Summary of a Classical Proposal

In Enemies of Promise, J. Michael Bishop argues that science must be trusted and accepted by nonscientists in order to advance and to benefit society. Bishop begins by noting people may distrust science for a number of reasons, including religion, the belief that science is politically motivated, and the belief that science has reached its limits. Though Bishop acknowledges the contributions other fields, such as literature or philosophy, make to human knowledge and advancement, he argues the perspective science provides is unique in that it breaks things down so they can be understood as a whole. Because people expect science to be able to accomplish more than what is possible, such as cure societal problems, they are unable to see that science itself cannot fix everything; instead, society must implement scientific findings to obtain the results they are seeking. Bishop provides the example of vaccines that science has provided but society has not made available to all citizens; once science has provided the knowledge necessary for something to be done, society itself is responsible for actually using that knowledge to make a difference. Further demonstrating a common misunderstanding of science, many people expect scientists’ efforts to always be successful because of past scientific accomplishments, but science is unpredictable and results cannot be forced.  When scientists do not achieve the results the public want, they are cast in a negative light and portrayed as the enemy in the media; however, the media does not portray the entire situation to the public, nor do they mention the steps scientists have made towards advancements. There is also a fear of science caused by public ignorance partially caused by inadequate science education in schools. Yet, even scientists are often uneducated on fields outside of their specialty, so it is unrealistic to expect the general public to be fully aware. It is scientists’ responsibility to make the first step in educating the general public by educating themselves and showing that science has high risks, but also high rewards.