My non-scientist friends are beginning to ask me “What’s gone wrong with science?” Revelations about melting glaciers and potentially dodgy emails about global warming, the resurfacing of Andrew Wakefield and the MMR scare, and the sacking of the Government’s drugs adviser, have created the impression for some people that science is in a mess.
Of course science isn’t in a mess, nor has anything changed. But the stories underline two important features of scientists and science. First, scientists, just like every other trade — bus drivers, lawyers and bricklayers — are a mix. Most are pretty average, a few are geniuses, some are a bit thick, and some dishonest.
Second, science itself is often misunderstood. Scientists tend to be portrayed as voices of authority who are able to reveal truths about arcane problems, be it the nature of quarks or the molecular basis of ageing. In fact, science is almost the opposite of this. In The Trouble With Physics, physicist Lee Smolin considers how to describe science and concludes that Nobel Prize winner Richard Feyman’s phrase says it best: “Science is the organised scepticism in the reliability of expert opinion.” ...
[Hat tip to Dave Hone]