Science Is Always Wrong

Science does have its foibles. Unless mathematical, it is very difficult to prove beyond any doubt that what you assert is actually true. Even the best physicists have this problem. Einstein famously disagreed with himself about the existence of the cosmological constant referring to it as his greatest mistake. It later turned out to be correct, as far as we now know; and Newton didn’t agree that light behaved as a wave; rather, he thought it acted like a corpuscle (particle) alone which we now know to be false.

Science, as it were, is forever wrong. Every good scientist who comes along ends up dis-‘proving’ his/her predecessor. Just look at the evolution of the model of the atom; every model (except the present one – and that’s just a matter of time) has been wrong. Atoms were considered by the ancient Greeks to be the smallest particles (their name even means indivisible) until the advent of Thomson’s plum pudding model, the discovery of the nucleus and the proton by Rutherford, quarks by Gell-Mann and Zweig, and strings (largely based on Heisenberg’s work) by Susskind et al. Things have only gotten more complex since.

Science is based on developing theories based on the prevailing evidence, and then trying to support those theories by repeatable experiment (Young’s double-slit,) mathematical proofs (Huygens/Copernicus,) or some other type of irrefutable evidence (Mendel/Darwin??) In this sense, when there is a lack of good data, much science truly is done by consensus (IPCC.)

A (more or less) recent trend in physics echoes an older system of mathematics: probabilities. The compilation of statistics leads to the calculation of probabilities, or in a lesser sense, possibilities. [I digress here to make the connection to information gathering and mass surveillance as this is the same process of statistical analysis which leads to both concepts of ‘thought crime’ and ‘future crime.’ The types and/or the likelihood of criminal behaviour can be determined for any individual by such factors as: past record; social class; credit; intelligence; location; education; health; self-worth; piousness; lineage/eugenics. Now, our main character traits can all be calculated and cross-referenced with everything we’ve ever written, every job we’ve ever had, everyone we’ve ever known, everything we’ve ever bought, everywhere we’ve ever gone, and practically every idea we’ve ever had. Pre-dispositions to certain traits do indeed exist; but it is how those propensities are controlled which make us moral or ethical people. It cannot be assumed that every citizen is a potential threat. How can the government operate in this environment? Who does it represent? It becomes fascistic by definition as it has no other choice. The government must have the trust of its people; otherwise it is serving other interests.]

As the above notion of public interests is akin to the problem of competing interests; on the one hand there is the truth, on the other hand is that which the patron of the project expects to find, and then there is the effect which the discovery will have on these stated goals. Any discovery which would cause the re-writing of an entire branch of science (and showing all others going before to have been wrong) will clearly not be accepted outright despite the evidence, no matter how axiomatic it may be. In modern science, there are often multiple sponsors, who each have their own interests, goals, expectations, limitations, backgrounds, and opinions. Again, the beast of complexity readies its bottomless maw.

Corruption is also a factor. Many would claim that science, and by extension, scientists are incapable of any type of fraud or skullduggery since their interests lie with the truth. Well, as it turns out, scientists also have families to support, bills to pay, praise to garner, awards to win, and patrons to please. As Wyndham wrote, “It is an old maxim that every man has his price…” and that price can take many forms and can be collected in many ways. Nobody can be said to be above corruption, not (in ascending order, from least to worst,) corporations that sell poison, doctors who push pills, priests who abuse children, nor librarians who cheat on their taxes. The ‘climate-gate’ scandal demonstrates this point perfectly.

Eugenics is a good example of the effect of popular thought on science. Since the end of WWII, even scientists who believe it to be true and provable can no longer state so publicly (although it is still written about extensively.) Public opinion weighs in on more and more of that which we call science, and any attempt to silence it is called snobbery. Nicholson’s famous phrase, “You can’t handle the truth!” has never rung more true. The facts are that most people who lack a scientific education and the appropriate training can simply not follow the logical reasoning upon which modern science is based. They let emotion and instinct creep into the mix, which foreshadow the death of any scientific notion right off the bat.

Scientists* think science is always right, yet all scientists are almost always all wrong. Religious* groups trust scientists to back up their claims that science is always wrong. The truth is that the largest part of science is research, or should be. There are thousands of dedicated researchers and their staff who try to answer unanswered questions, who make learning interesting, and who do concretely lead to new developments in a wide variety of fields. However, science isn’t ALL fun and glamour and fame (ahem.) For many on the larger projects, science can be like a factory job. For those in smaller labs, the schedules can be as hectic as any office job. Doing science is no different than any field in which some people claim a special proficiency. We plod on until we find a problem, fix it, and move on.

All this is not to say that science is bad, and that we should put an end to it as soon as possible, to the contrary, we have a tendency to put science on a pedestal; perhaps we should view it as a discipline filled by people just like the rest of us, capable of error, oversight, poor judgment, and pure genius. Science essentially means, “As much as we know… as far as we know it… it could all be wrong. Check back tomorrow.”

* – gross generalizations