Science is to "God-trick" as Journalist is to "false priest"

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Haraway's idea of the "god-trick" illustrates that science, defined by Merriam Webster's Dictionary as "a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method" (Merriam-Webster), is trying to play the role of God by claiming to be objective in its claimed truths. "Donna Haraway said, 'Science was to perform the "God trick": of speaking authoritatively about everything in the world from no particular social location or human perspective at all'" (Harding 29). Science is not unbiased because it is performed and authored by biased people. Science tries to popularize the belief that it can see from "nowhere", it is unbiased, or rather it can see from all perspectives that allow it to see from infinite vision. However, it is impossible to see from "nowhere" or see from all perspectives and therefore be objective. "Objectivity is about limited location and situated knowledges, not about transcendence and splitting of subject and object" (Haraway 190). The idea of wanting to discover or wanting to know, is clearly demonstrated in the traditional outline of the scientific method which illustrates a hierarchical view of which the subject, the scientist, is acting on an object, typically an oppressed group. Haraway is stating with objectivity, hierarchy cannot exist. The subject must be able to look through all the "lenses", see all the angles possible to analyze another subject, not an object, of which must be able to do the same thing of the subject analyzing it.

Keith Olbermann, from the Countdown of MSNBC, criticized Ted Koppel stating, "No journalist is truly unbiased and calling Koppel a "false priest worshiping before the false god of utter objectivity" (Papenfuss 2010). See Below Link.

Papenfuss, Mary. Olbermann Rips Koppel as 'False Priest of Objectivity'. Newser Read Less Know More. Newser, LLC. Nov 16, 2010. .

YouTube Video of Special Comment Below.

Within his Special Comment, Olbermann stated that "journalism of the television era was neutrality and objectivity and not subjective choices... Today, dangerous evaluations and even commentary are made in which you eventually leave the door open to pointless worship to the temple of a false god and once you get a false god you get false priests..." (Olbermann MSNBC), A.K.A. Koppel.
Can journals really be objective in their reports and articles like Olbermann said some past journalists have been? Why do you think journalists, politicians, and other "known" public figures claim objectivity? Outline what you think is the major player in their claims. What are some other examples in which people demonstrate this "false god" or "false priest" role?

3 Comments

I think that Donna Haraway has good intentions in stating the bias present in modern scientific processes. This idea of being able to look through a multitude of lenses to analyze different subjects gives power to the idea of collective operating and decision making. This idea of "the god-trick" resonates heavily with a very hierarchical and patriarchal idea of authority. The ladder to knowledge involves so much more than simply having relevant ideas and valid scientific evidence. Rather, one must consider which rung of the ladder provides most access and promotion of its ideas. Instead of a top down model of scientific power, the structure should be based on a round table of ideas.

However, in order to truly critique the model of scientific power, one must also consider scientific power as a discursive model of power that is internalized in societal norms. For example, this means questioning the common knowledge on which the rest of scientifc theories are based. An example from Chemistry is Neil Bohr's first model of the atom. This is still the common symbol of the atom, however, it is completely incorrect according to Schrodinger's wave equation. Peculiarly, students are still taught atomic models in terms of orbitals.

Even though it often helpful to stand on the shoulders of giants in order to discover and create new knowledge, this can be problematic if those shoulders prove to be faulty.

I think this is a great application of this week's readings to an issue outside of science. One of the basic tenets of journalism is that idea of objective reporting of facts. There is a good reason for considering objectivity important; journalists are "supposed" to value what's true, regardless of their personal beliefs. But I think there's two problems with that.
First, a point that I think Olbermann stresses, is that some issues can't be reported on without having some kind of opinion about. Also, some of the best journalism has been explicitly political. No one who reported on the September 11th attacks was "objective" and no one expected them to be. It would have seemed kind of strange for someone to just talk about the facts. I think that anyone who can talk about a war in completely objective, cold-hard facts probably didn't see much of the war. These kinds of events "require" an emotional response.

The second problem is that that "eye from no-where" problem. When it comes to anything you see in the news, there were conscious choices made at multiple levels to have that event reported. The camera man chose where to point his camera, the reporter maybe chose the event to cover or what part of it to cover, an editing department cleaned it up, and producers decided if and how this story should be aired. Obviously, many stories are ignored for a wide variety of reasons; but that means that some kind of decision making went into this process.

Sorry, this entry might be getting long, but I guess I wanted to say a little about who benefits. Who ever is in power is going to benefit from a depoliticized, morally neutral interpretation of current events; because the people who are currently in power have the most to lose from any kind of sudden social change. A state run media outlet wouldn't want a reporter to show how a disastrous agriculture program has caused mass hunger and displacement; they'd prefer the reporter to be objective if they had to report on this issue at all. In our system, the biggest players are corporations, who sponsor almost every aspect of our culture, including the news. So, let's say that there is a huge recall of contaminated food. It could be a potential disaster if a news anchor used her role to explain that these massive recalls are part of a systematic problem within the food industry, that while this event is particularly bad, contaminated food entering the market is a common event, and that major reforms are needed. Food companies, who most likely are buying at least a few commercials on that network, would probably prefer that anchor just giving the American public the facts, without showing them a broader, but admittedly more politically and morally charged picture of the issue.

It’s interesting that objectivity has become an important, even necessary, attribute of public figures. Somehow the idea has grown that being objective is synonymous with being truthful and being responsible with your truth, as if anyone who does not claim objectivity will tell you lies. (Though to be honest, it seems that the reporter or essayist who can outright admit that their work is not objective is often easier to trust.)
Although objectivity can have slightly different meanings to those working in the fields of journalism, science, etc., I think that in this case it is helpful to look at a philosophical definition, which emphasizes that objectivity allows one to describe a situation or object as a mind-independent reality. “Mind-independent” would suggest independent of human judgment, feeling, and character, all of the things that define a human mind. It makes me wonder if this is ever something that would be desirable in a journalist or politician. Do we really want to follow someone who can view the world in a “mind-independent” way? Do we want to get our news from such a person? All questions to think about.
The other thing that really struck me about this post was the contrast between the two uses of religious language. In one case, the “god-trick” is used to describe the falseness of human objectivity, as a human simply cannot view the world from all points at once. In the other, the “false priest” is one who espouses their views without objectivity. I wonder what the use of these two examples suggest about the views of the speaker, or if they are used only because they evoke powerful feelings.

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This page contains a single entry by LittleG0023 published on October 7, 2011 9:01 AM.

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