Letter: A thousand voices don't equal the truth

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Lewis Wolpert rejects the idea that science is a social construct and that knowledge reflects the culture in which it is made (Review, 10 August). I would point to the many occasions on which scientists have misunderstood the nature of reality at great human cost: Thalidomide and other drugs; risks associated with oral contraceptives, eating beef and immunisation. I would also point to an 1851 paper on "Drapetomania" by Dr Samuel Cartwright to the Louisiana Medical Association, which outlined his evidence on this medical condition which only affected Negro slaves, the main symptom of which was running away. Science reflecting the culture in which it was produced?

The postmodern world is a very uncertain place and truth claims need to be justified. There is no singular, exclusive vantage point from which to survey actuality as it really is. Wolpert's claim that the truth is a "group consensus" is not only contradictory (a group consensus is a social construct) but also relativist and does not allow for the individual isolated scientist to hold the truth. He reduces scientific justification to mob rule - there is no truth other than what scientists say it is.

Shaun Best

Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire

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