The Growing Distrust of Science

Posted by on May 6, 2012 in Featured, Science, Thoughts | 68 comments

A growing phenomenon in the world is the distrust of science as a valid way to view the world. It is caused by a number of factors, including religious affiliation, political conservatism, lack of a sound education, and fear. And it is particularly bad in the USA, and driven by the conservative movement in their political sphere, by people such as Sarah Palin, and in the religious sphere by people like Ken Ham from Answers in Genesis.

Between 1974 and 2010 the number of conservatives who say they trust information coming from science and scientific fields has dropped from 48% to just over 34%, a drop of 14% in just under 40 years suggested in a study published in The American Sociological Review.

In the political spheres, and especially in the rhetoric spewed by the conservative presidential candidates, we hear the distrust in science being depicted as untrustworthy, and the message is twofold; denial of science because of the perceived inability for science to make up its mind about facts (science is always proving itself to be wrong), and denial of scientists due to their perceived position as elitists in the community. People distrust science from this standpoint because they don’t understand science and the scientific method, and are bitter because they feel they are being told what to do by an elitist few.

Onion Science

A satirical piece from The Onion about science denial

Additionally, people see the information coming from science as “scary” or unpleasant, and would like to live their lives without having to worry about things like climate change, acidification of the oceans, deforestation, habitat loss and mass extinction. In their eyes, the information is being “invented” by the scientists, and if it weren’t for science these things would never be happening. Of course, we wouldn’t be where we are now if it weren’t for technology, but conflate the negative results of centuries of human activity with the progress of science is the wrong way to go about things. Science today is in the business of finding ways to do things better, rather than hanging on to our older and more destructive ways.

I can understand to a certain degree that some may feel alienated by science, that all those numbers and figures, diagrams and test-tubes filled with coloured liquid, they’re all so complicated, and it would be much easier to deny the findings and go back to playing Mario Cart on your portable hand-held device than try to learn about it. But just because something is difficult, or beyond understanding, doesn’t make it any less real. (Of course we’re talking about facts here, not stone-age musings on the origins of the universe).

One of the most damaging and disingenuous movements in science denial comes from what is known as “The Green Dragon” phenomenon, a pushback by Christian Conservatives which aims to blame the environmental movement and the information coming forth about climate change on a massive scale. In this way of thinking, god created the earth for mankind to live on, and there is no way that the same god would allow for humans to destroy the ecosystem to a point that the earth can no longer sustain human life. Only God can do that, and he will, soon. The main claim is that not only is climate change an anti-Christian plot, but that any form of environmental preservation or talk of sustainability, or even anything that might threaten the amount of petroleum available to the American people, is a giant conspiracy, led by terrorists who are hell-bent on corrupting the young away from Jesus and into the hands of Satan.

It is much easier to teach people that the world is only 6000 years old, that we are the centre of the universe, that climate change is a lie, that Jesus cures cancer or that God exists than it is to teach people the truth of the situation. Facts can be difficult and sometimes painful to deal with, and telling people that if they just have faith and stop questioning things that everything will be alright is an easy out for those unwilling to deal with facts.

Science denial is a huge worry, especially in times where we depend more upon scientific innovation to help us solve some of these problems. Those that deny science, while they play on their iPhones, drive their cars, fly around the planet and enjoy hot meals daily, are particularly blind to the fact that none of these things would be possible if it weren’t for science. The fact that they don’t have smallpox or polio, that they still have teeth, that they didn’t die from the flu or heart-failure should be enough to sway their opinions, but unfortunately the deniers don;t see things this way. Denial of the real impact science has had on our lives can be illustrated in many ways, but when presented with these facts, the and the deniers find themselves faced with cognitive dissonance, clam up and end any attempts at reconciling these views in opposition of each other.

This phenomenon is not restricted to the USA. As Dr Paul Willis, paleontologist and Director of RiAus, wrote a piece last week about the dangers of science denial, and how it seems we are inheriting some of this denialism here in Australia. Using a recent episode of Q&A on climate change to illustrate where we are headed, he states:

“The wider Australian audience was left with the wrong impression that the science is still in doubt (whereas pragmatically, it is not); that there is still a reasonable debate to be had about the science (that debate was had and settled decades ago); and that there is a reasonable body of scientific evidence that demonstrates anthropogenic climate change (show me the money!). All this was underpinned by suggestions of conspiracies and anti-economic rhetoric. It was a debacle. Science went out the window and a realistic overview of climate change issues could never be presented in this colosseum of gladiatorial combat.”

