Ten geologists have been accused of falsifying data pertaining to the safety of the proposed nuclear-waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada:
Federal scientists may have falsified documents on a key safety issue for the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste dump, two federal agencies said Wednesday. If the allegations prove true, it could delay and possibly kill the controversial plan to bury nuclear waste in a mountain 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas starting in about a dozen years. That would be a major blow to the stalled Bush energy plan, which calls for building new nuclear-power plants provided there's someplace to store their waste....Well, if there is proof of falsification, and it does kill Yucca Mountain - and, by extension, the nuclear component of BushCo's energy plan - then I'd say these professional liars had unwittingly done all of us a great service.
That said, the fact would remain that these people had used their authority as scientists to mislead the public about a matter of the gravest conceivable importance, which is a pretty good - and a depressingly common - example of human viciousness and evil.
I've been involved in a lot of debates lately about what science is, and what it does, and whether or not it can solve the problems we face. Personally, I think it could solve our problems, so long as we first eradicate human corruptibility, perhaps by completely overhauling human nature.
I'm sure each of us is working on that project in his or her own way. Meanwhile, though, there are important questions about what legitimizes scientific authority. Of course, I know what's supposed to do it, in theory. But in practice, a great deal of science is legitimized on the basis of its agreement with political or economic doctrine. (If the hypothesis of global warming had agreed with the interests of our government, it would've been accepted as fact over a decade ago, evidence or no evidence.) The authority of science - as mediated by, say, a professional group or a journal - is not necessarily a match for political and economic authority even in those rare cases where it's truly autonomous from that authority.
What I'm trying to understand is why anyone believes this situation will change.