Some of my critics love to portray me as hostile to science. I read fairly often on the web that I distrust scientists and regard science itself as satanic. I’ve learned from the web, moreover, that I’m a young-earth creationist — something that I could never have discovered about myself without the help of others.
It’s all bunk, of course. I arrived at the university out of high school as a mathematics major, with interests in cosmology and astronomy. I maintain those interests, as well as a particular fascination with geology. (Too little time!)
None of that is particularly important, of course. I bring it up only to point out that I don’t actually hate science and fear scientists.
But I do object when certain anti-religious writers and posters offer up simplistic contrasts between religious belief, which, they say, is indifferent to truth, reason, and evidence, and, on the other end of spectrum, science, which they tend to describe almost as if it were wholly rational and objective, utterly untouched by human prejudices, untainted by human ambition, and carried out by pure-truth-seeking demigods who completely transcend their cultures and their history.
Both descriptions are caricatures, and, although articles such as this offer cause for lament, they’re also helpful, in an eye-opening sort of way:
One such authority is Dr. Richard Horton, the current editor-in-chief of the Lancet – considered to be one of the most well respected peer-reviewed medical journals in the world.
Dr. Horton recently published a statement declaring that a lot of published research is in fact unreliable at best, if not completely false.
“The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.” (source)
They suggest that peer review, while useful, isn’t magical. And — think of this! — if bias, dishonesty, incompetence, ambition, ideology, and self-interest can mar sciences that rely upon quantifiable data and upon in-principle-replicable experiments, how much more so can they influence work in such fields as history and philosophy!