Although science is a fundamentally a skeptical endeavor of questioning and testing, in reality the field of knowledge in modern science is so large that almost all of it is taken on faith, primarily through argument by authority. Who, really, has done the experiments necessary to prove Newton’s Laws or the ideal gas equation?
What happens is that different parts of the ideosphere of science operate at different speeds. New ideas are hard tested but as they age and survive many tests, the ideas move to slower time regions of the ideosphere where they gradually settle into the bedrock. Overall, this is probably for the best as we would be hard pressed to make progress if we spent most of our experimenting on well tested ideas.
However, there is a psychological downside to this, especially when a scientist moves out of his own field and most particularly when the scientist moves in to politics. There is scarcely anything like real testing of fine grained hypotheses in that realm. This leaves the scientist vulnerable to whatever fad is sweeping the political ideosphere at the time because it has the same aura of authority as the bedrock knowledge of science.
Orrin Judd has a post on this which discusses it in a sweeping scale. My anecdote is of a micro-scale. I was reading Science News which has a cover story on a geologist who is trying to build a “better” periodic table of the elements. That was interesting and the story mentioned other attempts to improve the table. The kicker at the end was the statement
Getting the entire world to adopt the same, new periodic table will be a challenge, especially because the table will need to garner approval from the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry.
Why, exactly, is that? Couldn’t a group of scientists simply put out a new version which, if seen to be superior, would supplant the old one as people adopted it on their own? No, the only way is appeal to and enforcement by authority. Where is the testing, the questioning, the independence of thought? At least the geologist wasn’t waiting approval from some committee.