When Science Is Wrong: The Threat of 'Truth' by Consensus

Surely, we ought to respect the scientific process. We live in an objective reality with absolute truths, many of which can be discerned through observation and experimentation.

However, the same humility which informs our respect for science should temper any reverence for its claims. If Einstein’s view of the universe is indeed wrong, it would hardly be the first time a widely held belief was disproven.

Scientists in the 17th century thought a substance called “phlogiston” was an element contained in combustible objects, released upon burning. They believed that the loss of all phlogiston caused a fire to burn out. They thought animals exhaled to dispose of excess phlogiston in their bodies. Eventually, science revealed the real secrets of combustion and respiration, making phlogiston a term of the past.

We continue to unearth ever more intricate layers of complexity where we previously assumed simplicity. The atom was once thought the smallest of particles. The cell was once thought a simple organism. We now know of subatomic particles and understand cells to be remarkably complex with internal systems far more integrated than Darwin could have imagined.

DNA was all but dismissed nearly a century after its discovery. Scientists did not believe such a deceptively simple acid could carry the amount of information necessary for heredity.

Before the advent of “germ theory,” doctors blamed contagious diseases on air quality and fluid “imbalances.”

From the anatomy of the human body to the structure of the solar system, the state of scientific thought at any given moment has always been wrong. Yet, despite acknowledging new theories, each generation assumes that the latest paradigm is unassailably correct.

We roll our eyes at the ignorance of “flat earthers,” while forgetting that finite perception and finite knowledge once deemed their belief sensible. That was the “scientific consensus” of its time.