The Decline Effect reveals a source of uncertainty, a reason why scientific facts might be wrong. So is science so riddled with potential error that we should give it up? Is it too biased to bother with?
Only people who have not understood the nature of science have ever thought that science was infallible. What the Decline Effect has done is open up a source of doubt that might be more gaping than we had previously suspected. We don’t really know how small or big the problem might be. We just know it’s there.
So is science worth all its trouble? should we go back to relying on common sense and intuition and to believing what our elders tell us? Isn’t that just as good? Or maybe even better?
No, I don’t think we should discard the scientific pursuit.
First of all, look at what science – faulty as it may be – has done for us that no other approach has come near. Science has put us on the moon and will probably get us to Mars. It has eliminated small pox from the face of the Earth, and through vaccinations has saved millions of people from the devastations of polio, whooping-cough, and measles. It has parked cars in our garages, put computers on our desks, mobile phones into our pockets, televisions into our homes. In the last 150 years, it has increased human life expectancy in the world by more than 25 years.
Has science ever gotten things wrong? Absolutely! But it is invariably scientists themselves who have noticed that it was wrong and often righted it. The Decline Effect itself was first noticed by a scientist and it is scientists who are going to find ways to reduce its distorting effects.
In that sense, the Decline Effect hasn’t changed anything. An attitude of questioning has always been the most scientifically intelligent approach.
Maybe we just don’t always appreciate just how intelligent.