Sociological collapse or the moral panic of a sociologist

Current debate
By Jean-Michel Hupé, Jérôme Lamy, Arnaud Saint-Martin

In Apocalypse cognitive, the sociologist Gérald Bronner intends to address a serious problem: according to him, our attention is subjugated by modern means of communication and exchange. The internet and online social networks, in particular, have taken over our “ancestral brain” by storm. According to Bronner, this digital universe operates in the manner of a “free market” and is “deregulated,” with the power to take over minds made weak by content whose quality is doubtful. Bronner intends to demonstrate how online activity reveals (in the primary sense of the titular “apocalypse”) the limitations and weaknesses in how our brains work and threatens democracy and civilization. The author uses the alarmist register of the “apocalypse” and distils, through a demonstration that is meant to be rigorous, recommendations to escape this rut. Apocalypse cognitive is not specifically intended for an academic readership; it is more of an intervention and an alert. However, it claims to be based on scientific knowledge and its author continuously defers to the authority of neuroscience to support his often very personal views. And this is where the problem lies. Bronner proceeds to make one peremptory assertion after another about “human nature,” bases his interpretations on biased data, and twists the findings of neuroscience so that they support extremely strong opinions. We document in this critical note how this use of scientific authority is questionable, without exhausting the inventory of misinterpretations and errors contained in the book (an appendix, stored on the HAL open archives, lists most of them). A catch-all that does not withstand the rigors of scientific debate, Apocalypse cognitive thus fails to offer a serious diagnosis, instead providing a moralistic incitement – one that is open to exploitation in the political sphere.

  • neurosciences
  • sociology of the internet
  • Gérald Bronner
  • expertise
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