As a consequence [of positivist assumptions], all propositions concerning facts will be promoted to the dignity of science, regardless of their relevance, as long as they result from a correct use of method. Since the ocean of facts is infinite, a prodigious expansion of science in the sociological sense becomes possible, giving employment to scientistic technicians and leading to the fantastic accumulation of irrelevant knowledge through huge "research projects" whose most interesting feature is the quantifiable expense that has gone into their production. The temptation is great to look more closely at these luxury flowers of late positivism and to add a few reflections on the garden of Academus in which they grow; but theoretical asceticism will not allow such horticultural pleasures.
The present concern is with the principle that all facts are equal—as on occasion it has been formulated—if they are methodically ascertained. This equality of facts is independent of the method used in the special case. The accumulation of irrelevant facts does not require the application of statistical methods; it may quite as well occur under the pretext of critical methods in political history, description of institutions, history of ideas, or in the various branches of philology.
The accumulation of theoretically undigested, and perhaps undigestible, facts, the excrescence for which the Germans have coined the term Materialhuberei, thus, is the first of the manifestations of positivism; and because of its pervasiveness, it is of much greater importance than such attractive oddities as the "unified science."
The accumulation of irrelevant facts, however, is inextricably interwoven with other phenomena. Major research enterprises that contain nothing but irrelevant materials are rare, indeed, if they exist at all. Even the worst instance will contain a page here and there of relevant analysis, and there may be grains of gold buried in them that wait for accidental discovery by a scholar who recognizes their value. For the phenomenon of positivism occurs in a civilization with theoretical traditions; and a case of complete irrelevance is practically impossible because, under environmental pressure, the most bulky and worthless collection of materials must hang on a thread, however thin, that connects it with the tradition.
Even the staunchest positivist will find it difficult to write a completely worthless book about American constitutional law as long as with any conscientiousness he follows the lines of reasoning and precedents indicated by the decisions of the Supreme Court; even though the book be a dry reportage, and not relate the reasoning of the judges (who are not always the best of theorists) to a critical theory of politics and law, the material will compel submission at least to its own system of relevance.