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In: Science

Submitted By SKBloss
Words 4512
Pages 19
What does the average person think when they hear that an idea is supported by science? Often, it makes people assume that this idea must be objectively true, and will necessarily be more right than a theory that doesn’t have the backing of “science.” While in many cases, objective science really does produce better results than mere conjecture, there have also been influential movements in history that were justified by “science,” but which we see today as unjustifiable. These include biometrical methods like phrenology and craniology, the empirical definitions of racial difference in the 19th century, and the “scientifically” racist ideology of the Nazis, among many others.

In many of these situations, biology has been used to support conceptions that were already accepted in the society of the time. However, they seemed stronger with scientific support, even if the scientific support was weak enough that it was eventually proven to be untrue. Considering this, why were these “scientific” conclusions seen as objective when, with the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that they were not? Additionally, why did the supporters of these ideologies want to use science as support? If science were seen as merely a collection of useless knowledge, it would not have been relied upon in the way that it was, so it is clear that the scientific method was trusted to add some additional level of truth to the given conclusions. The interactions between these systems of classifying groups of people, their scientific support, and society in general tell us many things about science and about people.

Physiognomy and Phrenology

The earliest versions of biological classification are found in the related disciplines of physiognomy and phrenology. Physiognomy, the science of reading a person’s character based on facial characteristics, was popularized by Johann Caspar...

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