientific dogmatism:

"[...] in Science, convictions have no rights of citizenship, as is said with good reason. Only when they decide to descend to the modesty of a hypothesis, of a provisional experimental point of view, of a regulative fiction, maybe they be granted admission and even a certain value within the realm of knowledge – though always with the restriction that they remain under police supervision, under the police of mistrust. But does this not mean, more precisely considered, that a conviction may obtain admission to Science only when it ceases to be a conviction? Would not the discipline of the scientific spirit begin with this, no longer to permit oneself any convictions? Probably that is how it is. But one must still ask whether it is not the case that, in order that this discipline could begin, a conviction must have been there already, and even such a commanding and unconditional one that it sacrificed all other convictions for its own sake. It is clear that Science too rests on a faith; there is no Science 'without presuppositions.' The question whether truth is needed must not only have been affirmed in advance, but affirmed to the extent that the principle, the faith, the conviction is expressed: 'nothing is needed more than truth, and in relation to it, everything else has only second-rate value".[16]

The term "scientism", originating in science studies,[citation needed] was adopted and is used by sociologists and philosophers of science to describe the views, beliefs and behavior of strong supporters of applying ostensibly scientific concepts beyond its traditional disciplines.[17] Specifically, scientism promotes science as the best or only objective means to determine normative and epistemological values. The term scientism is generally used critically, implying a cosmetic application of science in unwarranted situations considered not amenable to application of the scientific method or similar scientific standards. The word is commonly used in a pejorative sense, applying to individuals who seem to be treating science in a similar way to a religion. The term reductionism is occasionally used in a similarly pejorative way (as a more subtle attack on scientists). However, some scientists feel comfortable being labelled as reductionists, while agreeing that there might be conceptual and philosophical shortcomings of reductionism.[18]

However, non-reductionist (see Emergentism) views of science have been formulated[by whom?] in varied forms in several scientific fields like statistical physics, chaos theory, complexity theory, cybernetics, systems theory, systems biology, ecology, information theory, etc.[citation needed] Such fields tend to assume that strong interactions between units produce new phenomena in "higher" levels that cannot be accounted for solely by reductionism. For example, it is not valuable (or currently possible) to describe a chess game or gene networks using quantum mechanics. The emergentist view of science ("More is Different", in the words of 1977 Nobel-laureate physicist Philip W. Anderson)[19] has been inspired in its methodology by the European social sciences (Durkheim, Marx) which tend to reject methodological individualism.[citation needed]


Elyse Amend and Darin Barney argue that while antiscience can be a descriptive label, it is often used as a rhetorical one, being effectively used to discredit ones' political opponents and thus charges of antiscience are not necessarily warranted.[20]


One expression of antiscience is the "denial of universality and... legitimisation of alternatives", and that the results of scientific findings do not always represent any underlying reality, but can merely reflect the ideology of dominant groups within society.[21] Alan Sokal states that this view associates science with the political right and is seen as a belief system that is conservative and conformist, that suppresses innovation, that resists change and that acts dictatorially. This includes the view, for example, that science has a "bourgeois and/or Eurocentric and/or masculinist world-view".[22]

The anti-nuclear movement, often associated with the left,[23][24][25] has been criticized for overstating the negative effects of nuclear power,[26][27] and understating the environmental costs of non-nuclear sources that can be prevented through nuclear energy.[28] Opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has also been associated with the left.[29]


The origin of antiscience thinking may be traced back to the reaction of Romanticism to the Enlightenment-this movement is often referred to as the 'Counter-Enlightenment'. Romanticism emphasizes that intuition, passion and organic links to Nature are primal values and that rational thinking is merely a product of human life. There are many modern examples of conservative antiscience polemics. Primary among the latter are the polemics about evolutionary biology[30] cosmology, historical geology, and origin of life research being taught in high schools, and environmental issues related to global warming[31][32] and energy crisis.

Characteristics of antiscience associated with the right include the appeal to conspiracy theories to explain why scientists believe what they believe,[33] in an attempt to undermine the confidence or power usually associated to science (e.g., in global warming conspiracy theories).

