In the Woody Allen
film “Sleeper”, two scientists of the 23rd Century are amused when a
man who has been asleep since 1973 asks for wheat germ for breakfast. One
recalls that it was once supposed to have life-preserving qualities. His
colleague is shocked...
“You mean there was no
deep fat? No steak or cream pies or... hot fudge?”
“Those were thought to
be unhealthy... precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.”
That is the problem
with science. The strength of the scientific method is that it treats all
knowledge as provisional, to be proved or disproved by the evidence. The
problem is that this does not stop individual scientists, or the Scientific
Establishment, making bold, dogmatic pronouncements – which subsequently look
ridiculous when new evidence comes in.
For example, in 1973
there were real fears of a new Ice Age. They disappeared when Global Warming
became the fashionable fear. Now some say Global Warming might itself trigger
an Ice Age.
Then there is the
question of how we should react to Global Warming. Many, especially on the
political left, used to think nuclear power was evil. Then Tony Blair,
Britain’s Prime Minister, and leader of the leftist Labour Party, ordered an
expansion of nuclear power because carbon-based alternatives like oil increased
Global Warming. Now this week, Gordon Brown, Blair’s successor as Labour Prime
Minister, faced with the rising price of oil, ordered an expansion of oil
Here is the point for
business to note: do not rely too much on what calls itself “science”. The
scientific process proper is a marvellous boon to humanity, but the
misinterpretation and abuse of science by decision-makers is simply not science.