The Scientists are the oligarchical rulers of the future. Their rule is based on their ability to wield the powers of science, and their mission statement is to return the human race to the planet's surface. Which sounds great, right? Science is great. Scientific discoveries are great.
Who wouldn't want a panel of Neil deGrasse Tysons running things?
But there are several sinister qualities that make the Scientists…off-putting. First, they lack all individuality. They operate, think, and make decisions as a unit. They don't even have, or at least use, individual names. Each one is known simply by his or her title, as though their entire personality were wrapped up in their professional identity.
Also, these guys rule the future. They have Cole brought before them as part of a program where prisoners are sent back in time to gather information on the virus that wrecked humanity's time in the sun. They have the power to offer Cole a pardon for his cooperation, making it clear that they operate not just as scientists, but also as the judicial system of their society. Even worse, that cooperation essentially makes Cole a guinea pig, something to be experimented on, something less than human.
As a symbol, we wouldn't say the Scientists are anti-science. As we mentioned, their goal is to help humanity as a whole, even if they mess up individual humans along the way. And that's an admirable goal. Rather, we'd say they symbolize a blind worship of science and its awesome capabilities (Dr. Railly even refers to psychiatry, a branch of science, as the "latest religion").
The telling line is given to us by the man with the raspy voice. As he tells Cole,
MAN WITH RASPY VOICE: Science ain't an exact science with these clowns, but they're getting better.
The first time they send Cole back in time, they send him to 1990, not the target year of 1996. They aren't even aware that they messed up until Cole returns:
BOTANIST: Weak signal. We have to put them together one word at a time like jigsaw puzzles.
ASTROPHYSICIST: We just finished rebuilding this. Did you or did you not make that call?
COLE: I couldn't make any call. You sent me to the wrong year. It was 1990.
MICROBIOLOGIST: You're certain of that?
Worse, when they try it again, they tell Cole they're sending him to 1996, "right on the money." And they do get him to 1996, but not before a near-fatal detour to France during World War I.
In the end, the Scientists are simply human, capable of error like the rest of us. Unlike the rest of us, the Scientists are experimenting with things like time and human lives, and the powers of science have given them domain over nature in ways that are too domineering for creatures that are a part of nature.
When these guys make mistakes, they aren't the types of things where a "Whoops, my bad!" will adequately cover you. Unfortunately, the best the Scientists seem able to muster in such situations is exactly that.