Science is dead. Long live science.

The incredible amount of fake news and misinformation that has spread through the world, at a much faster pace than the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, tells us so much about ourselves. Experts have a word for it: infodemic.

But why are we so keen to find freakish explanations to phaenomena which, albeit rare (and luckily so), do have a perfectly natural rationale? Why do we feel the urge to meddle through reasonings that defy logic in order to concoct far-fetched theories to cuddle our fears in? I can hardly offer any explanation, and yet, for some obscure reason, the scientific rationalisation does not satisfy us anymore.

As William of Ockham used to say, entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem: that is, we should not multiply entities (i.e. causes) beyond necessity. This does not imply, of course, that we should be satisfied in overly simplicistic explanations just for the sake of it. But science has a curious habit of hiding complexity under simplicity and then simplicity under complexity, again and again (was that one of Henri Poincaré’s deep innuendos?).

What makes science one of a kind is the extreme pleasure it takes in indulging in self-criticism. Science, alas, cannot get rid of its time-honoured tradition of falsifiability. For falsifiability is science’s superpower: and that is precisely what makes it annoying or incomprehensible to many.

And yet, this is also the reason why we can rely so much on science: not because of some high-brow concept of an élite-dominated knowledge, but because the way science tries to understand nature has already builtin, so to say, an unwearying attempt to prove false its own conclusions. Hence, when we say that something is “scientifically proved”, we mean that the scientific community has done its best to prove it false, and has failed for the time being, but won’t stop trying till it succeeds or, at least, till it has clarified the boundaries within which a given theory can be considered true.

At the opposite end there is the topsy-turvy, quasi-magical way of thinking in which this world of ours is soaked. It proceeds by cherry-picking facts not in order to falsify assumptions, but in order to confirm them. It rejoices in concidences or mere happenstances, the sheer fortuity of which is taken for a token of truth. It mistakes correlation for causation.

Our unheard-of awkwardness-cum-distrust in handling scientific thought is, in all likelihood, the nastiest surprise from the aughts of this century onwards. To be sure, we try and fight the phenomenon through the lastest tecnological gizmos (blockchain? machine-learning?) or by a bevy of government task forces (Italy is a good example, by the way). But both approaches are bound to fail. It won’t be through half-hearted flirting with the governments’ ancient desire to curb speech freedoms that we can be coaxed away from illogicity.

Instead, we should focus on basic education, which has utterly failed to be part of a well-developed welfare state and has became the new tool of class inequality. We should focus on continuous education (or lifelong learning), lest anybody should be left behind. We should focus on reinventing education to make it the beating heart of the information age. The latter is no doubt doing its best to overthrow the old human ruling over knowledge: but someway mankind has already managed to get the upper hand. We cannot afford to waste the flexible power of our collective intelligence.

First published on Eventual Consistency