trusting science

Oct 2012
Great piece from NPR the other day.

Can We Trust Science? : 13.7: Cosmos And Culture : NPR

Science is knowledge. Why would you reject the good faith effort to understand?

There is, however, a second meaning of the term "science." I am thinking of the industry of science and its institutions. Let's call this "Big Science." Big Science is not just simply knowledge or the good faith pursuit of knowledge. Big Science is not only the handmaiden of policy, ready to serve in an advisory role. Big Science is, itself, the product of policy decisions.

Mistrust of Big Science seems to flourish at both extremes of our political community. I suspect that the mistrust that drives skepticism about GMO food, vaccines, and claims made on behalf of drug companies is the same mistrust of Big Science that leads some to dispute the claims of climate science, for example.

The issue isn't science. The issue is trust. Now, I am an unabashed admirer of science. Science is knowledge. Knowledge is good. I celebrate the culture that makes it possible to educate people to do what scientists do.

And there is no doubt that science is of immense cultural value. Economic, military, commercial, medical. The U.S. is the power it is today in large measure thanks to its achievements in science and engineering since the middle of the last century.

So, how do we combat popular mistrust of science?
An obvious first step, it seems to me, is that science, or Big Science, would do well to own its past failings. There are ample examples of bad science, dangerous science. Race and gender have been allowed to play an insidious role in the history of medicine, even the very recent history, for example. From the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment to the use of black soldiers to test the effects of mustard gas. Or consider the case of Walter Freeman, inventor and popularizer of the transorbital ("ice-pick") lobotomy as a treatment of mental illness; he travelled around the country performing more than 3,000 of these procedures. His mentor, Egas Moniz, who was one of the inventors of what came to be known as the lobotomy, was awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine on the basis of this work in 1949.
Nov 2016
Victoria, BC
In the age of Newton, Maxwell and Pasteur science was relatively pure, undertaken for the advancement of knowledge and not to make unscrupulous profits.

Today, like all other aspects of human society, science has been corrupted, taken over by sinister organizations only interested in power and making profits, often manipulated to publish false results.

That is why there have been almost no fundamental breakthroughs in science since about 1950; there have been many refinements of discoveries and processes made from about 1890 to 1950, but few fundamental advances have occurred.

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