We could do the experiment, but I’d have to kill you afterwards.

Excuse me, could I borrow your brain for a moment? This story about a crisis in psychology due to lack of repeatability has been doing the rounds on social media since yesterday.

For physical sciences, repeatability is an indicator scientific quality; a key part of science “senso stricto”. Life however is not a repeatable experiment, except where that life is expendable. So in life-sciences you can arrange for repeatable procedures where the individual lives can be manipulated and terminated, but a new experiment is a new life, a new individual. For more complex researches, either in the direction of multiple generations, the development of individuals and the evolution of species, or in the direction of higher functioning levels of conscious life in humans and higher animals, strict repeatability becomes a tougher proposition. Tougher to arrange for physically without indirection or intermediation, and more doubtful ethically depending on the kinds of manipulations of life and consciousness involved.

We could do the experiment, but I’d have to kill you afterwards.

Of course high quality scientific research should always strive to be as repeatable as possible, with clear boundary conditions as free as possible from extraneous, intermediating or (god-forbid) subjective effects, and failing that with clear recognition of and accounting for any such effects, so that repeatability and sensitivity to boundary conditions can be judged.

However, it is part of the scientistic turn to hold more complex and more highly evolved levels of nature to the same exclusive standards of objectivity and repeatability as pure physical science. Academic researches can still gain the “scientific” seal of approval even when they are not pure science – or at least pure science cannot be the sole arbiter of academic quality. Pure politics and rhetoric are one end of a scale remote from pure science, but scientific researches elsewhere on that scale are not necessarily “bullshit”. The “scientific” seal of approval itself does come with a fair helping of politics for funding support and the like.

Objectivity, repeatability and evidence are all fine attributes, but it’s fetish to hold all academic endeavours to account to the same standards of objectivity, repeatability and evidence.

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