Scientific pursuits are meant to be searches for objective truth. Observations lead to hypotheses, which are then tested for validity. Results and the tests themselves are held up for scrutiny; hypotheses must be falsifiable (meaning that a test that must be able to show a hypothesis false for the test to be valid) and the results must be repeatable. Studies must be held up for review by peers, and results from multiple studies are reviewed in meta studies to determine the scope of applicability of findings. Meta-studies help identify and mitigate outlier findings, and also help to identify bias (such as industry support for studies that find in an industry’s favor).
Why, then, does science become so politicized? Scientific findings inform policy, and policy impacts industries. Industries that stand to lose money have a strong interest in discrediting findings that do not support their efforts, and also to pay for studies that find deliberately misleading findings. Think of the cigarette industry, or the recent revelations about the sugar industries impact on health research. The same is true for climate science. While the body of research leading to conclusions than human-influenced (or caused) climate change is real, there is an enormously powerful industry pulling out all of the stops to discredit the findings and the effort itself. This has had an enormous polarizing effect, as belief in climate science – and perhaps scientific discovery in general – is now highly predictable based on political leaning.
This really is a shame. If we do not hold scientific endeavors in high regard – if we view them always with mistrust – then we will stop putting effort and funding into scientific discovery. This could be a huge loss in terms of medicine and technology in general, and could negatively impact the long-term habitability of the planet. It is short-sighted economically as well, as industries that pump money into discrediting real science potentially miss out on developing the cutting edge technologies that will eventually render their current efforts obsolete.
I suppose the point is, let’s put a little trust in the people who conduct scientific inquiry on our behalf. And when the body of evidence is mind-numbingly overwhelming, let’s consider accepting it. Some things just aren’t debatable.