Right now, we're all painfully aware of attacks on science that come from the political Right. However, let us not forget that such attacks can and have in the past come from the political Left, and that indeed anybody with a political ax to grind, and with a strong identification with some political ideology, will turn on science when it seems that the process of science is not supporting that ideology.
Martin at Aardvarchaeology writes about historians struggling with the "truth be damned" legacy of post-modernism. It reminded me of when I was a naive young scientist, comfortable in the knowledge that the notion of objective reality wasn't anything particularly surprising, and had my first rude encounter with post-modernism. It got me riled up, and I dug around a bit more, horrified by the sorts of crap that was spouted in the name of intellectualism. I sit back and felt superior when I ran into the Sokal Affair, watching wind taken out of the bags of post-modernist writing. I suppose there must be something to it, because some non-science people like my wife get defensive when I bag on "post-modernism" generally, saying that yes, a lot of "intellectual" stuff was written deliberately obfuscated and asserting all sorts of crazy stuff, but that one shouldn't blame all of post-modernism for that.
Who knows. I suppose I don't understand it well enough to know what all of it is, and thus can't condemn it all. But, still, my first encounter was pretty telling, and I know enough to be able to confidently condemn at least some of it.
It was in a faculty dining hall, my first year (if memory serves) at Vanderbilt. I was eating with another astronomer, who had been at Vanderbilt for 10 years. Another professor (whose name I no longer remember) joined us; it was somebody the other astronomer was familiar with. This other professor was from some sort of humanities department: I don't remember which one. The other astronomer introduces me, and mentions that I work on measuring the accelerating expansion of the Universe.
This other professor says immediately, with an air of great assurance, that the only reason we astronomers believe in the Big Bang is because we grew up in a Judeo-Christian culture that has the preconceived notion that there was a moment of beginning.
This floored me, a bit. I mean, I've seen Christians who assert that I'm not a real Christian because I deny the literal truth of the Bible... by, say, accepting the Big Bang theory. Now, suddenly, I'm told that the only reason I think there's anything to the Big Bang theory is that I'm too Christian.
I start sputtering, trying to talk about evidence, redshifts, cosmic microwave background, nucleosynthesis and ratios of the elements, but he just waves it all off. To him, the fact that I, and the vast majority of research astronomers in the last century, grew up in a culture whose philosophical tradition includes a "beginning moment" is enough evidence that the Big Bang is simply science's projection of that cultural tradition.
I point out that he's not even historically accurate. The Big Bang was the new theory that came to be accepted starting in the 1960's; at the time, the notion of a Universe that was today very different from what it was a long time ago was radical. The notion that the Universe had evolved to its current state from a hot and dense state was not obvious at all. However, that's where the evidence pointed, so that's why scientists all started accepting the new picture.
Before that, most scientists accepted something called the "Steady-State Universe." In that picture, the Universe is today the same as it has always been. The Universe is expanding— we've known that since Hubble's observations in the 1929 discovery. In the Steady-State Universe, it expands, but as it does so matter is continuously created. As such, the density of the Universe remains (on average) the same over time.
This humanities professor, upon hearing about this one says, "Ah, that's nice. I like that one better." At that point, though, lunch was over, so we all got up and went our separate ways.
Humanities people out there, take note; it's things like this that lead scientists to question whether humanities people are all erudite-sounding false intellectuals. This guy was so arrogant, so secure in his own notions that he completely dismissed a whole other field of study as cultural bias, even though he knew basically nothing about it. Of course, I've just done that with humanities, and I know that that isn't right; there is real scholarship there. But sometimes, they try to dabble in the sciences, and, as the Sokal Affair shows, much of what is produced cannot be described as anything other than crap.
It was after this encounter that I started digging around to learn what this post-modernism stuff was. I learned the name "post-modernist" after starting to dig, but of course I'd heard it before; it was only after that that I came to appreciate the degree to which it was a banner flown by horrendously anti-science forces. The notion that all knowledge is simply a "social construction" is batty. Yes, the way in which we express the laws of physics are certainly influenced by our culture. But the actual value of the speed of light, the way in which gravity interacts with objects of a given mass— there's nothing Western or Patriarchal or Imperialist or Male about that. Science is based on the assumption that there is an objective reality that we are trying, however imperfectly, to understand. And, indeed, science is always implicitly testing that assumption. If it weren't a good assumption, a whole lot of what we do simply wouldn't work.
Let's be realists here and recognize at least this part of post-modernism for what it is: crap. Not some sort of deep effete intellectual insight, but just crap. And, generally, obfuscated crap— probably written that way to hide the fact that there is nothing underneath it.