In fact, asserting that science is fallible is not a denial of it, but on the contrary, a question of its honesty. Without it, the credibility of this noble pursuit couldn’t be upheld. Many “facts” once held sacred – that the earth was flat, the miasma theory of disease – have now all been thoroughly debunked. Scientific consensus and advances in human knowledge are predicated on the idea that there is no absolute knowledge, only premises that haven’t been disproven yet. Even Dave Levitan, science writer and passionate supporter of tackling climate change, points out that in science, nothing is a certainty.
This is what Stephens was discussing in his article, and the angry response rather proves the point. The problem with this reactionary thought process is not limited to the deep corners of the web or the front pages of the New York Times. Rather, it’s in the legislative effect that such scientific misperceptions create. The GOP’s opposition to any meaningful action on climate change, pointing to a couple of fringe studies and think tanks (such as the Heartland Institute) to justify their opposition is well known.
But liberals should know that they are not above reproach either. The general idea of scientific orthodoxy on the left has become divorced from actual scientific consensus. On climate change things line up, while on issues like vaccines or pesticides they don’t. On climate change, one aberrant study is rejected as an outlier. On pesticides and vaccines, one aberrant study becomes the rule setter.