SCIENCErnTruth andrnConsequencesrnby Steven GoldbergrnDead white males did not invent thernrules of science; they discoveredrnthem. These rules enable science, andrnscience alone, to make successful prediction.rnAnd prediction is only evidence acknowledgedrnby science to demonstraternthat one is on the trail of the truth. Onernmay, of course, invoke anything onernwishes in attempting to come up with arnsuccessful scientific claim. If a dose ofrnintuitional astrological foot fetishismrnhelps, fine. But this claim gains no scientificrnvalidity until it can successfullyrnmake a prediction that does not requirernallegiance to intuitional astrological footrnfetishism.rnPrediction is the determinant of scientificrntruth—and, many believe, the determinantrnof anything (other than logicalrnand mathematical truth) that can berntermed “truth.” Prediction plays thisrnrole because science holds that “truth”rncan meaningfully be defined only as thernconcordance of a claim (a description,rnhypothesis, theory, or explanation) withrnnature (“reality”). And only a claim’srnability to predict can give us reason to believernthat we are nearing truth—as opposedrnto merely experiencing a powerful,rnbut quite possibly deceptive, feeling thatrnwe are nearing truth.rnTo be sure, there are those who applyrnthe word “truth” to beliefs and moral values,rnconcepts that are not, even in principle,rncapable of giving us reason to believernthat they are more than an arbitraryrnpreference, a subjective feeling. Suchrnpeople tend to gravitate to empiricalrnareas relevant to social issues: malefemalerndifferences, homosexuality, therndeath penalty, abortion, and the like.rnThis, in addition to the fact that the lesscontroversialrnquestions addressed by thernphysical scientists tend to attract smarterrnpeople, accounts for the fact that sornmany who write on empirical socialrnquestions are willing to subordinate logicrnto ideology.rnScience can, of course, address suchrnempirical issues as “which social factorsrnincrease the likelihood that religious beliefsrnwill be entwined with moral beliefs.”rnIt can consider such empiricalrnclaims about morality as, say, “societiesrnin a stage of strong economic birth tendrnto see premarital sex as wrong” and, ifrnsuch claims are true, it can explain thernrealities.rnBut science cannot make coherent thernquestion of whether there is a God, andrnit cannot tell us whether it is better to favorrnsexual freedom or economic growth.rnIn other words, science cannot conceivernof any system of thought that can validaternissues for which there is no possibilityrnof text even in principle. Sciencerndoes not know good from bad or rightrnfrom wrong. The closest it gets to anrnobjective moral claim is a belief that survivalrnis good. And that is not very closernin a universe that we have no reason tornbelieve is concerned with our survival.rnScience does not care whether a claimrnis made by a man or a woman; by a black,rnyellow, or white; or by a Nobel laureate, arnplumber, or a clerk in a patent office.rnWhile the nonscientist part of any personrnworthy of being called “human”rncares about the uses to which new knowledgernwill be put, such issues are irrelevantrnto the part that is a scientist. Thernonly goal of science is the diminution ofrnthe distance between present knowledgernand truth. The only subjective assumptionrnof science is that nature will give yourna lift only if you are going her way. To thernscientist, the willingness to validate anrnempirical claim on the basis of bias, prejudice,rnor emotional and political need—rnor to reject a claim on the basis of thernmotivations of the claimant or the putativernconsequences of accepting thernclaim—represent an infantile narcissism;rnto the intelligent believer, these representrna lack of faith and a blasphemousrnconviction that one knows better thanrnGod.rnIn truth, the scientist cares morernabout hunting down the prey than tastingrnit. The fun is in the search. Indeed,rnthe third best thing about a truth is thatrnit raises questions about undiscoveredrntruths that the scientist would not havernthought of. (The second best thingrnabout truth is that it is inherently subversive,rnand the best thing is that it is true.rnMany will, of course, rank these virtuesrndifferently. It does not matter; it is just arnquestion of taste.)rnThe pull of undiscovered truths is sorngreat that there is the ever-present threatrnthat the cracks in a “truth” on whichrnone already stands will be overlooked.rnThat is why science systematically attemptsrnto eliminate all illegitimate reasonsrnfor holding to a truth. This processrncomes with only a partial warranty, sornthere is always the possibility of error.rnSome of these errors have, when exposed,rnlaunched the highest flights ofrnintelligence and imagination. But evenrnat its worst, science protects itself farrnbetter than does any other sort of investigation.rnThere will always be many who believernthat science defines its own victory andrnthat there are alternative routes to truth.rnBut the claimed alternative routes torntruth give us no prediction, no reason tornbelieve that they exhibit anything morernthan a feeling and an insupportablernclaim of truth, a claim whose validityrnis as dubious as its ability to soothe isrnobvious.rnScientists are only people, of course,rnand every scientist will occasionally hopernthat some specific claim turns out to berntrue and others false. But science is structuredrnto defend itself against suchrndesires, and the ability to ignore them is,rnin science, what separates the grown-upsrnfrom the children.rnSteven Goldberg is chairman of the sociologyrndepartment at City College, CityrnUniversity of New York. His latest hooksrnare When Wish Replaces Thoughtrn(Prometheus) and Why Men Rulern(Open Court).rnTo An Artist WhornHas Made Itrnby Richard MoorernYour paintings got a grant.rnNewspapers ballyhoo them.rnThus warned, I shan’trntrouble to view them.rnJULY 1996/47rnrnrn