This segment of the this week’s TED Radio Hour was a nice succinct explanation of why science is trustworthy.
Naomi Oreskes is a Harvard professor of History of Science. In this talk/interview she addresses the issue of distrust of science. She says we have put too much emphasis on the idea of science being purely about the evidence and the scientific method. People have the impression that if someone has come up with a hypothesis, and designed an experiment, and can show “evidence” that confirms their hypothesis, then they have proven they are scientifically correct. Oreskes points out the importance of educating people on how scientific consensus is developed and challenged.
Even scientific experts in one field are not usually capable of evaluating claims and evidence outside their specialized field, So, the reason we can trust science is not just because scientists use the scientific method and produce evidence.
She describes science as consensus, produced via a process driven by “organized skepticism.” Isn’t this just an appeal to authority? Yes, it is. But it is not an appeal to the authority of the individual, it is the authority of the collective community of all those who have worked on a particular problem. Science happens when individual claims are transformed from subjective personal claims, to a scientific consensus.