One of the most disturbing trends in modern politics (at least in America - I can't comment on other countries) is public distrust of science and scientists. There is by now an overwhelming scientific consensus behind the reality of anthropogenic climate change and biological evolution, but many non-scientists remain skeptical of these ideas - 30% of Americans in the case of anthropogenic climate change (according to a 2012 study by Yale/George Mason) and 33% of Americans in the case of evolution (according to a 2013 Pew survey). In both cases the skepticism is probably based in part on the belief espoused by journalists (and "journalists") that scientists' judgements are corrupted by money, compromised by personal bias, and co-opted by activist groups.
I believe that while isolated cases of corruption or bias - even by influential scientists - are not as rare as one might hope, typically the broader scientific community identifies and purges the scientific malpractice before it has the chance to grow into a consensus. My question is: are there any historical counter-examples to this statement?
To be clear, I want to exclude the following:
- Cases in which a single scientist or small group of scientists illegitimately manipulated results but were rebuked before the results were widely accepted.
- Cases in which scientific consensus coalesced for legitimate reasons around an idea that was later proved to be false. For instance, there was a broad scientific consensus behind Newton's theory of gravity even though it ultimately proved to be inaccurate on large scales.
- Cases in which "elder statesmen" in a particular field were slow to react to a breakthrough. For instance, many prominent physicists were slow to accept quantum mechanics in the early 20th century for philosophical reasons, but I wouldn't count this as systematic corruption.
I've thought of a few possible examples, but I just don't know the history well enough to properly evaluate them.
- Geocentrism (corruption by the Catholic church?)
- Eugenics (corruption by racial activist groups?)
- Health effects of smoking (corruption by tobacco companies?)
- Health effects of dietary fat (corruption by farming lobbies?)
With these examples I don't really know how much of a consensus there was or the extent to which the consensus took hold among scientists. Of course, I would be interested in any other examples.