Letter: Doubting scientists

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Christopher Hill (Letter, 5 August) attacks John Gribbin in promoting science as a Good Thing on the grounds that "science usually leads to technocratic arrogance", that "scientists can be as venal as any other professional" and that "science is increasingly commercialised". Sadly, all three observations are true and as such are grounds for criticism of the way scientists all too frequently behave; they are not, however, valid grounds for criticism of science as a way of trying to elucidate facts to the best of human ability.

Real scientists are well aware of their fallibility; but to quote Richard Feynman again: "The scientist has a lot of experience with ignorance and doubt and uncertainty, and this experience is of very great importance, I think. When a scientist doesn't know the answer to a problem, he is ignorant. When he has a hunch as to what the result is, he is uncertain. And when he is pretty darn sure of what the result is going to be, he is still in some doubt. We have found it of paramount importance that in order to progress we must recognise our ignorance and leave room for doubt. Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty - some most unsure, some nearly sure, but none absolutely certain." It is this sort of integrity, whether we label it scientific or not, that we need to encourage.