In modern times, it has been argued that right-wing politics carries an anti-science tendency. While some have suggested that this is innate to either rightists or their beliefs, others have argued it is a "quirk" of a historical and political context in which scientific findings happened to challenge or appeared to challenge the worldviews of rightists rather than leftists.[34][35]


Main page: Religion:Relationship between religion and science

In this context, antiscience may be considered dependent on religious, moral and cultural arguments. For this kind of religious antiscience philosophy, science is an anti-spiritual and materialistic force that undermines traditional values, ethnic identity and accumulated historical wisdom in favor of reason and cosmopolitanism. In particular, the traditional and ethnic values emphasized are similar to those of white supremacist Christian Identity theology, but similar right-wing views have been developed by radically conservative sects of Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. New religious movements such as New Age thinking also criticize the scientific worldview as favouring a reductionist, atheist, or materialist philosophy.

A frequent basis of antiscientific sentiment is religious theism with literal interpretations of sacred text. Here, scientific theories that conflict with what is considered divinely-inspired knowledge are regarded as flawed. Over the centuries religious institutions have been hesitant to embrace such ideas as heliocentrism and planetary motion because they contradicted the dominant interpretation of various passages of scripture. More recently the body of creation theologies known collectively as creationism, including the teleological theory of intelligent design, have been promoted by religious theists in response to the process of evolution by natural selection.[36]

To the extent that attempts to overcome antiscience sentiments have failed, some argue that a different approach to science advocacy is needed. One such approach says that it is important to develop a more accurate understanding of those who deny science (avoiding stereotyping them as backward and uneducated) and also to attempt outreach via those who share cultural values with target audiences, such as scientists who also hold religious beliefs.[37]


There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge".

Isaac Asimov, "A Cult of Ignorance", Newsweek, 21 January 1980

Historically, antiscience first arose as a reaction against scientific materialism. The 18th century Enlightenment had ushered in "the ideal of a unified system of all the sciences",[38] but there were those fearful of this notion, who "felt that constrictions of reason and science, of a single all-embracing system... were in some way constricting, an obstacle to their vision of the world, chains on their imagination or feeling".[38] Antiscience then is a rejection of "the scientific model [or paradigm]... with its strong implication that only that which was quantifiable, or at any rate, measurable... was real".[38] In this sense, it comprises a "critical attack upon the total claim of the new scientific method to dominate the entire field of human knowledge".[38] However, scientific positivism (logical positivism) does not deny the reality of non-measurable phenomena, only that those phenomena should not be adequate to scientific investigation. Moreover, positivism, as a philosophical basis for the scientific method, is not consensual or even dominant in the scientific community (see philosophy of science).

Three major areas of antiscience can be seen in philosophy, sociology, and ecology. The following quotes explore this aspect of the subject.


Philosophical objections against science are often objections about the role of reductionism. For example, in the field of psychology, "both reductionists and antireductionists accept that... non-molecular explanations may not be improved, corrected or grounded in molecular ones".[39] Further, "epistemological antireductionism holds that, given our finite mental capacities, we would not be able to grasp the ultimate physical explanation of many complex phenomena even if we knew the laws governing their ultimate constituents".[40] Some see antiscience as " academic settings...many people see that there are problems in demarcation between science, scientism, and pseudoscience resulting in an antiscience stance. Some argue that nothing can be known for sure".[41]

Many philosophers are "divided as to whether reduction should be a central strategy for understanding the world".[42] However, many agree that "there are, nevertheless, reasons why we want science to discover properties and explanations other than reductive physical ones".[42] Such issues stem "from an antireductionist worry that there is no absolute conception of reality, that is, a characterization of reality such as... science claims to provide".[43].


