Science Heresy - December 2010


Trinity - the first nuclear explosion at Alamogordo, New Mexico, .016 seconnds after detonation.


The Death of Science?

Good science does not grow out of consensus, it grows out of controversy.


The Manhattan Project changed everything. When the first three nuclear weapons were constructed at Los Alamos in 1945 and successfully detonated at Alamogordo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world was changed irrevocably. For the first time in history humanity perceived that its own survival or destruction lay within its own grasp. There would be no going back.

The public perception of science changed also. Scientists were no longer ivory tower boffins generating the occasional useful spinoff in agriculture and household appliances. Suddenly scientists had become demigods, arch-wizards capable of manipulating the very stuff of the Universe for good or evil.

Physics became mysterious, arcane, beyond the grasp of mere mortals. Rutherford's statement that "A good scientific theory should be explicable to a barmaid" has become ludicrously simplistic. No longer can the common man challenge a scientific idea once it has been given the imprimatur of the new elite.

And so scientists were left to get on with it, to run their own show with no external scrutiny, to hand down given Truth from on high like Moses delivering stone tablets to the Israelites.

Science also became a largely government funded activity. Big Science was here to stay. Taxpayers were now expected to fund this institution without question.

In Western democracies every government funded activity is subject to audit and scrutiny, except science. Science we must take on trust. Scientists are only accountable to their "peers"; peer review is all that matters.

Peer review worked fine when reviewers were men and women of integrity and intelligence skilled in their craft. Now it is a disaster allowing an establishment of second rate minds to ruthlessly extinguish all competition, every new idea.

It is our contention that, largely because of this lack of accountabilty, much of science has become dysfunctional, even corrupt. Peer review has come to mean "members only", membership in a particular club, membership of a self-appointed elite with shared beliefs about how the natural world operates. To them the science is settled. They spend their days proof-reading the liturgy.

Science once described an activity whereby theories were rigorously tested against observations, where controversies were welcomed and ultimately settled by experiment. A scientist was once valued for his skills. Now it is only beliefs that matter.

Thomas Henry Huxley said that "Science commits suicide when it adopts a creed". Has Science adopted a creed since Huxley's time? Committed suicide?

The amazing thing about the Manhattan Project was that all three bombs actually worked. It is unlikely that such a feat could be performed today.


December 2010

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