Some Abuses of “Science”, Logic, and Authority Illustrated from Research in Education

  • John Raven
Keywords: systemic thinking, reductionist science, comprehensive evaluation, professionalism, competence, Forrester’s law, abuses of authority, fascism, hierarchy, emergence, sociocybernetics, social forces, turning psychology inside out, recursion, teacher competence, generation of misinformation, destruction of Gaia, social Darwinism, teaching versus education, images of “science”


In this paper, problems with the philosophy and research relating to various interpretations of “closing the gap” in educational achievement are used to open up a discussion of, and illustrate, the process whereby a narrow interpretation of “science” and neglect of systemic thinking result in the generation of huge amounts of dangerous and misleading misinformation and thence the generation of draconian and destructive policies. The paper opens by returning to an unfinished debate arising out of a summary of the unanticipated and counterintuitive effects of interventions designed to close the “attainment” gap between more and less advantaged pupils. This is used to illustrate the importance of studying the unintended as well as intended outcomes of interventions and the importance of considering whether those outcomes are desirable. More of the problems facing those who seek to contribute to evidence-based policy are then illustrated, via a discussion of an “illuminative” evaluation of competency-oriented, project-based, education conducted in the environment around a number of schools, to open a discussion of the need for comprehensive evaluation of educational—and other—projects and policies. “Comprehensive evaluation” implies the evaluation of all short and long term, personal and social, desired and desirable, and undesired and undesirable effects of the programmes and policies under investigation. When this criterion is applied to the vast number of published evaluations of school effectiveness it emerges that most fall well short of the mark. Worse than that, most of their conclusions are nothing less than seriously misleading and damaging. The generation of such misleading information is much more widespread and serious than that exposed by the “replication crisis.” It is argued that, in essence, it stems from the pervasive deployment of non-systemic (viz. “reductionist”) science. A range of serious deficits in the thinking and methodology of psychologists and educational researchers associated with this approach are then discussed. It is concluded that it is vital for social scientists to do what they can to rectify the situation.


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