In 1937, Merton addressed the American Sociological Society about the cultural, political, and economic threats to the scientific community. Nazism and the rising tide of authoritarianism provided a stark and urgent backdrop to the talk. Merton stressed that the production of scientific knowledge was dependent on broader cultural and institutional forces and the unique social conditions found in democratic societies. More than seven decades later, we again confront the fragility of scientific truth and endemic politicization. Our current crisis follows a punctuated set of cascading institutional shocks, shaking public faith in science and expertise around the world. These include the 2001 terrorist attacks and violent aftermath, the 2008 global financial crisis, the 2016 electoral upheavals in Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory, and the current pandemic. There is also the looming threat of climate change and the ineffectual policy response. The purpose of this talk is to revisit Merton’s observations while addressing the contemporary challenges to science’s legitimacy and the parallel crisis of truth. The enduring appeal of Merton’s institutional model is that it circumscribes the object of study, the scientific community: 1) the organized professional network that produces scientific knowledge; and 2) the delicate social and cultural environment that maintains it. Often discounted but equally central is science’s cultural meaning because this provides an accessible approximation of the congruence between the scientific community and its institutional environment. Advances in public opinion research over the last two decades finally allow social scientists to fully realize Merton’s institutional model—where the goal is to demarcate the social locations likely to challenge science, for various reasons particular to those locations, and to empirically track when these threats are heightened.