In this post, I am going to discuss a certain kind of skepticism about science which has at least some defenders. I will try to examine this skepticism as sympathetically as possible in the course of explaining why I reject it, but since it is a position I reject, I'm sure I will not be entirely successful in fairly representing the position. I certainly welcome input from those inclined to endorse the views I am rejecting.
So, being one of those bleeding-heart types, I'm very concerned about the excessive power and the misuse thereof by those who have undeserved privilege due to being, say, of European ancestry, male, possessing inherited wealth, citizenship in a wealthy country, or what have you. The kinds of illegitimate privilege are legion, and I have issues with all of them (as I suppose do most; the conservatives for the most part differ from me in either denying the existence or the illegitimacy of the privelege).
Those who can understand and employ the tools of the scientific worldview, broadly understood, also enjoy a certain kind of privilege. The deliverances of science are viewed as having a certain kind of authority. Since the scientific worldview has made the most dramatic advances in the West, it is natural to have some suspicion that part of the authority of science is parasitic on the illegitimate authority built on Western arms. Also, in the past science was mostly practiced by men, so it is also natural to wonder if the authority of science is connected to patriarchal authority. Certainly the different kinds of privilege often feed into one another.
Nonetheless, I view the authority of science as legitimate, and in a tradition which certainly includes Rudolf Carnap, possibly Immanual Kant, and likely many modern figures (this seems to be the view of Louise Antony), I view science as more of a help than a hindrance to liberal causes. I wonder what P.Z. Myers thinks of these issues; it's always useful to get the input of scientists on issues of philosophy of science.
Modern science largely evolved from Western traditions of rational inquiry, being founded to a great extent on Greek philosophy and mathematics and having evolved from there mostly in Europe and in places colonized by Europeans. This is not entirely true, of course; influences on Western philosophy and mathematics from India and the near East are certainly under-appreciated, but addressing those injustices would be a topic for another post. Despite its Western origins, science claims a kind of universality. However, it seems to me that this universality is importantly different from the intended universality of some other institutions. The universal (Catholic) church, for example, wishes to impose itself on all (not saying Catholics are worse about that than other religions; they just have a convenient name for serving as an example here, and of course a high profile and relevant history). Universal science, on the other hand, wishes to incorporate all, and seeks to adapt itself to understand the unfamiliar.
That science seeks to be universal is part of its claim to authority; it seeks to absorb or replace other attempts at knowledge. The reason it is actually granted authority is not merely because it makes such a claim, though; many claims to authority are ignored. Neither does the association of science with Western middle and upper class men fully account for the authority of science. The track record of science has at least as much (I would say probably much more) to do with the authority of science. It produces extremely useful results, and there's extensive evidence of the accuracy of the deliverances of many sciences.
Of course, privileged elites try to gather all power to themselves. Not only has science obviously been a source of power for Western elites, by giving them knowledge of great use in manipulating the world, but Western elites have also tried to use the authority of science to legitimize doctrines favorable to them. Over the centuries, allegedly scientific proof has been given of the superiority of whites (cranial studies in the 19th century, some fringy sociobiological efforts in this century (The Bell Curve, etc.)), the naturalness of patriarchal structures (endless studies on sex differences have exaggerated results and rushed to genetic explanations whenever they found a hint of differences matching patriarchal stereotypes), and the impossibility of any alternatives to capitalism (of course, some of the evidence of the effectiveness of free markets is quite legitimate, but the standards of what counts as effective often favor the interests of the already rich, and when economists simplify their models in the interests of workability, they suspiciously often choose to ignore factors most likely to suggest problems with the capitalist orthodoxy).
The defense that one should not blame a tool for the use to which it is put is not always legitimate; we are rightly skeptical when Gorgias tries to insulate himself from any criticism on the basis of the behavior of his students. But it seems to me that there is not any ground for thinking these results reflect badly on scientific method. In the case of examples such as those I give, it's possible to give quite damning internal (based on scientific rules) criticisms of the privilege-favoring results. Science has rules, even if they evolve over time and we philosophers of science have a lot of trouble specifying them. The elite try to set up rules that favor themselves, but the main value of science even for the elite is as a source of power, and its power depends on its accuracy, so even the elite prefer rules that produce accuracy. Elites always think the rules are for the little people, so by and large they have preferred to simply break the rules when it suits them (as happens in the problem cases mentioned in the previous paragraph), rather than constructing rules they don't need to break.
Thus, I am inclined to think that science has a history of misuse only because it's such a powerful tool, and so many have sought to employ it for their ends. It further seems to me that the power which can be obtained from science can be used by anyone. Indeed, when the elite break the rules to advance their own doctrines, they are reducing the power of science as a tool for themselves; they are undermining its advantage in accuracy. If, as liberal social critics, we're sticklers for the scientific rules, we can get an advantage because we'll have the full power of science. It's a slight edge, but we need everything we can get.
Since the scientific rules are endorsed by the elite, when they break those rules, they're cheating. It's not always easy to catch them, or publicize it when they are caught, but exposing cheating is one of the ways of undermining the authority of the elite. It's useful to have standards the elite can violate in order to make such criticism possible. Similarly, since the scientific rules are endorsed by the elite, results which are problematic for them (e. g. evidence of how the elite suppress wages below what a genuinely free market would produce, as discussed by Adam Smith of all people) can nonetheless be presented as having authority. Again, the elite will cheat, and claim that rules were violated when they were not (the studies of deaths in Iraq by Roberts et al. , commonly referred to as the Lancet studies in popular discussions, provide a good example of this), but again, it can be useful to make sure they have to cheat, because then there's the possibility of exposing that cheating. Thus, being a stickler for scientific accuracy in our own research not only gives us access to the power of science, it provides rhetorical weaponry for the battle against the elite.
The only argument against this that I can see is that following rules always restricts one's freedom of action, and the struggle against the forces of privilege is too difficult to deprive ourselves of any option. I cannot see much force to that; if we abandon the authority we can derive from science (and the same may apply to the moral authority we can derive from some ethical restrictions on how we conduct our battle), and make this a struggle of naked power, I can only see disastrous consequences. The current elite are the elite because they're very good in struggles of naked power; to shift the battle to such ground seems to be attacking them where we're weakest and they're strongest. Further, a struggle based on naked power, if it succeeds, will surely only produce another tedious repetition of the historical pattern of old elites being replaced by new elites which are as bad or worse.
However, as I said at the outset, I'm probably not being fair to the science skeptics. I welcome any commentary from that quarter.