All scientists are sceptics, doubting both their own and others’ research, and weighing the evidence carefully to produce the most robust conclusion. Scepticism runs through the culture of science like the word Blackpool through a stick of rock.
The way scientists apply this concept is usually very specific, even-handed and based on a prior understanding of the principles behind the work under consideration. But in recent years there have been increasing examples of scepticism applied in a very different way to science, often based on ideology or political viewpoint. Examples include scepticism of nanotechnology, the safety of mobile phones and genetically modified crops.
Professor Philip Stott explores how scientists use scepticism and doubt in their work and how the proper application of these tools helps produce reliable and valuable information. He talks to working scientists as well as philosophers and sociologists of science, exploring the importance of this fundamental scientific principle.
He also discovers how the scepticism of science differs from the scepticism within science – and how the principle of scepticism can be abused by those who wish to undermine an area of science, applying the principle unevenly to doubt what they don’t like yet remaining uncritical of that which matches their personal prejudices. This presents a challenge to science itself, one that researchers of the future will need to understand and work alongside.
Producer: Toby Murcott
A Pier production for BBC Radio 4.
BROADCAST – Wed 11 Jul 2012 21:00 BBC Radio 4