Deprived of the Ability to Subtract

From LIfe is a Miracle: An essay against modern superstition by Wendell Berry:

If there are critics of science in government and the bureaucracies, they are largely inaudible. In the universities, the scientists generally proceed from promotion to promotion and from grant to grant, leaving few recorded moments of conscience or professional self-doubt; and the professors of the humanities seem for the most part merely to be abashed by the sciences, deferring to their certainties, adopting their values, admiring their wealth, and longing even to imitate their methodology and their jargon. The journalists think it intellectually chic to stand open-mouthed before any wonder of science whatsoever. The media, cultivating their mediocrity, seem quite comfortably unaware that many of the calamities from which science is expected to save the world were caused in the first place by science -- which meanwhile is busy propagating further calamities, hailed now as wonders, from which later it will undertake to save the world. Nobody, so far as I have heard, is attempting to figure out how much of the progress resulting from this enterprise is net. It is as if a whole population has been genetically deprived of the ability to subtract.

I know that there are some scientists who are speaking and writing sound criticism of science or of scientific abuses of science, but these people seem to have the status of dissidents or heretics; they are not accepted as partners in a necessary dialogue. Typically, their criticisms and objections are not even answered. (If you are making money and have power, why debate?) In short, the scientific critics of science are not effective. That there has been no effective criticism of science is demonstrated, for instance, by science's failure to attend to the possibility of small-scale or cheap or low-energy or ecologically benign technologies. Most applications of science to our problems result in large payments to large corporations and in damages to ecosystems and communities. These eventually will have to be subtracted (but not, if they can help it, by the inventors or manufacturers) from whatever has been gained.

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The only science we can have is human science; it has human limits and is involved always with human ignorance and human error. It is a fact that the solutions invented or discovered by science have tended to lead to new problems or to become problems themselves. Scientists discovered how to use nuclear energy to solve some problems, but any use of it is enormously dangerous to us all, and scientists have not discovered what to do with the waste. (They have not discovered what to do with old tires.) The availability of antibiotics leads to the overuse of antibiotics. And so on. Our daily lives are a daily mockery of our scientific pretensions. We are leaning to know precisely the location of our genes, but significant numbers of us don't know the whereabouts of our children. Science does not seem to be lighting the way; we seem rather to be leapfrogging into the dark along series of scientific solutions, which become problems, which call for further solutions, which science is always eager to supply, and which it sometimes cannot supply.