Sociologist Thomas Gieryn refers to "some sociologists who might appear to be antiscience".[44] Some "philosophers and antiscience types", he contends, may have presented "unreal images of science that threaten the believability of scientific knowledge",[44] or appear to have gone "too far in their antiscience deconstructions".[44] The question often lies in how much scientists conform to the standard ideal of "communalism, universalism, disinterestedness, originality, and... skepticism".[44] "scientists don't always conform... scientists do get passionate about pet theories; they do rely on reputation in judging a scientist's work; they do pursue fame and gain via research".[44] Thus, they may show inherent biases in their work. "[Many] scientists are not as rational and logical as the legend would have them, nor are they as illogical or irrational as some relativists might say".[44]

Ecology and health sphere

Within the ecological and health spheres, Levins identifies a conflict "not between science and antiscience, but rather between different pathways for science and technology; between a commodified science-for-profit and a gentle science for humane goals; between the sciences of the smallest parts and the sciences of dynamic wholes... [he] offers proposals for a more holistic, integral approach to understanding and addressing environmental issues".[45] These beliefs are also common within the scientific community, with for example, scientists being prominent in environmental campaigns warning of environmental dangers such as ozone depletion and the greenhouse effect. It can also be argued that this version of antiscience comes close to that found in the medical sphere, where patients and practitioners may choose to reject science and adopt a pseudoscientific approach to health problems. This can be both a practical and a conceptual shift and has attracted strong criticism: "therapeutic touch, a healing technique based upon the laying-on of hands, has found wide acceptance in the nursing profession despite its lack of scientific plausibility. Its acceptance is indicative of a broad antiscientific trend in nursing".[46]

Glazer also criticises the therapists and patients, "for abandoning the biological underpinnings of nursing and for misreading philosophy in the service of an antiscientific world-view".[46] In contrast, Brian Martin criticized Gross and Levitt by saying that "[their] basic approach is to attack constructivists for not being positivists,"[47] and that science is "presented as a unitary object, usually identified with scientific knowledge. It is portrayed as neutral and objective. Second, science is claimed to be under attack by 'antiscience' which is composed essentially of ideologues who are threats to the neutrality and objectivity that are fundamental to science. Third, a highly selective attack is made on the arguments of 'antiscience'".[47] Such people allegedly then "routinely equate critique of scientific knowledge with hostility to science, a jump that is logically unsupportable and empirically dubious".[47] Having then "constructed two artificial entities, a unitary 'science' and a unitary 'academic left', each reduced to epistemological essences, Gross and Levitt proceed to attack. They pick out figures in each of several areas – science studies, postmodernism, feminism, environmentalism, AIDS activism – and criticise their critiques of science".[47]

The writings of Young serve to illustrate more antiscientific views: "The strength of the antiscience movement and of alternative technology is that their advocates have managed to retain Utopian vision while still trying to create concrete instances of it".[48] "The real social, ideological and economic forces shaping science...[have] been opposed to the point of suppression in many quarters. Most scientists hate it and label it 'antiscience'. But it is urgently needed, because it makes science self-conscious and hopefully self-critical and accountable with respect to the forces which shape research priorities, criteria, goals".[48]

Genetically modified foods also bring about antiscience sentiment. The general public has recently become more aware of the dangers of a poor diet, as there have been numerous studies that show that the two are inextricably linked.[49] Anti-science dictates that science is untrustworthy, because it is never complete and always being revised, which would be a probable cause for the fear that the general public has of genetically modified foods despite scientific reassurance that such foods are safe.

Antivaccinationists rely on whatever comes to hand presenting some of their arguments as if scientific; however, a strain of antiscience is part of their approach.[50]

Antiscience media

Major antiscience media include portals Natural News, Global Revolution TV,, and GoodGopher. Antiscience views have also been supported on social media by organizations known to support fake news such as the web brigades.[51]:124

