A Word Of Caution

The history of Science has its heroes, but scientists are only human and like the priests they have largely displaced in public esteem they can be obscurantist, dogmatic in defence of outdated paradigms, resistant to change, conformist, timid, fearful of stepping aside from the consensus even when they suspect it may be wrong, jealous of rivals and full of self love. Its greatest luminaries- especially in their later years- when they're well-funded, well-regarded and no longer as sharp as they once were- can often be the greatest obstacles to the advancement of knowledge.  As Max Plank is reported to have said, "Science advances one funeral at a time."

Scientists are also corruptible. Their work needs funding, the funding comes from governments and corporations and other special interest groups- and the science that comes out of those funded labs is unlikely to go against the interests of the patron. Scientists have been known to suppress information and fake their results. They can be paid off and intimidated. There was a time when people in white coats were lined up to tell us that smoking was good for us.

Finally, scientists disagree about most things. And the theory that starts off with the most supporters isn't necessarily the one that finally triumphs. Ideas that question received wisdom are initially mocked- and their proponents given a hard time. "Settled Science" is simply science that hasn't yet been debunked, refined upon or rendered obsolete.

So, a word of caution. Before we "trust the science"- as we're constantly being urged to do- we need to ask, "which science, who's doing it and who's paying to have it done?" And again, if we want to go a little deeper, "am I going along with this for any better reason than that it flatters my prejudices and reinforces my world view?"  


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