Public distrust of scientists stems in part from the blurring of boundaries between science and technology, between discovery and manufacture. Most government, perhaps all governments, justify public expenditure on scientific research in terms of the economic benefits the scientific enterprise ha brought in the past and will bring in the future. Politicians remind their voters of the splendid machines ‘our scientists’ have invented, the new drugs to relieve old ailments, and the new surgical equipment and techniques by which previously intractable conditions may now be treated and lives saved. At the same time, the politicians demand of scientists that they tailor their research to ‘economics needs’, that they award a higher priority to research proposals that are ‘near the market’ and can be translated into the greatest return on investment in the shortest time. Dependent, as they are, on politicians for much of their funding, scientists have little choice but to comply. Like the rest of us, they are members of a society that rates the creation of wealth as the greatest possible good. Many have reservations, but keep them to themselves in what they perceive as a climate hostile to the pursuit of understanding for its own sake and the idea of an inquiring, creative spirit.
In such circumstances no one should be too hard on people who are suspicious of conflicts of interest. When we learn that the distinguished professor assuring us of the safety of a particular product holds a consultancy with the company ** it, we cannot be blamed for wondering whether his fee might conceivably cloud his professional judgment. Even if the professor holds no consultancy with any firm, some people many still distrust him because of his association with those who do, or at least wonder about the source of some his research funding. prom dresses 2012
This attitude can have damaging effects. It questions the integrity of individuals working in a profession that prizes intellectual honesty as the supreme virtue, and plays into the hands of those who would like to discredit scientists by representing then a venal. This makes it easier to dismiss all scientific pronouncements, but especially those made by the scientists who present themselves as ‘experts’. The scientist most likely to understand the safety of a nuclear reactor, for example, is a nuclear engineer declares that a reactor is unsafe, we believe him, because clearly it is not to his advantage to lie about it. If he tells us it is safe, on the other hand, we distrust him, because he may well be protecting the employer who pays his salary. prom dresses on sale