During the Renaissance, science fought for and won a degree of independence. It then became possible to state facts (such as the fact that Earth was not the center of the universe) even when those facts were uncomfortable to the rulers of the time. Independent science flourished, and its cumulative power dispelled the traditional pessimistic view of what humanity could accomplish in this world. The rapid expansion of knowledge gave rise to the wonderful optimism of the Enlightenment, epitomized by the idea of progress. When science joined hands with technology, productivity and social progress such as the world has never seen became possible. Optimism was a self-fulfilling prophesy.

There is a great gap between scientific knowledge and public perception. The gap widens whenever power can be gained by pretending to have knowledge where science knows only conflicting conjectures. We know only too well that our conjectures frequently are influenced by...

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