Peer review and the scientific community is not what distinguishes science from other areas of knowledge. After all history community decides what is good history knowledge, theology community decides what is good theological knowledge and the law community decides what is good law knowledge. Since they have similar process for publication and dissemination of knowledge, why are they not also “a superior method of extracting information about the world”?
What distinguishes science from other fields of knowledge is empiricism. Production of scientific knowledge occurs when we use our personal experience about the world to form predictive theories and we attempt to verify them. When Galileo looked through a telescope and saw dots circling Jupiter and him realizing they were moons was a scientific achievement. Since there was no community, it is clearly false to say the community is necessary to progress science.
Referring to the scientific community as this monolithic truth machine is not helpful considering that good science is decided by a very small subsection of the community who have the relevant background knowledge to review cutting edge research. In some fields, everyone knows the other researchers by name. I will admit that science has progressed more quickly because collaboration and teamwork is more efficient than solo working. But teamwork it is not necessary for science to occur.
Fair points are made. To some extent these arguments are like the ones which suggest that the West fostered the Industrial Revolution and not China because of the difference in writing systems. Interesting, but there are so many differences that you can have your pick, can’t you? A minor issue with the rebuttal is that the author does not defend rationality as the hallmark of science and scientists as much as they defend empiricism. The two are associated, but not synonymous. By rationality I mean abstract formal modes of thought and systems. Empiricism has to do with exogenous sense experience. Rationality, empiricism and skepticism are all part of the scientific mode of thinking, but they are not exclusive to science.
There is though an important point in regards to the production of geniuses who existed before the scientific community. For example, Galileo. To a great extent my post is historically contingent, and describing science today. I agree that figures worked in greater isolation in the past, but I have to wonder if the printing press and “Republic of Letters” were not critical to the productivity of men such as Galileo and Newton? Newton’s comment about standing on the shoulders of giants might have been offered sarcastically, but this was a man whose grandfather was likely illiterate. The world in which he was born certainly offered particular opportunities for men of modest means but exceptional brilliance. In any case, I might reformulate what I asserted in the previous post like so: the scientific community is necessary for the perpetuation of scientific knowledge. What could a man such as Archimedes have done if he was embedded within a more robust Republic of Letters? What did he do, and think, which we are not aware of, because his discoveries were not perpetuated and extended by peers?
Finally, there’s the point that only a small subsection of scientists produce real science which will be remembered. The productivity in the broad context has a “hockey stick” distribution. If you removed 90% of scientists from the world how much science would disappear? I doubt 90%. I suspect that on the order of 1% of scientists produce half of the great discoveries. Are the others necessary as “support staff,” or, is it evidence of bureaucratic sclerosis in modern science? Nevertheless, even 1% of scientists in the world is an enormous number compared to the world lit by candle….