Friday, July 22, 2005


Even I have to allow that some eternal verities have a kernel of truth. For example, the cliché that scientific results are always provisional is correct as a matter of principle since on any reasonable account of what the “empirical” in empirical science means, it doesn’t mean deduced deductively from unquestionable axioms. Formally speaking, we could perfectly well discover next Tuesday that DNA never codes for protein or learn to our surprise that due to a clerical error we were wrong all along about the atomic number of oxygen. At least in a contemporary context, however, the rhetorical force of such avowals of methodological modesty depends on a covert awareness that DNA damned well codes for protein and the atomic number of oxygen really is 8. An enormous number of scientific issues are up in the air, of course; but the guilty secret of the researchers is that they actually can and have achieved results that are materially correct. Nobody’s going to come along and overturn the periodic table. It just isn’t going to happen. I don’t think we’ve come to terms with this embarrassing fact and its many implications.

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