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In recent years, the trust that the 'man in the street' (and women too!) used to place in science has faded. This Guide Entry considers why this may have happened.
This question has the same answer as to "What's wrong with the Church?", which is: not much. The main problems are not with the belief system, but with its practitioners, who are human, and have human failings, as we all do.
There is one thing that might be considered wrong with science: its concentration on a world without people. People are reduced to the shadowy role of impartial observer, who are expected to act as little like people as possible: to observe accurately without affecting whatever it is that's being observed.
The objective world model that science has produced for us is ideally suited to a race of aliens we have yet to encounter, whose perceptions are objective. These aliens therefore have accurate and certain knowledge of their environment, so (objective) science is perfect for their needs. Humans, on the other hand, do not have objective perception. This renders our science less useful and accessible to them.
It should be noted that objective science is clearly not useless to humans. On the contrary, the success of science over the past centuries is beyond dispute. Nevertheless, there are areas where science could usefully embrace subjectivity (the human way of perception), in order to become more useful to its human users.
This is the only failing of science itself that this Researcher has identified. It is something that can be addressed, and it is already being addressed in some cases.
- Cognitive dissonance affects scientists just as it affects the rest of us. The more an idea 'grates' with our knowledge and experience, the more likely we are to discover (or even manufacture) reasons why we should not accept it. Or just ignore it. Einstein famously objected (to quantum theory) that God does not play with dice. Such rejections are rarely made rationally or reasonably.
- Professors may not be keen to sponsor work that might undermine their own. It is the reason for thier positions and prestige. Thus new discoveries might be suppressed. [Note: not all professors act this way, but a few do succumb to this common human failing.]
- Scientists may feel nervous about expressing an opinion that might not be well received within the scientific community. Thus their comments on new work might be somewhat muted, to avoid embarassment. On occasion, valuable new work could be lost due to this lack of support.
- Scientific results can be faked. This might not be quite as dishonest as it sounds. If a scientist gets results that cannot be explained by current theory, it might seem appropriate to assume some unknown error in experimental technique, and to record the results that 'should' have been obtained.
- Politicians often use scientific spokesmen, or claim to be operating according to the advice of scientists. In many cases, this is appropriate, and the claim reassures us that our leaders are acting as they should. Sometimes, however, science is used as an authoritative referee when the issue is not a scientific one. This is like using a top chef to support proposed changes to transport policy...
- Scientific data - usually statistics - are often 'cherry-picked', using only those which tend to support the required position. This only contributes to confusion.
- Individuals sometimes place too much trust in science and scientists, and expect too much from them. Perhaps some of the historical reliance on religion has unconsciously been transferred to science? This can compound the above observation about politicians, if both politicians and their electorate trust science and scientists without question.
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