Professor Tina Beattie argues that “History is littered with the failures of science as well as being crowned with its many successes, and scientists do not operate in a privileged sphere of knowledge which makes them more objective or truthful than the rest of us” (1). Many scientific discoveries have come about through luck as “scientists have stumbled upon life-changing discoveries when they have been researching something quite different – or as a result of miscalculations and mistakes in their research” (2).
However, science is not all of what many make it out to be, it is quite susceptible to abuse. Beattie explains that “As I write this, newspaper reports are telling of how the disgraced Korean scientist, Hwang Woo-suk, who faked data on his research and claimed to have cloned the first human embryo, had in fact inadvertently made a scientific breakthrough in extracting stem cells from a single unfertilised egg. It is a fine example of the deceptions and failings of science, and of its serendipitous achievements” (3).
Beattie goes on by noting that “In the British newspaper, The Guardian, there is a weekly column written by Ben Goldacre called ‘Bad Science’. Every week, Goldacre exposes some of the unsubstantiated claims, falsified research, inaccurate reporting and dangerous medical practices which masquerade under the umbrella of science, and result in a media diet of scare stories, health fads, wonder drugs and misinformation. Goldacre has revealed that scientific studies funded by drug companies are four times more likely to favour the drugs produced by the funding company; that a well-known television doctor and health guru had no medical qualifications; that a researcher working for a vitamin manufacturer had come out in support of claims that vitamin C was more effective than anti-retroviral drugs in preventing AIDS; and that the medical journal The Lancet had published a highly favourable review of ‘a slightly maverick book’ on autism by a doctor working on the medical fringe with a track record of irresponsible research on children” (3).
What all these examples suggest is that science, like religion, sports, politics etc. has difficulty in policing its borders: “For every good scientist, there is a multitude of cranks, charlatans and impostors claiming to be scientists, just as for every good religious believer there is a multitude of nutters and the occasional psychopath claiming to be religious. Josef Mengele was a scientist, and Osama bin Laden is a religious believer” (4).
Forms of extremism, scientific or religious, can be quite terrifying when it is science itself that can provide religious extremists with nuclear bombs and/or chemical weapons. According to Beattie “in our own time one of the greatest threats to global security lies in the unholy alliance between religious extremists and unscrupulous scientists in the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction. Hand in hand, the two might help us to limp blindly towards our destruction” (5). There is also the prospect of an “advanced form of scientific rationalism which would strip away the last vestiges of our humanity and transform us into the kind of intelligent robots which have inspired so many dystopian science-fiction novels and films” (6).
1. Beattie, T. 2008. The New Atheists: The Twilight of Reason and the War on Religion. p. 91 (Scribd ebook format).
2. Beattie, T. 2008. Ibid.
3. Beattie, T. 2008. Ibid.
4. Beattie, T. 2008. Ibid.
5. Beattie, T. 2008. Ibid. p. 92.
6. Beattie, T. 2008. Ibid. p. 165.