The term scientism has been used with different meanings in literature. The term is often used as a pejorative to indicate the improper usage of science or scientific claims. The charge of scientism often is used as a counter-argument to appeals to scientific authority in contexts where science might not apply, such as when the topic is understood to be beyond the scope of scientific inquiry. In contrast with this was its usage in the early twentieth century, which was as a neutral descriptive and roughly synonymous with logical positivism. The term scientism can also be used, sometimes with a more neutral tone, to describe the view that science has authority over all other interpretations of life, such as philosophical, religious, mythical, spiritual, or humanistic explanations. It has also been applied to the view that the natural sciences have authority over other fields of inquiry such as social sciences. The terms "scientific imperialism" and "scientific fundamentalism" have occasionally been used to refer to some of these concepts in an almost exclusively pejorative manner.
In light of shifting modes of thought in recent decades, by the early twenty-first century scientism with the meaning scientific imperialism has become prevalent. Physics, the original bastion of a mechanistic, reductionistic, and thus scientistic worldview, gave way by the mid-twentieth century to the much softer, less dogmatic quantum theory, which is grounded in probability and uncertainty and accords a place of central importance to human consciousness in determining the nature of the world. At the other end of the scientific spectrum, psychology has seen the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud and the behaviorism of B.F. Skinner supplanted by psychologies recognizing the essential nature of humanity as lying outside the bounds of reasoned, scientific analysis. Examples include the cognitive psychology of Aaron Beck and the positive psychology of Martin Seligman pursuing authentic happiness.
Between physics and psychology, biology remains the last stronghold of scientism as epitomized by the Selfish Gene of Richard Dawkins and the Consilience of E.O. Wilson. Yet even in biology, the foundations of scientism are vulnerable on the one hand to the recognitions that quantum fluctuations may be significant at the cellular level and on the other by recognition that cooperation and synergies may be as important to evolutionary development as competition.
Reviewing the references to scientism in the works of contemporary scholars, Gregory R. Peterson detects two main broad themes:
According to Mikael Stenmark in the Encyclopedia of science and religion while the doctrines that are described as scientism have many possible forms and varying degrees of ambition, they share the idea that the boundaries of science (that is, typically the natural sciences) could and should be expanded so that something that has not been previously considered as a subject pertinent to science can now be understood as part of science, (usually with science becoming the sole or the main arbiter regarding this area or dimension). In its most extreme form, scientism is the view that science has no boundaries, that in due time all human problems and all aspects of human endeavor will be dealt with and solved by science alone. Stenmark proposes the expression scientific expansionism as a synonym of scientism.
Gregory R. Peterson remarks that "for many theologians and philosophers, scientism is among the greatest of intellectual sins". In fact, today the term is often used against vocal critics of religion-as-such. For instance, the philosopher of science Daniel Dennett responded to criticism of his book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by saying that "when someone puts forward a scientific theory that [religious critics] really don't like, they just try to discredit it as 'scientism'". Meanwhile, in an essay that emphasizes parallels between scientism and traditional religious movements, The Skeptics Society founder Michael Shermer self-identifies as "scientistic" and defines the term as "a scientific worldview that encompasses natural explanations for all phenomena, eschews supernatural and paranormal speculations, and embraces empiricism and reason as the twin pillars of a philosophy of life appropriate for an Age of Science."
Scientific imperialism is a term that appears to have been coined by Dr. Ellis T. Powell when addressing the Commonwealth Club of Canada on September 8, 1920. Though he gave a definition of imperialism as, "the sense of arbitrary and capricious domination over the bodies and souls of men," yet he used the term 'scientific imperialism' to mean "the subjection of all the developed and undeveloped powers of the earth to the mind of man." 
In modern parlance, however, scientific imperialism more often means "the tendency to push a good scientific idea far beyond the domain in which it was originally introduced, and often far beyond the domain in which it can provide much illumination." (John Dupre. "Against Scientific Imperialism." 2006) It can thus mean an attitude toward knowledge in which the beliefs and methods of science are assumed to be superior to and to take precedence over those of all other disciplines. "Devotees of these approaches are inclined to claim that they are in possession not just of one useful perspective on human behavior, but of the key that will open doors to the understanding of ever wider areas of human behavior."
It is also apparent in "those who believe that the study of politics can and should be modeled on the natural sciences, a position defended most forcibly in the United States, and those who have dissented, viewing this ambition as methodologically unjustified and ethically undesirable."
Scientism has also been defined as the "pursuit of power through the pursuit of knowledge," and its pejorative use arguably reflects the frustration felt by some with "the limitations of reductive scientism (scientific imperialism)." And "the myth that science is the model of truth and rationality still grips the mind of much of our popular and scientific culture. Even though philosophers of science over the past few decades have gutted many of the claims of this scientific imperialism, many thinkers, knee-jerk agnostics, and even judges persist in the grip of this notion." Such critics of science even question whether we should "automatically assume… that successful scientific theories are true or approximately true models of the world," and periodically express a desire to "dethrone science from an imperialistic stance over philosophy and theology." Retrieved August 3, 2007.
It is claimed that some scientists harbour "unreal expectations and mistaken assumptions, their hubris and their imperialism," in the sense that they wish to extend the methods and ideology of science into all regions of human investigation.
Scientific imperialism, "the idea that all decisions, in principle, can be made scientifically - has become, in effect, the religion of the intellectuals," [Staddon] for it is doubtless "a natural tendency, when one has a successful scientific model, to attempt to apply it to as many problems as possible. But it is also in the nature of models that these extended applications are dangerous."
This attitude can come to involve power, coercion and domination over other disciplines. In its most virulent forms it can seek to intimidate and subordinate 'non-believers,' or those it perceives as being insufficiently educated in the ways of science. It can thus involve some zealotry, an over-adherence to strict dogma and a rather fundamentalist belief that science alone stands supreme over all other modes of inquiry. In this it may come close to gangsterism and cultural imperialism. It may then be seen as a rigid and intolerant form of intellectual monotheism.
People who do not stress this absolute domination of science or who are more laissez-faire in their attitude, perhaps displaying insufficient science zeal, may find themselves marginalized, deviantized, and even demonized as wimps, as religious romantics, and as irrational. Only those who adhere strictly to the dogmas of the science 'mother church' are accorded the greatest credibility and reverence. Such behavior clearly seeks to extol the virtues of the scientific paradigm over all other viewpoints and modes of interpreting Nature, the world, and human behavior. This attitude tends to foster a patronizing and arrogant notion that scientists belong to an elite class of people who deal with matters of much greater importance than the average person. 
Another meaning of this term is shown when it is claimed that "poor people in developing countries are being exploited in research for the benefit of patients in the developed world."In such an example, it is clear that, "the scientific community has a responsibility to ensure that all scientific research is conducted ethically." Another example lies in the alleged misappropriation of indigenous drugs in poor countries by drug companies in the developed world: "Ethnopharmacology involves a series of sociopolitical, economic and ethical dilemmas, at various levels...frequently host country scientists, visiting scientists, and informants disagree...research efforts are (often) perceived as scientific imperialism; scientists are accused of stealing plant materials and appropriating traditional plant knowledge for financial profit and/or professional advancement. Many governments, as well as indigenous societies are increasingly reluctant to permit such research...historically neither native populations nor host countries have shared to a significant extent the financial benefits from any drug that reaches the market...unless these issues are amply discussed and fairy resolved, medicinal plant research runs the risk of serving ethically questionable purposes."
Standard dictionary definitions include the following applications of the term "scientism":
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