A recent science news media release is an excellent and mercifully short illustration of what’s wrong with science today. That can’t have been what the study authors were trying to do but never mind.
From ScienceAlert, we learn that distrust in science is a “massive problem” and that it has four sources. Here, let’s deal with their first source:
First, they say, we have grown to distrust the information source:
“Pro-science messages can acknowledge that there are valid concerns on the other side, but explain why the scientific position is preferable,” says Philipp-Muller.Tessa Koumondoros, “These 4 Factors Can Explain Why So Many People Are Rejecting Science” at ScienceAlert (July 16, 2022) The paper requires a fee or subscription.
What? Apparently, the study authors believe that, in controversial matters, only one side represents science. That’s rarely true, actually.
But the belief among many scientists — wedded to a cause — that they do represent “science” in general is one reason for public distrust. The history of science is full of examples of talented and well-meaning scientists who were backing the wrong horse. See phlogiston and ether for historical examples that conveniently don’t arouse any emotion today.
We have grown to mistrust our information sources for good reasons. The world’s recent bout with COVID-19 demonstrates that claims to represent science are easily manipulated for political and commercial purposes.
Also, COVID demonstrated — as nothing else could — that the “science” was all over the map. It certainly wasn’t much of a factor in helping people avoid panic. “Trust the science” all too often meant, “Accept the mandated panic” instead of some other one. Government can force mandated panics on us but it can’t force — on that basis alone — more credibility for its publicly sponsored panics than for other parties’ privately sponsored ones.
Science-sponsored panic probably drove up the damage from COVID. Jay Richards, one of the authors of The Price of Panic: How the Tyranny of Experts Turned a Pandemic into a Catastrophe (October 2020), has noted, “In working on the book, we watched social media and platforms such as Google Search manipulate news coverage of the pandemic. It was, honestly, terrifying to watch important stories and studies get buried in real time on Google searches. It was also distressing to watch Twitter and Facebook attach warnings to the advice and viewpoint of scientists who urged calm and caution, while boosting the views of “officials” such as Anthony Fauci and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom.”
And, just as most of the world was getting the impression that the pandemic — and the panic — had largely run their course, up pops a proposal in 2021 for a “reality czar” to fight disinformation and misinformation, as if all of that were coming from non-government or non-science sources.
The proposal was (we are told) put on hold after the fear of just consequences prevailed. Incidentally, in the aftermath, it came out that, contrary to earlier claims, that Orwellian Disinformation Board was intended for use against Americans as well as foreign sources.
And, in that atmosphere, some think that the solution is “Trust the science ” more?
Next: Part 2. Researchers: Distrust of science is due to tribal loyalty
Note: The paper, which requires a subscription, is “Why are people antiscience, and what can we do about it?” by Aviva Philipp-Muller, Spike W. S. Lee, and Richard E. Petty, July 12, 2022, PNAS 119 (30) e2120755119 https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2120755119
Here are all four parts of the series:
- Why many now reject science… do you really want to know? COVID demonstrated — as nothing else could — that the “science” was all over the map and didn’t help people avoid panic. As the panic receded, the government started setting up a disinformation board to target NON-government sources of panic, thus deepening loss of trust.
- Researchers: Distrust of science is due to tribal loyalty. In Part 2 of 4, we look at a claim arising from a recent study: We blindly believe those we identify with, ignoring the wisdom of science. There seems to be no recognition that researchers, however fiercely competitive among themselves, also have a tribal loyalty that skews their judgment.
- Researchers: If we tell folks more about science, they trust less. Part 3: The researchers argue that doubts about science arise from conflict with beliefs. The many COVID-19 debacles suggest other causes…
Generally, the remedy for loss of trust after widespread failures is reform of the system, not reform of its doubters. Post-COVID, scientists should take heed.
- Claim: If science were properly presented, trust would grow! The ideas examined in these four short essays all assume that scientists are exempt from the bias and self-interest that governs everyone else. We’re asked to believe that scientists are somehow exempt from the bias problem ingrained in our biology — yet they have the same biology as everyone else…
You may also wish to read: Did social media panic drive up the damage from COVID-19? Richards: It was, honestly, terrifying to watch important stories and studies get buried in real time on Google searches. Social media did a very good job of panicking the population about COVID-19, instead of relaying facts, says Jay Richards, an author of The Price of Panic