Science: The Grand Conspiracy?

There has been quite a bit of discussion lately that seeks to brand “science” as either faith based (just another point of view) or a downright conspiracy.  First of all, to get technical, “science” can be neither, because it is a method, not a “thing.”  But I will leave that point aside for just a second.

One of the areas where science is labeled a “conspiracy” is in the global warming “debate.”  To hear some commentators say it, scientists are a bunch of commies who hate capitalism and will make up anything to stop industrialization in its tracks so we can go back to some simpler time before corporations existed.  Could be, doesn’t sound right to me, but it is possible.  And science has one thing to say to those people: “Prove it.”

Science is a method that combines empirical data and logic.  If data and logic can bring down part or all of existing scientific knowledge, then so be it.  Here is an example.

Many people, including myself, have made the observation that some of what goes on in medical research looks suspicious.  Maybe, just maybe, drug companies are paying people off to do studies that look like science but are really designed to rubber stamp their products.  Lots of journalists have followed the money, as Woodward and Bernstein suggested and yes, drug companies throw around all kinds of money.  As they should.  But does that prove anything?  Maybe not.

So another group of people attacked science with science.  They made a hypothesis: If drug studies are rigged then some of the data must be missing.  So they went looking for that data and as a result, many papers have been published on publication bias.  That’s right scientists are publishing papers on how scientists are not doing their jobs correctly.  Because that is how science works.

Some scientists may not like it, but if using data and logic shows their work to be lacking, then lacking it is.  Don’t believe in global warming?  Find some data that says otherwise (checking carefully that this data hasn’t already been looked at, of course.)  Think vaccines cause autism?  Show me something more than a correlation.

Science is really a series of rules, not dogma, not faith.  If you follow those rules and you can prove current scientific knowledge wrong, you might even get famous.  There have been instances where, when first introduced, theories were thought to be totally wrong and were scoffed at.  Plate tectonics,  the dinosaur killing asteroid, and even global warming were all theories that got off to slow starts.  In each case, data and logic have convinced a majority of those working in the field that those theories explain what is observed.  Global warming did not come to be accepted by guys going on CNN complaining that the capitalist “non-warmers” were conspiring against them.

I will give half credit to the Creation Science people.  Whereas Old Style Creationism just ignored evidence it didn’t like (Dinosaur bones? Bogus tools of the devil!) at least the Creation Science people try to take real scientific data and fit it into their theories, even if they have to stretch it almost beyond recognition.  The results sometimes can be hilarious, but they are, at least part way, playing by the rules of science.  That is they have laid out their theory and supporting evidence out in a public forum.  Good for them, it is more than most global warming skeptics have done.  The only reason they are not fully scientific is that they will never, ever let the data overturn their theory.

Science is self correcting because in science, ultimately, data modifies theory, not the other way around.  Are there scientists hanging on to old beliefs and holding up progress?  Probably, they are human after all.  Are there scientists out to destroy people’s faith just for the fun of it?  Maybe.  People sometimes do things like that.

But is “science” out to destroy faith?  No.  It is following the data where it leads and considering the progress we have made in the last 200 years, where it leads is amazing.

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