Yet again, in another diary, I was accused of being 'afraid of science', by someone who doesn't have a clue. So I thought I'd write a short diary to give them one.
First, what is usually labeled as 'fear of science' onsite (and this happens a LOT) is a wariness or even a rejection of some specific process or product or set of products, not 'science'. 'Science' (and engineering) went into every single artificial object around us. Computers, lightbulbs, wheels, man-made fire.... We used the scientific process to discover the underlying physical properties and characteristics of materials and the ways in which they interact with the world, and thus were able to set up processes, create and improve products large and small.
Next, simply as a result of our own existence, our interactions with all of our environment, natural or artificial, has trade-offs and boundaries, both physical and mental. We need water to survive, but too much of it in too short a period will damage or even kill us. Some people think certain foods taste wonderful, others think they taste horrible and will only eat them if the trade-off is starvation and death. And different people place different values on potential risks, both known and unknown.
'Science' is not static. Using the scientific process, we continually improve our understanding of the world around us, and discover new processes and interactions occurring around us, especially in areas of complex systems, such as biological ones. And, just as with longer and better studied fields such as geology or physics, our understanding of biologic issues will likely see a few major paradigm shifts in the decades and centuries to come. We will discover relationships that had eluded us, and come to have a better understanding of the etiologies of conditions and diseases that currently are unknown, the ways in which drugs we have have used for decades already actually work (We have a lot of drugs with 'unknown mechanisms of action'.)
Now there are legitimate ways to suggest that someone is "wrong" on a given issue. When an 'anti-vaxxer' states that they believe 'vaccines cause autism', you can simply hold up the stats for them, and say 'In the extreme, vast majority of cases, there is no evidence for such'. Is it possible they are 'right'? Actually, yes, for some eensy-weensy, tiny fraction of humanity, there conceivably could be some as yet unknown mechanism of their personal biology that interacts with a given vaccine and results in a condition such as autism. But again, in virtually all humans, no such link has been found, and for all practical purposes, they're wrong.
Similarly, if someone said 'GMOs cause cancer' or 'GMOs cause autism', you could again point to statistical studies to show that no such direct link has been shown to exist in test subjects fed large amounts of GMOs.
On the other hand, if, instead, someone said they did not feel that sufficient testing had been done to proclaim that GM products were 'safe', that's another kettle of fish. Safe is an awfully big, and awfully vague word. As we noted above, there are no studies that currently link GM ingestion to several specific types of disease. But biologic and ecologic systems are still complex systems, and we simply don't know enough about how they work yet to even know if we're doing the right sorts of studies to test the ways in which new organism fully interact with the biosphere around them.
And we've proven that, time and again, with simpler chemicals and drugs. Time after time, it's taken us decades to even realize that using a given pesticide, herbicide, hormone, additive in paint or fuel has vast and unexpected consequences. Birds whose egg shells are too fragile to allow chicks to come to term, animals born without eyes or with multiple limbs, insects that have developmental issues that leave them falling prey to parasites and dying more easily. Pollution in our air, our water, our food.
This is not 'fear of science'. This is cautious wisdom, based upon centuries of seeing mankind develop products without fully understanding the full scope of their actions upon the world around us, and causing ourselves unnecessary problems. This is a belief that more scientific study needs to take place, for new inventions, new products, new processes to undergo far more extensive testing before being simply thrown out into the world to let the rest of us become beta testers so that a company can gather more wealth for its investors and externalize the unforeseen and untested problems onto the rest of us.