This is a nice story. But, I am skeptical. It relies on an assumption that is quite debatable (and has been debated); that there is a system to scientific inquiry, a scientific method (SM). If there is such, it has resisted adequate description and, from what I can tell, the belief in SM is now considered rather quaint within philosophy, and even among practicing scientists. This is not to deny that there are better and worse arguments in favor of doing things one way or another, and better and worse experiments and better and worse theories and better and worse data. My skepticism does not extend to an endorsement of the view that we cannot rationally compare alternatives. It is to deny that there is a method for deciding this independent of the issues being discussed. There is no global method for evaluating scientific alternatives, though locally the debate can be rationally adjudicated. It is in this sense that I doubt that there is SM. There are many SMs that are at best loosely related to one another and that are tied very closely to the insights a particular field has generated.
If this is so, then one can ask for the source of the conviction that Science must overcome the failures of the individuals that comprise it. One reason is that conversation generally improves things and Science is organized conversation. But, usually the idea goes beyond this. After all, Science is supposed to be more than one big book group. And what is generally pointed to is the quality control that goes into scientific discourse and the self correcting nature of the enterprise. Data gets refined, theories get corrected using experiment. The data dependence and primacy of experiment is often schlepped out when the virtues of SM are being displayed.
There is, of course, some truth to this. However, it seems the structures promoting self-correction might be quite a but weaker than is often supposed. Andrew Gelman discusses one of these in a recent post (here). He notes that there is a very high cost to the process of correction that is necessary for the nice little story above to be operative. There are large institutional forces against it and individual scientists must bear large costs if they wish to correct these. On the assumption that the virtues of Science supervene on the efforts of scientists, this suggests that the failings of the latter are not so easily filtered out in the former. Or, at the very least, there is little reason to think that they are in a reasonable time.
There is a fear among scientists that if it is ever discovered how haphazard the search for truth actually is that this will discredit the enterprise. The old "demarcation problem"looms as a large PR problem. So, we tell the story of self correcting science, and this story might not be as well scientifically grounded as we might like. Certainly the Gelman post highlights problems, and these are not the only ones we know of (think Ionnides!). So, is there a problem?
Here's my view: there is no methodological justification of scientific findings. It's not that Science finds truth in virtue of having a good method for doing so, rather some science finds some truth and this supports local methods that allow for the finding of more truths of that kind. Success, breads methodology that promotes more success (i.e. not successful method leading to greater truth). And if this is right, then all of the methodological fussing is besides the point. Interestingly, IMO, you tend to find this kind of methodological navel-gazing in precisely those domains that seem least insightful. As Pat Suppes once put it:
It's a paradox of scientific method that the branches of empirical science that have the least theoretical development have the most sophisticated methods of evaluating evidence.This may not be that much of a paradox. In areas we know something, the something we know speaks for itself, and does so eloquently. In areas where we know little, then we look to method to cover our ignorance. But method can't do this and insight tolerates sloppiness. Why have we made some scientific progress? I suspect that luck has played a big part. That, and some local hygiene to support the small insights. The rest is largely PR we use to to make ourselves feel good, and, of court, to beat those whose views we do not like.