Steven Pinker, professor of psychology at Harvard University and author of such popular science books as "The Blank Slate," recently wrote an essay for the New Republic in defense of science. From left and right, he notes, from intellectuals as well as from anti-intellectuals, science is under attack for its arrogance, vulgarity and narrowness of vision.

Why is this happening? Pinker asks. Because, he says, science is intruding on the humanities, disciplines lacking in vitality or any real purpose of their own, and the intrusion is resented. Far from deriding science as a campaign to diminish and oversimplify — to reduce beauty to brain chemistry, say, or ethics to natural selection — the humanities should welcome science as a source of new inspiration: "Surely our conceptions of politics, culture, and morality have much to learn from our best understanding of the physical universe and of our makeup as a species."

No doubt that's true. And while we're praising science, let's agree that Pinker is right to call it a force for enormous social good in all the indisputable ways he mentions. Fine. Intelligent critics of "scientism" — the term they've adopted for science gone wrong — wouldn't deny any of this.