The strange phenomenon of the cult of facts: three case studies

Scientia Salon

justthefacts by Massimo Pigliucci

I am a scientist, I appreciate the importance of verifiable facts. Moreover, my empirical research was in quantitative genetics, so I have a salutary respect for quantification and statistical analysis.

But I’m also a philosopher, which means I recognize that there simply isn’t such a thing as facts without a given theoretical framework. [1] So did Darwin, by the way. He famously wrote to his friend Henry Fawcett: “How odd it is that anyone should not see that all observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service!”

I’m telling you all this because I think we are currently suffering from what Leon Wieseltier has recently called “the cult of facts” [2]. Wieseltier was complaining about famed data cruncher Nate Silver, who has been referring to opinion journalism as, and I quote, “bullshit.”

Case 1: Nate Silver, bullshit and opinion…

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