It is almost axiomatic in our culture that the pronouncements of Science are synonymous with Truth. This received wisdom is so prevalent that whenever media reports begin with the words “Scientists have found that…[fill in the blank]”, whatever follows is widely believed by the public to be unassailable fact. So revered is Science and so respected its methods, that the mere suggestion that something might be amiss is considered ignorance or heresy. And so the statements of Science are defended vigorously while the critics are dismissed as quacks and uninformed idiots. The prevailing attitude seems to be (to slightly bend the well-known quote from Richard Dawkins) “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in the findings of Science [emphasis and edit mine], that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).”
For those of us who have long been engaged in the ongoing Evolution/Intelligent Design debate, we know that this attitude is anything but justified. Now along comes the so-called Climategate scandal, and virtually overnight, the public is waking up to the realization that something is indeed rotten with the state of Science, especially when billions of dollars of public funds are at stake. Destroyed data? Suppressed findings? Manipulated results? Unthinkable! But the genie has been let out of the bottle and it won’t be so easy putting it back in.
What remains to be seen is how widespread the public skepticism will be. Being skeptical with respect to the pronouncements of Science isn’t something the general public has much experience with. But maybe the climategate scandal will serve as a wake-up call that Science and Truth, while not opposites, are not synonymous either. Perhaps one positive result that could arise from the climategate scandal is for the general public to finally begin to see that Science is not the only avenue to Truth and that more often than most folks care to admit, Truth (with a capital “T”) trumps Science. It would not be a bad thing for the public to develop a healthy skepticism with respect to the pronouncements of Science. Even better if that skepticism makes Science more trustworthy and honest.