Webster's Dictionary defines science as follows:
Definition of SCIENCE
1: the state of knowing : knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding
2a : a department of systematized knowledge as an object of study <the science of theology>
2b : something (as a sport or technique) that may be studied or learned like systematized knowledge <have it down to a science>
3a : knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method
3b : such knowledge or such a system of knowledge concerned with the physical world and its phenomena : natural science
4: a system or method reconciling practical ends with scientific laws <cooking is both a science and an art>
I think the history of scientific inquiry and an examination of the institutions of science --- e.g., see Gordon Tullock's The Organization of Inquiry -- would make us realize that science is not primarily an attitude of debunking. Certainly the debunking of fallacious views is one of the by-products of scientific inquiry. But debunking isn't its primary driver, rather I would say the primary driver of science is curiosity born of a sense of awe. It is about, as Richard Feynman put it, 'the pleasure of finding things out.'
Given the historical background of science being in opposition to religious dogma there is a tendency for some to see science being born of suspicion and skepticism and thus focused on debunking. But I think this attitude of suspicion and skepticism actually undermines scientific progress because it is an excuse to dismiss others rather than engage them.
Now not every view needs to be weighed and measured in scientific discourse. Go back to the definition -- science is about the disciplined study of a subject. There are rules of science, and there are judgements in science. My favorite description of these come from Michael Polanyi in both Personal Knowledge and The Republic of Science. In The Republic of Science, Polanyi explained the essential tension in scientific inquiry between conservative forces and revolutionary forces. Contributions in science are judged by the community of scientists -- science is a social endeavor played by individuals -- and the criteria utilized in judging are (1) plausibility to the community, (2) intrinsic interest to the community, and (3) creativity. As you can see (1) and (2) are reinforcing of the status quo within any given state of scientific consensus, but (3) provides the potential for overturning of that consensus. In Polanyi's depiction the quacks are kept out for the most part by the conservative forces in science -- not everyone is capable of meeting the argumentative bar of having their positions considered -- yet originality is not completely stifled. It is here that Polanyi and Kuhn actually line up nicely, as Kuhn also identifies 'the essential tension' and in his depiction this is why the paradigm challenger must come from within the existing paradigm followers -- the outsider must have insider legitimacy in order for the outsiders claim to be considered. Translate that again into Polanyi's terminology -- the challenging contribution must be plausible to the existing practitioners of the science, it must fall within the topics that are of intrinsic interest to the community of practitioners and it must be creative in the sense of getting others to see the world differently than they currently see it.
Critical to this entire process is an underlying belief that scientists in any discipline are engaged in the "good faith" effort of truth-tracking, and that the rules in science are there to discipline those who attempt to 'cheat' in the game. The accusation of 'cheating' isn't just about classic cases of plagiarism or the egregious examples of fudging the data or even making the data up, but should also include a host of immunizing stratagems that shut down the contestation and engagement. To call someone a 'cheater' is to claim that their contribution should not be part of the conversation in the scientific community.
Because of the severe nature of this claim, vibrant scientific communities have high bars to ferret out the cheaters rather than operate on the assumption that everyone is cheating. When the culture of science becomes one of suspicion and skepticism, science ceases to progress and instead the community becomes pre-occupied with doubt and accusation. Vibrant science is about criticism and contestation.
I think, especially for young scientists and young social scientists in particular, this is vitally important to keep in mind. At the theoretical level, Paul Romer's recent indictment of 'mathiness' while raising some vitally important points, bleeds too easily from criticism to suspicion, and from contestation to a general skepticism about the efforts of those with whom he disagrees. It doesn't lead to engagement, but to mutual indictments of one another. On the other hand, at an empirical level the Michael LaCour case has raised the problem of outright scientific fraud to a national consciousness with respect to statistical analysis on important questions of public policy. Was it suspicion or criticism that caught him cheating in the end? Was it the institutions of skeptical inquiry, or the institutions of contestation in scientific endeavors? Statistics can lie, and liars can use statistics is an old phraseology that we teach our undergraduates so they learn how to sort out between data claims. But do we believe all statistical work in the social sciences is made up and the product not of curiosity but of hidden agendas and motivations?
Similarly, the exposure of perhaps exaggerated claims in Alice Goffman's On the Run questions the reliability of ethnography for many. (See this piece for a discussion of the issues and an effort to 'fact check' her stories.)
In the past few months, then, the social sciences have been called into question at a theoretical and empirical (quantitative and qualitative) level and perhaps there are now strong grounds for suspicion and skepticism. But, I would contend, that if a general sense of suspicion and skepticism takes hold scientific progress will not follow. Instead, the entire enterprise of the social sciences will be "debunked" and "de-legtimized". The more appropriate response is to cultivate among practitioners a better concept of criticism and critical inquiry; to unleash their curiosity; and to prepare them for the constant contestation of ideas that constitutes scientific engagement. They need to learn to see the world, as James Buchanan liked to stress, through "different windows", to challenge others but under the assumption that they too are engaged in a 'good faith' effort to understand the world and to find pleasure in finding things out.
We aren't playing checkers in science, we are playing chess. Not everyone who can play checkers is capable of playing chess. Sciences isn't an endeavor for all, just as professional baseball isn't for everyone who once played Little League. And science isn't primarily about debunking religious dogma, though the exposure of the misuse of science by various groups (religious, political, etc.) is one of the public responsibilities of the scientific community. But the bottom line must be that the scientific community be focused on criticism and contestation, and not slip into suspicion and skepticism is scientific knowledge is to advance. Creative construction in science often through combinational thinking isn't about debunking and dismissing, but learning to see through a different window, to appreciate alternative positions and identify their strengths and weaknesses, and to critically engage with others.