Is/should "appeal to scientificity" be considered a fallacy?

Some examples:

-Some economics theory that has no predictive power, even if it might be mathematically correct.

-Expecting that everything can be proven scientifically and that there's just opinions (unscientific) and facts (scientific), rather than something between as well as well as mixing of the two.

However a particular problem comes, because scientific methodology is not fixed, but is at least partially also a social construct. Thus one cannot rely on them on all matters, but only in particular matters. Whereas a belief in "everything can be proven" contains idealism. There are things that science has not yet formed objectivity about.

  • I hardly can see any fallacy there. I don't see any error in the first example at all. What really can be is to say that scientific community states X, therefore X is true. However, we know that a few times they were wrong.
    – rus9384
    Aug 5, 2018 at 8:50
  • What does it mean "appeal to scientificity" ? To assert e.g. the existence of a fact that is explained or predicted by some current scientific theory ? Aug 5, 2018 at 8:50
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA E.g. "if it cannot be explained scientifically, then it's your opinion (even if the thing could be interpreted as "common sense objective" without proof)". Also the other way around, expecting that things can always belong to science of not belong, when in fact there are things that may not ever be able to be decided based on science, because they're too broad, too philosophical, too matters of taste, ...
    – mavavilj
    Aug 5, 2018 at 8:54
  • @rus9384 The problem with the economics theory example is that it gains "perceivable validity" by claiming it's science, even if it does not abide to strict scientific principles. It looks like science, but it does not behave like one.
    – mavavilj
    Aug 5, 2018 at 8:55
  • Regarding the assertion : "There are things that science has not yet formed objectivity about", I perfectly agree with you. Aug 5, 2018 at 8:56

2 Answers 2



This is a new one on me. The usual term for what you have in mind is, I think, 'scientism', which can be chaacterised roughly as follows :

... there are no real limits to the competence of science, no limits to what can be achieved in the name of science. Or, if there are limits to the scientific enterprise, the idea is that science, at least, sets the boundaries for what we humans can ever achieve or know about reality. There is nothing outside the domain of science, nor is there any area of human life to which science cannot successfully be applied. (Mikael Stenmark, 'What Is Scientism?', Religious Studies, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Mar., 1997), pp. 15-32 : 15.

Since this is a claim, and not an arguments with premises and conclusion, it can't be a fallacy though it can of course be false.

A circularity in the defence of scientism

Epistemology... shapes the constraints of science only in light of the acknowledged ends and purposes of science. The touchstone of correct epistemology is the better achievement of scientific goals based on the changes in scientific method. The traditional epistemologist looks for guidance- for standards of justification - elsewhere than in the practice of science. The Quinean epistemologist looks to science ... [W]e hold science (and epistemology) liable to no other standard than what smooths the way for ongoing [scientific] research... ( Roth, P.: 1987, Meaning and Method in the Social Sciences, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York : 33.)

Criticising this position, James Maffie argues as follows :

Epistemology becomes "science self-applied" by being reduced to epistemology of science which in turn is reduced to the self-critical offices of science itself. The epistemology of science is all the epistemology we need. Epistemic rationality is equated with scientific rationality. Cognition is epistemically liable to no other norms than scientific norms; and these are epistemically liable to no other goals than scientific goals. Identicists interpret claims about the absence of standpoints independent of science, etc., as saying that epistemic goals, norms and concepts are identical to the evidential goals, norms and concepts of science. So, rather than eliminate epistemic value, warrant and norms, identicists equate them with scientific value, warrant and norms. General epistemic questions about evidence, rationality and knowledge, for example, become scientific questions about scientific evidence, rationality and knowledge. (James Maffie, 'Naturalism, Scientism and the Independence of Epistemology', Erkenntnis (1975-), Vol. 43, No. 1 (Jul., 1995), pp. 1-27 : 3.)

In other words, there can be no knowledge or epistemology independent of science, since science defines or is the criterion of what counts as knowledge or epistemology. But as stated this is merely a claim; and a circular one : all knowledge or epistemology is science since what isn't science isn't knowledge or epistemology. This is, or is meant to be, an impenetrable circle. And indeed the circle is impenetrable if we allow a proponent of scientism to stipulate the use or meaning of terms in this way. But short of argument for it, we have no reason to accept the stipulation.

Social constructionism

A different response to scientism is offered by social constructionist positions. Such positions seek to undermine the independent status of science as the arbiter of knowledge and epistemology by the rug-pull of arguing that what counts as science is itself a decision made by social actors. Science is a social reality but social realities are framed by social actors and have no autonomous existence.

I am not so much opposed to social constructionism as uncertain what, if accepted, it proves. But it seems to me to contain an important element of truth. It is a matter of social determination or decision what counts, for instance, as the activity of being a historian, or that of an archaeologist, or that of a politician. Not necessarily of easy or clear-cut decision, but still of social decision. I don't see why the same should not be true of the activity of being a scientist. In which case, not all knowledge is scientific knowledge since the knowledge that someone is a scientist or that some inquiry or activity is scientific is not itself scientific but embodies a social decision : and a decision is not knowledge.

On social constructionism see :

Steve Fuller, Science (Concepts in Social Thought), ISBN 10: 0816631247 / ISBN 13: 9780816631247. Published by University of Minnesota Press, 1997

Ian Hacking, The Social Construction of What?, ISBN 10: 0674004124 / ISBN 13: 9780674004122. Published by Harvard University Press, 1999.

  • Excellent answer. I'll just add for clarification (if needed), that essentially scientism really is "appeal to scientificity", so with mere change of wording the question can be a lot more clearer. Although, I do find the OP's wording quite intriguing, as it shades a different light on scientism, looking at it as a fallacy, like looking at naturalism as fallacy (although indeed as you say both statements would be wrong - neither scientism nor naturalism can be stated as fallacies, but it's interesting to look at them like that, comparing "appeal to scientificity" to "appeal to nature"). Aug 5, 2018 at 17:33
  • 1
    Hi again ! Interesting angle (as so often from you !) that I hadn't anticipated. Thanks. Best - GT
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Aug 5, 2018 at 17:50

Your examples don't support your argument. First you talk about science, but your example is about being mathematically correct. Science, I hope you know is about more than just math. Then you equate appeal to science with "everything can be proven" mentality. That's not true either. Favouring science means favouring a rigourous evidence-based method for coming to conclusions. For example, in favour of science, I can say that your great great grandmother's herbal concoction will not cure cancer based on anecdotal evidence that it works and one is better off in the hospital. In the event that a question is testable by the scientific method I cannot see how this is fallicious reasoning. In the event that the question is not applicable to science then "appeal to scientificity" is not relevant.

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