Invoking the name of science is a potent way to assure people of the validity of a method, product, service, or idea. When we read or hear "scientifically proven, science says, or scientists report, etc." there is typically a degree a trust and acceptance of the findings. For some topics, however, it would appear that people do not trust to the conclusions drawn by scientific exploration. How much do you trust science?
My understanding is that science is a process for organizing, examining, quantifying, and exposing relationships, or the lack there of, between matter (including its constituent parts) or phenomena. It is a process that intentionally minimizes the chance that bias, misinterpretation, or deception will influence the design or interpretation of the finding(s) of an experiment. The scientific method helps us understand the likelihood and circumstances under which our understanding is true. The way of the scientist allows us to uncover surprising, counterintuitive relationships in spite of our natural desire to prove the validity of what we already think or believe. Science is people helping other people see beyond their bias, limits in experience, imagination, and understanding. Do you trust science yet?
Things get tricky when the findings of a scientific process are used to promote a service, product, political egenda, personal philosophy, or belief system. Data that undermines the held belief is omitted, marginalized, or ignored*. This can lead to a stifling misunderstanding and poor implementation of scientific findings. Another issue is when the scientists is unaware of how their world view influences their hypothesis, experimentation, and interpretation of the findings. Again, this creates a scenario that is rife with flawed understanding and application. So science - conducted by fallible humans - is trustworthy, isn’t it?
One of the features of the scientific process is the development of a hypothesis: "a supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation.” Google.com. The hypothesis is then tested by processes that attempt to prove AND disprove the hypothesis. Sometimes the data collected is not precise enough to confirm the hypothesis or sometimes the scientists are unaware of variables that might obscure the truth. In those cases, errant conclusions can be drawn. As a result, scientist ,humans that they are, do make mistakes. What is so cool about the scientific process is that due to a relentless commitment to understand phenomena at deeper levels and under more varied circumstances, these errors are discovered and openly discussed and circulated. Sounds rigorous and awesome, right?
So, I propose that it is not science that we need to distrust. There are mechanisms built into the scientific method that help to keep it honest. While scientists may have egos, the scientific process does not. The scientific process does not win or lose or have feeling to hurt. The findings are what they are. However, when a priority that supersedes the pursuit of understanding is introduced, the potential for corruption, misunderstanding, and misrepresentation begins. This new priority, in my opinion, is what is to be distrusted.
Here’s my bias: I’d like to make science trustworthy again. What can we do to understand and trust the findings of science in spite of the agenda-specific manipulation that often accompanies it? I have a few ideas, but I’d like to hear yours!