OSC Answers Questions
What are your scientific beliefs? Do you feel that science is a bad thing
or a good thing?
-- Submitted Anonymously
OSC REPLIES: - May 12, 2000
Good science is good, bad science is bad. Good science badly understood is
bad, bad science badly understood is worse. So scientific education is good.
What makes good science good? Rigorous, skeptical examination of one's
own evidence, the design of one's own experiments, and of the experiments and
designs and data of others. Constant outreach to other disciplines besides one's
What makes bad science bad? Building one's career instead of building the
sum of human knowledge, pursuing grants instead of pursuing truth, preferring a
particular outcome instead of following where the data lead, plus general
sloppiness, carelessness, hubris, and laziness -- the normal range of human
What makes good science reporting good? A faithful understanding of
exactly what the scientific work proves and does not prove, and careful reporting
those exact facts and not pursuing sensationalism or a political agenda. Good
science reporting is very rare; the bad kind shows up, not just in papers and
magazines, but also in textbooks and science classrooms. Public policy is often
made on the basis of very bad science reporting and, in some cases, very bad
"science" as well.
Having said that, I must also add that the question "whether he felt that
science was a bad thing or a good thing" shows an appalling misunderstanding of
what science is and how it works. Was I really being asked if the sum of human
knowledge about the natural world is "good" or "bad"? That's why I passed over
that question the first time. I could not believe that I was really being asked that
And, for what it's worth, science fiction is not writing "about science." It is
writing about people, as all fiction is. It merely uses aspects of scientific learning
as literary devices to frame or shape the story in ways contrary to the present
reality. My choice of science fiction as a literary medium has nothing at all to do
with my attitude toward any aspect of science as a body of knowledge or a
community of researchers.