See also


  1. Gerald Holton (1993). Science and Anti-science. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0674792999. 
  2. Goertzel, Ted (2010). "Conspiracy theories in science". EMBO Reports 11 (7): 493–499. doi:10.1038/embor.2010.84. PMID 20539311. 
  3. Hotez, Peter J. (March 29, 2021). "The Antiscience Movement Is Escalating, Going Global and Killing Thousands". 
  4. Hotez, Peter J. (July 28, 2021). "Mounting antiscience aggression in the United States". PLOS 19 (7): e3001369. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.3001369. PMID 34319972. 
  5. Ian Shapiro, Reflections on Skinner and Pettit, Hobbes Studies, 22 (2009), pp. 185–191, citation from pp. 190–191
  6. Richard H Jones, Reductionism: Analysis and the Fullness of Reality, Lewisburg, Pa: Bucknell University Press, 2000, p. 199
  7. Jones, p. 213
  8. "Jeffrey J S Black, Rousseau's critique of science: A commentary on the Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts, Boston College, 2005". 
  9. "Bacon, Descartes and Newton, those teachers of mankind, had themselves no teachers. What guide indeed could have taken them so far as their sublime genius directed them?"
  10. Compare: "But so long as power alone is on one side, and knowledge and understanding alone on the other, the learned will seldom make great objects their study, princes will still more rarely do great actions, and the peoples will continue to be, as they are, mean, corrupt and miserable." (Rousseau, The Social Contract and Discourses)
  11. William Blake, "Auguries of Innocence". Compare from the same poem:

    The emmet's inch and eagle's mile
    Make lame philosophy to smile.
    He who doubts from what he sees
    Will ne'er believe, do what you please.
    If the sun and moon should doubt,
    They'd immediately go out.

