Rather, my point is that science itself is social. A lone experimenter might come up with some cool findings. But if they aren't replicated to ensure they are not just a fluke, and if they don't become part of the public body of scientific knowledge, they are pretty trivial. One of science's most important features - its ability to correct errors over time and come to successively better approximations of "reality" - can only occur within the context of a society of researchers, each interested in proving - or disproving - some specific piece.
And, in the long run, the society is in some ways more important than the question of whether an individual theory or researcher is "right." Thomas Kuhn's seminal book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions made the point that an older generation may hang onto a paradigm in the face of contradictory evidence. But that's not a bad thing. This social/cognitive/emotional feature of science helps to ensure that any new theory challenging the status quo is well-elaborated and supported. So, the social and personal context of science - with a range of diverse people involved - makes it richer and better.
A great example is the refutation of the 18th century investigation of "phlogiston" - believed to be an element that embodied fire, enabling things to burn. Taking the Wikipedia article as an example, there is no overt mention of social elements of science. Most of the discussion is around physical findings and theories. But, take a look at the "Challenge and demise" section, The first paragraph starts as follows:
Eventually, quantitative experiments revealed problems... Robert Boyle burned magnesium in oxygen, and found the product, magnesium oxide, had more mass than the original magnesium.Let's read between the lines - the "quantitative experiments" were shared. Robert Boyle obviously reported his findings. The findings get all the attention, but the process around them is only implied - as is all too often the case. Without that process, there would just be a guy here who found something out, and a guy there. How could there be a convergence of evidence that would lead to a change in the consensus view of fire?
Later in the article, we read the following:
Phlogiston remained the dominant theory until Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier showed that combustion requires a gas that has mass (oxygen) and could be measured by means of weighing closed vessels... These observations solved the mass paradox and set the stage for the new caloric theory of combustion.Again, the social context is only implied. Lavoisier "showed" his findings - the verb "to show" implies an audience. His findings "set the stage" for the new theory. Someone's got to see the stage there, all set, and want to be in the show. Else, there is no science.
For a more modern (counter?)example, consider Lysenko's rise and fall in the early USSR. Propped up by the government, his theories spread throughout the country regardless of empirical support. What was lacking in this case was an environment where ideas could be freely exchanged. So,
OK, I've beaten this to death. My point is, science can't exist without being embedded in a dynamic social give-and-take. Publications and conferences are not just good vita-filler and travel opportunities. Really, they represent the heart of science. I think that is not as clear as it should be to the general public.