Why “Trusting the Science” Is Complicated
In the 1750s, British science and medicine took a resolutely antiseptic turn, with new results following in quick succession. Precisely the same methods, and precisely the same leaps of brilliance and faith that led in some cases to science that has withstood the test of centuries, led also to results that were rapidly cast into oblivion. Jump forward almost two centuries from Pringle's experiments, and a similar question was animating discussions in Austria: How to demarcate science from pseudoscience? Was Sigmund Freud a scientist? What of Karl Marx? It is to the Viennese philosopher Karl Popper that we are indebted for the term "The demarcation problem." His response - the falsifiability criterion - is most often given as its solution. As Michael Gordin, professor of the history of science at Princeton University, notes early on in his lively and thought-provoking survey of multiple dodgy and perhaps-not-as-dodgy-as-you-thought scientific areas, falsification invariably fails almost before it starts. In the 1981-'82 federal court case McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, one of the expert witnesses arguing against creationism as science was the British philosopher of science Michael Ruse. What remains of perhaps the most pressing questions of our age? We are constantly told to "Trust the science," but what does that mean if we cannot quite tell where or what the science is? The historian's usual form of induction would suggest that, two centuries from now, a future public will study our science with the critical eye we apply to Pringle and Priestley.