Science has been under attack recently by vociferous and often politically motivated individuals. But science is the best method we have to discover the laws that govern the behavior of matter and energy in our universe, which allows us to generate applications that work. This is not an opinion. This is a rock-solid fact. And if you want evidence for this claim, just look around you. Computers, cell phones, televisions, microwaves ovens, refrigerators, air conditioning, buildings, vehicles, airplanes, dams, satellites, space stations, telescopes, etc. Keep looking. Antibiotics, antivirals, antivenoms, hormones, erectile disfunction drugs, surgical techniques and science-based therapies, DNA sequencing, vaccines, etc. If science were not a successful method to uncover reality, none of these things would work.
When faced with this evidence, the people who attack science would probably clarify that what they are attacking is the scientists, not the principles of science. These people claim that scientists have been corrupted by powerful interests and/or by the need to obtain funds, which leads them to fake or selectively interpret the data. This claim, however, is quite startling. If what scientists are coming up with does not reflect reality because they are faking the science, then it should not work. But how are we to explain the list of scientific applications that work that I presented in the previous paragraph? One would have to argue that these discoveries were made in a pristine past when science was not corrupted, and that the corruption of science is a recent event.
Now please, if you really believe this, send me a message, because I’ve got a bridge I want to sell to you.
Not only is this not true, because there have been recent scientific applications that work such as, for example, the COVID-19 vaccines, but dishonesty and corruption have always plagued humanity. Institutions ranging from government, political parties, unions, and religious organizations, to neighborhood associations, clubs, and family businesses everywhere have experienced dishonesty and corruption. And because scientists are human beings, they are prone to dishonesty and corruption too, but those discoveries I outlined in the first paragraph were made despite the influence of dishonest and corrupt individuals. Although the methodology of science has several safeguards to insure that the science is right and free from dishonesty, the ultimate proof that science works is in the applications. If a purported practical application of science doesn’t work, then the unavoidable conclusion is that the science behind it was deficient.
Those that criticize science or scientists in the way I described above are missing the most important point. Our primary concern should not be that the science doesn’t work because corrupt individuals are somehow “faking it”. This way of thinking is divorced from reality and fails to recognize the main problem with science. The main problem with science is that it works, and that is what should scare us.
Let me explain.
Most of us are honest individuals who know that science will deliver for us and we use the applications generated by science in a lawful way. However, there are dishonest individuals who also know that science will deliver for them too, and these individuals are willing to pervert the use of the applications generated by science. This is especially true when there are strong demands for accomplishments, incentives for success, and millions of dollars in profits on the line. For example, pharmaceutical companies have paid billions of dollars in fines for engaging in off-label promotion of their products, paying kickbacks, and Medicare fraud. The most glaring example of misconduct in the pharma industry is the horrifying opioid epidemic that began with the lax FDA approval of the pain drug oxycontin from Purdue Pharma, followed by its inappropriate marketing, which led to millions becoming addicted and hundreds of thousands dying.
Thus the true and frightening power of science derives from the fact that you can be certain that it works, and that therefore, someone somewhere will misuse what science produces.
To counter this we need to exercise and demand vigilance. We need to pressure our elected representatives to police those charged with the application of science. We need to monitor our elected representatives and make sure they are not corrupted by bribes or favors. We need strong and independent watchdog groups and media outlets to keep an eye out for misconduct and conflicts of interest. We have to demand changes to regulations and procedures to ensure that the process of approval of scientific applications doesn’t become corrupted by political or corporate interests. But we cannot do this effectively if part of our energy is devoted to countering those that incessantly claim the science is “fake” or “junk” and that it does not work.
It's not fake science but the misuse of scientific applications that we should be concerned about.
The image of the Hand Holding a Sign from pixabay by geralt is in the public domain and has been modified.