Once upon a time, people trusted religion. They believed the Bible, they believed their priests, they believed in God. But slowly things changed, for many people at any rate.
The demise of religion and the rise of science
People found things in the Bible they couldn’t believe. The found out that priests had human failings, and some were deeply flawed. The church was often a compromised, even corrupt institution that didn’t live up to its own ideals. And many lost faith in God.
One of the reasons for this loss of faith was the rise of science. Science had a way of getting to the truth, and it showed up parts of the bible previously believed to be literally true. Scientists were more trustworthy than priests.
The fall of science?
But soon people discovered that science wasn’t always right and scientists were not perfect. Science seemed to promise a better life for all, but then scientists helped create the atom bombs that were dropped on two Japanese cities, and scientists in Nazi Germany conducted grisly experiments on people – as Lou Reed wrote: “The goodly-hearted made lampshades and soap.”
Scientific fraud has also been a problem. Scientists assisted tobacco companies to say that smoking did not cause cancer. Some scientists falsified their data to get prestigious publication or more research dollars.
It’s getting worse
The blog Science on religion reports that a recent analysis of retractions to medical journal articles, because of wrong information, shows that:
- 75% of retractions are due to misconduct (mostly deliberate fraud) rather than honest error;
- the percentage of retractions due to fraud has increased almost tenfold since 1975.
As one reader has pointed out, this example relates only to medical research where big business money may be most influential, and the problems may not occur to the same extent in other scientific fields (though I have heard of some).
One of the big positives about science has been its ability to self correct, and doubtless this study is part of that self correction. We can hope that science as a whole gets its act together on this matter.
But human nature being what it is, there must be some doubts. And that is bad.
We need to be able to trust science. Mistrust of science leads to denial of important truths, such as global warming. And denial of truth takes us backwards.
Picture: Flickr Creative Commons