We are hearing and reading a lot about “the science” these days. When it comes to the Covid-19 phenomenon, we are constantly being urged to trust the science. There seem to be many who believe that trusting the science is a knee-jerk type of thing. If it’s science, trust it, enough said. Without belaboring the point, that same unquestioning trust used to be expected by religion. Those who refused to offer up a show of obedience (trust) frequently found themselves facing harsh consequences, possibly death. But we’ve outgrown that type of thinking, right? Have we?
There seems to be a mind-set in the world the carriers of which truly want (need?) there to be an ultimate authority. A worldly parent (god?) figure, or institution, which can answer all the most difficult questions and protect us from that which we don’t understand. This mind-set is to be found within people of all ages, races, genders, ethnic groups and political persuasions. If you spend much time among people who want to dig for their own answers, those of this aforementioned mind-set are frequently called by derogatory names: sheep, cattle, or other such terms. I think using such terms just serves to muddy the water between us as human beings. Beyond a shadow of a doubt there are people scattered around the world who are more developed, in various areas of knowledge, than others. I tend to think we humans are spiritual beings, in search of a harmonious physical existence, and some of us have been around longer than others of us. We all most likely fit somewhere in the middle of an infinite spectrum of knowledge and development. So let’s be a little kinder with each other, okay?
Getting back to the original topic, in order to “believe in the science”, don’t we first have to know what science is? If you’re expecting a long, technical, complex explanation, don’t, it doesn’t take all that to define “science”. Science is just a methodical, systemized way of looking at things, or working with things. Good scientific methods can give us answers to our questions about the world which can be relied upon to be provable and consistent. And when they do that, it’s great. They don’t always do that however, sometimes the answers we find mostly give us more questions. But that’s okay too, because it means we’re in the process of understanding whatever it is we’re studying. When we’re using scientific methods in our efforts to produce a thing, those methods help us track and understand our efforts, and insure that if we are successful once, we can, most likely repeat the process and be successful again.
One of the great things about science, is that when we’re using it to understand things, or to create things, it almost always is an evolving process. Just think about all the things we humans were sure we knew at some point in our history, only to learn we missed something. Then, after a sometimes long and violent process of change, we again became sure we knew it for sure. Only to again find we needed to refine our thinking. I think it’s a safe generalization that the more complex the question being studied is, or the thing we’re attempting to produce is, the more likely it is that we are going to find ourselves facing many revisions over time. And that’s okay, because, again, science is a process and being involved with it is better than not.
It’s when we start thinking we have the ultimate answer, that we know it all, that we setting ourselves up for a fall. And that is a big problem when we have concurrently developed a culture that expects perfection. As with religion in medieval times, today people expect “science” to be infallible. It isn’t, and it never has been. It is a dangerous proposition to pressure scientists to be infallible. What that is likely to mean in a significant number of cases is that there will be a lot of effort put into defending the indefensible.
Which isn’t to say that scientists don’t ever get it right. The point is, it is often (always?) in our best interests to be circumspect when it comes to the “facts” and products brought to us by those professing to be utilizing science in their methods. The ethical position of “first do no harm” (meaning “…your actions should not cause injury or injustice to people“) is a position we should expect, if not require, from those developing new ideas and new products.
Science, scientific methodology, has no inherent ethic or morality. The positive motives and practices within scientific endeavors are there because the people involved brought them. There is nothing in our natural world, nothing in the human mind, that prevents those who may wish to do so from using scientific methodology (science) to produce things, even products which they may market as medicines, which are harmful to us. Some of the malignant things brought into the world by intelligent, highly trained, scientists include: DDT, water fluoridation, Zyklon B, the atomic bomb, microwave weapons, and many other devious means of incapacitating, enslaving, and killing our fellow human beings. Science is a method, not a product. The quality of the products produced by scientists is dependent upon the goals, the ethics, those scientists bring with them. Science is a tool, that is all. As with other tools, it’s utility is only as benevolent as the methods and goals of those applying it.