Science: No Longer a Sacred Cow

Mankind´s euphoric awe of science began to ebb with the dubious gift to mankind of the atomic bomb. And in its place has risen a new public attitude that seems to be the antithesis of the former awe: a new skepticism. To the bewilderment of many scientists, their past triumphs have been downgraded and their scientific and technological promises for the future, far from being welcomed as harbingers of utopia, now seem too often to be threats.

Increasingly this new skepticism is spreading even among professionals in the world of Sci-Tech. Science Historian June Goodfield from New York´s Rockefeller University welcomes public skepticism as a healthy development that is basically "a call for science to turn a human face toward society." The new spirit, says Goodfield, marks the end of mutual myths long held by society (about the scientist as hero) and by scientists (about its freedom from obligation to society).

Sci-Tech, in a sense, has been demoted from its demigodhood. In the environmental crusade, in the consumers´ rebellion, and in the various citizens´ protests, the public today rallies around the notion that Hans J. Morgenthau put into the words: "The scientist´s monopoly of the answers to the questions of the future is a myth."

The fading of this mythology is the result of people´s gradual realization that science and technology´s wonders sometimes turn out to be nightmarish blunders. Detergents that make dishes gleam may kill rivers. Dyes that prettify the food may cause cancer. Pills that make sex safe may dangerously complicate health. DDT, cyclamates, thalidomide and estrogen are but a few of the mixed blessings that, all together, have taught the layman a singular lesson: the promising fruits of science and technology often come with hidden worms.

(From: Frank Tripitt, Science: No Longer a Sacred Cow)