The term scientific fact is often misleadingly touted as what would more reasonably be described as the ‘general and tested empirical evidence gathered to sufficient degree to become testable and reproducable with predicted effects resulting in a better understanding of the world around us.’ Of course the second term is far wordier, but may need to be revisited after a series of letters cast doubts on the viability of several scientific facts due to rivalries between and even within different research firms.
The letters were between 1962 Nobel Prize winners Francis Crick and James D. Watson who both were awarded respective prizes for discovering the intricacies of DNA codes and their relationship to the construction and division of cells. The letters outlined that the two not only were intensely interested in their research, but in outdoing their rivals by discovering things that would prove them to be the best and the brightest. Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise, as many scientific discoveries have come as the climax to long held scientific rivalry. Indeed as any industrious endeavor may hold, there are factors involved in the 1962 rivalry that mirrored others like it that met with huge success. So if rivalry is a natural part of scientific research, then why would the results possibly come into question because of said rivalry?
Perhaps it is not necessarily the type of problem we are used to where the results are to be thrown out as a result of scientific dispute, but rather it should be taken into consideration as we examine a new type of ethical quandary. In a world where scientists are encouraged to develop theories and then defend those theories to the best of their ability with scientific evidence, not only can rivalries develop, but also alliances. In these alliances, scientists of differing schools of thought can back up one anothers’ claims, and could inadvertently develop a great deal of political backing behind research for no other reason than it supports the claim of a given interest group.
Let’s take an extremely exaggerated example. Let’s say hypothetically there is a new device that creates an infinite amount of power for industrial electricity needs. And then let’s say there is a small amount of evidence suggesting the devices are incredibly dangerous not only to the users, but the world around it as well. Now let’s take a small scientific team willing to explore that possibility. Such a team would receive a vast amount of funding from special interest groups who wish for the current method of power production to remain in place. And their rival group, those who are advocating this hypothetical device would receive a disproportionately small amount of funding. Furthermore, their findings would find a far smaller audience in the form of big media. And so we immediately have a disconnect between the established purpose of science, to discover, and the industrial goals that can distribute funding. Vaccines, climate change, medicine, and even television have all been accused of falling into traps similar to these, benefiting the wealthy rather than the whole of scientific discovery.