The inadequacies of science

Maggie Koerth-Baker, renowned science information superhero, has a great post up on Boing Boing about things going wrong in science, called Fraud, Failure and FUBAR in science.

Like any other job, most people are honest most of the time. Unlike other jobs, however, the culture of science has long operated on the assumption that everybody is honest all of the time — and that we always catch them when they aren't.

That's why it's actually exciting to me to see more people talking about the problems and misconduct that do happen in science.

It's a great summary of the reality of imperfection in science, an explanation of some of the reasons that it's gone unnoticed, and a list of recommended additional sources to learn about the issue.

I love when Boing Boing (generally, Maggie Koerth-Baker) writes about this stuff, because I find it's often hard to have conversations about the problems with science that don't devolve into an unpleasant and inadequate binary: Either science is awful and wrong and destroying all the truth and beauty in the world, or science is the platonic ideal of information gathering, and it's an unchanging and unchangable institution that gets everything right.  Annoyingly, when I try to  have these conversations, people generally assume and insist that I'm on the latter side.

The truth is, science is a pretty good method for gathering certain kinds of information, and there's no as-good or better method for gathering the kinds of information that science can't gather.  Science could be better, but making science better is a complicated social process and the existing problems in science include road blocks within the system as it is.  (Like members of the current institution and fandom of science who believe it really is the platonic ideal of information gathering.)