Science gets a bad rap.
For starters, movies and TV usually portray the scientific establishment as villains. Yes, there’s often a scientist hero, but he (or she) is usually a loner who’s resisting mainstream science. The big villain is probably a scientist with a lot more financial and political clout than the hero.
Scientists are great villains. They’re involved in some of the most dangerous activities known to man, like the development of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. They seek knowledge man wasn’t meant to know; they meddle with forces they don’t understand; they try to play God. Examples:
- The Fly: A scientist tries to transport objects through wires, messes up the experiment, and merges himself with a fly.
- Jurassic Park: A group of scientists – hired by a businessman – clone dinosaurs that get out of control and start killing people.
- Frankenstein: A scientists tries to create life and ends up creating a monster.
- Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: A scientists accidentally unleashes an evil version of himself.
- The Island: A scientist clones people for use as organ donors.
Which is where the quacks of the real world jump in to sell their dubious services. They paint themselves as the maverick scientists operating at the edge, trying to save people from the predatory mad scientist establishment. They’ll sell you anything you want to buy, making outrageous claims for how it works. They’ll tell you that the scientific establishment doesn’t want you to know about their discoveries, so the establishment covers up the evidence.
I’d like to think that if more people got a real education in science, they wouldn’t fall for the claims of the “edgy science” charlatans. Real scientists are usually careful people who demand a lot of evidence to support extraordinary claims. That’s why they come down hard on the “fringe scientists” and charlatans who boast of great discoveries without any evidence to back them up. When some “fringe scientists” claimed to have discovered cold fusion, the media ate up the claim while other scientists expressed skepticism, especially when they couldn’t duplicate the experiment themselves.
The scientific professions certainly have their bad apples, and the media is quick to report on their misdeeds. Unfortunately, the media doesn’t emphasize that it’s the scientific establishment, with its demands for repeatable tests and peer-reviewed publication of results, that inevitably catches the bad apples. Quite frankly, the comfortable lives that most Americans lead are utterly dependent upon the work of scientists over the years, so it would be nice to see the media show them more respect.