  12. Notes to Blake's Newton, at Princeton University
  13. Newton: Personification of Man Limited by Reason, Tate Gallery, London
  14. W.H. Auden, "New Year Letter, 1940", in Collected Poems, Edited by Edward Mendelson, London: Faber, 1994, p. 203
  15. Stephen D Snobelen, Writings on Newton, 2007
  16. Nietzsche, Friedrich (1977). The Portable Nietzsche. Penguin Publishing Group. p. 278. ISBN 978-1440674198. 
  17. See scientism (3rd ed.), Oxford University Press, September 2005,  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.) The OED records the word from 1870 and the sense here given from 1871.
  18. George J. Klir, Facets of Systems Science, New York: Springer, 1991, pp. 263–265
  19. Anderson, P. W. (4 August 1972). "More Is Different". Science. New Series 177 (4047): 393–396. doi:10.1126/science.177.4047.393. ISSN 1095-9203. PMID 17796623. Bibcode1972Sci...177..393A. 
  20. Amend, Elyse, and Darin Barney. "Getting It Right: Canadian Conservatives and the “War on Science”[Preliminary Edition]." Canadian Journal of Communication 41, no. 1a (2015), pp. 13–14
  21. Andrew C. Wicks and R. Edward Freeman, Organization Studies and the New Pragmatism: Positivism, Anti-Positivism, and the Search for Ethics, Organization Science, 9.2, Mar–Apr. 1998, pp. 123–140
  22. Alan D Sokal, What the Social Text Affair Does and Does not Prove, Critical Quarterly, 40.2, July 1998, pp. 3–18
  23. Victoria Daubert, Sue Ellen Moran, Origins, goals, and tactics of the U.S. anti-nuclear protest movement, Rand, 1985, p. 16
  24. Jeffrey Broadbent, Vicky Brockman, East Asian Social Movements: Power Protest and Change in a Dynamic, Springer, 2009, p. 69
  25. Anti-nuclear Campaigners and the Qwerty Keyboard, Marbury, 31 March 2011
  26. James Lovelock (2004-05-24). "Nuclear power is the only green solution". The Independent. 
  27. Patrick Moore (2006-04-16). "Going Nuclear". The Washington Post. 
  28. Samuel MacCracken, The War Against the Atom, 1982, Basic Books, pp. 60–61
  29. Durant, Darrin (2017-07-30). "Who are you calling 'anti-science'? How science serves social and political agendas" (in en). 
  30. William D. Anderson Jr. (September 2003). "Denying Evolution: Creationism, Scientism, and the Nature of Science". Copeia 2003 (3): 675–677. doi:10.1643/ot-03-047. 
  31. Joseph Romm, "Anti-science conservatives must be stopped",, June 30, 2008
  32. Chris Mooney (2005). The Republican War on Science. Basic Books. 
  33. Pascal Diethelm; Martin McKee (2009). "Denialism: what is it and how should scientists respond?". European Journal of Public Health 19 (1): 2–4. doi:10.1093/eurpub/ckn139. PMID 19158101. 
  34. Kerr, John Richard. "Why do we argue about science? Exploring the psychological antecedents of rejection of science." (2020), p. 26
  35. Lewandowsky, Stephan, and Klaus Oberauer. "Motivated rejection of science." Current Directions in Psychological Science 25, no. 4 (2016): 217–222 [220]
  36. Jon D. Miller, Eugenie C. Scott, Shinji Okamoto Public Acceptance of Evolution Science 11 August 2006: Vol. 313. no. 5788, pp. 765–766
  37. Davidson, Gregg; Hill, Carol; Wolgemuth, Ken (2018). "We Need a Paradigm Shift in Science Advocacy". Skeptical Inquirer 42 (5): 16–17. 
  38. 38.0 38.1 38.2 38.3 Isaiah Berlin, The Proper Study of Mankind, London: Pimlico, 1997, p. 328
  39. Rosenberg, Alex; Kaplan, D. M. (2005). "How to Reconcile Physicalism and Antireductionism about Biology*". Philosophy of Science 72 (1): 43–68. doi:10.1086/428389. ISSN 1539-767X. 
  40. Nagel T. "Reductionism and antireductionism". Novartis Found Symp. 1998; 213:3–10; discussion 10–14, 73–75.
  41. Eileen Gambrill, Evidence based practice, an alternative to authority based practice, Families in Society, the Journal of Contemporary Human Services, 80.4, 1999, 341–350
  42. 42.0 42.1 Todd Jones, Reductionism and Antireductionism: Rights and Wrongs, Metaphilosophy, Volume 35, Number 5, October 2004, pp. 614–647
  43. Peter W. Ross and Dale Turner, "Sensibility Theory and Conservative Complacency"
  44. 44.0 44.1 44.2 44.3 44.4 44.5 Gieryn, Thomas F. (2002). "Real Science: What It Is and What It Means by John Ziman". Isis 93 (3): 544–545. doi:10.1086/374156. ISSN 1545-6994. 
  45. Richard Levins, Whose Scientific Method? Scientific Methods for a Complex World, New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy, Vol.13,3, 2003, 261–74
  46. 46.0 46.1 Sarah Glazer, "Therapeutic touch and postmodernism in nursing", Nursing Philosophy (2001) 2(3), 196–212.
  47. 47.0 47.1 47.2 47.3 "Brian Martin, Social Construction of an 'Attack on Science', Social Studies of Science, Vol. 26, No. 1, February 1996, pp. 161–173.". 
  48. 48.0 48.1 Robert M. Young, Science is Social Relations
  49. Carol Tucker Foreman, Genetic Modification of Foods: The Public's Mistrust of Science and Science's Misunderstanding of the Public, "Consumer Choice"
  50. Poland, G. A; Jacobson, R. M (Aug 2012). "The clinician's guide to the anti-vaccinationists' galaxy". Human Immunology 73 (8): 859–866. doi:10.1016/j.humimm.2012.03.014. PMID 22504410. 
  51. Dariusz Jemielniak; Aleksandra Przegalinska (2020). Collaborative Society. MIT Press. ISBN 978-0262356459. 


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  • Nye, Andrea, Words of Power: A Feminist Reading of the History of Logic, London: Routledge, 1990
  • Pepper, David, The Roots of Modern Environmentalism, London: Routledge, 1989
  • Ullica Segerstrale (Ed), Beyond the Science Wars: the missing discourse about science and society, Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000, ISBN:0791446182
  • Vining, Joseph, On the Future of Total Theory: Science, Antiscience, and Human Candor, Erasmus Institute papers, 1999
  • Leviathan and the Air Pump Schapin and Shaffer (covers the conflict between Hobbes and Boyle).
  • The Scientific Outlook by Bertrand Russell (sets out the limits of science from the perspective of a vehement campaigner against anti-science).
  • An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume (The first major work to point out the limits of inductive reasoning, the 'new tool of science').
  • Against Method by Paul Feyerabend (probably the individual most accused of reinvigorating anti-science, although some claim that he is in fact strengthening the scientific debate).

External links