The Guardian's Philip Strange is taking exception to colleague Nicholas Maxwell's opinion that scientists are "deceiving us and themselves about the nature of science." Maxwell's main criticism is against the use of evidence to support scientific knowledge. "Nothing is accepted permanently as part of scientific knowledge independently of evidence," Maxwell says, citing subjects such as physics, where he says unified theories are accepted independent of evidence.
But in the biomedical sciences, where Strange has spent the past 30 years, things are a bit different. Research starts with a theory and experiments are designed to test it. Results are analyzed to see if the data agrees or disagrees with that theory, he says. And even then, peer review is essential to get consensus. "This sort of science is not big science; it is incremental science," Strange says, with each increment contributing to a body of knowledge. While Maxwell says scientists see themselves as "seekers after truth," Strange says the scientific process provides descriptions of natural phenomena that are consistent based on current evidence.
Strange is also compelled to defend scientists themselves, calling them "honest, sometimes slightly nerdish people who are grateful to be able to work on something about which they have a passionate interest."