I share Dr Willis’ concerns, but see that the only way to combat this is through education. Not just primary, secondary and tertiary educations, but a general education of the people in their daily lives, to bolster scientific literacy in the community through the media. We need to demystify science, and show that while it may not be possible for us all to understand everything science shows us, that if we understand the scientific method, we can then understand what certain scientific studies and findings show us. We don’t all need to be scientists (I’m not), but if we have a grasp on science, we can use that understanding to help make the world a better place.

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68 Comments

  1. Great article Mr Pribble. There seems to be a disconnect between your headline and your final, optimistic and encouraging paragraph. If i were your subeditor i would recommend the headline : “Skeptics exposing conservative denialists”

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  2. Thank you,Martin.
    http://skepticicality.blogspot.com

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  3. All valid points and a well written essay, however, you spelled “Mario Kart” wrong. It invalidates everything. 

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    • I believe you have fallen prey to the ad mariom logical fallacy.

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    •  @Steve Barry I’ll Kart you in a minute! :P

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  4. Note: I tried posting this on Facebook, but FB now has an automated comment analysis that throws an error when you write a comment that isn’t happy. Summary: the masses are intellectually lazy, and conservatives put a blunt face on that. It’s easier to follow the child-level religious stories that provide simple, tidy answers than it is to engage in critical thinking. As problems become more complex, intellectually lazy people hide their heads deeper in the sand.

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  5. N.B. This comment box deletes paragraph returns. Who does the programming at livefyre?

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  6. Not only are you not a scientist, you’re not even particularly original! We get the argument, because it’s been made thousands of times… “If you don’t believe in anthropogenic global warming and the political solutions du joir, you are dumber than Sarah Palin and believe silly Christian things that even most Christians don’t actually believe.” You lean on the scientific method (good), but don’t even mention the economics that drives research (just as important). The economics of research science may be what led a former AmGen researcher, looking for low hanging fruit for his company to commercialize and reap insane profits from, to find that 47 of 53 “landmark” cancer findings did not hold up to replication. This is a competent guy driven by the basest and most pure incentive the world has ever known: cash money. Here’s a link to a Reuters story: http://news.yahoo.com/cancer-science-many-discoveries-dont-hold-174216262.html Conclusion: scientific literacy is most certainly compatible with healthy skepticism and little-c conservatism, that is, favoring a known status quo over proposed solutions whose downsides we’re not so sure about.

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    • @Brad Hutchings: scientific findings need to pass peer review to become credible. And peers can be ruthless, especially when competing for the same dollars and recognition (this is where commercialization is very visible). 

      Most of the general public doesn’t even know what peer review IS, so people… and certain news organizations… who promote a particular point of view will take advantage of that. They will present outlier opinions and even quacks as having the same credibility as those who passed peer review. Just think of how many diet and health fads you’ve heard over the years. This purposeful confusion is just like the AmGen example you pointed out, and also foments the distrust of science.

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      •  @Bob Flisser  The Amgen researcher replication attempts were of peer reviewed results that appeared in top journals. By your very definition, they should be “credible”. Except they are not because they were not replicable and there were particular reasons found why they were not replicable. This inconsistency of peer reviewed results with actual truth that can be applied by greedy corporate bastards to make $$$$ is what tells that your understanding of peer reviewed science as a process that finds truth is a little bit off :-).

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        •  @Brad Hutchings You post one story of greed and hang onto it like a life line to dismiss all that is credible in science. Don’t know if I’m reading you right,but it sounds like the same type of argument the religious use to try and deny science. Never mind the fact we can disprove most of what they believe in easily. 

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        • A story of greed? Huh? I guess you didn’t read the article. Let me offer you another perspective on finding truth that might be interesting to you if that’s what you’re actually after. Here’s a podcast with Internet pioneer (Cluetrain author) David Weinberger where he advocates one side getting their advocates and other side (or sides) getting their advocates, and each side going at it balls out so we can really decide what the evidence is and what it suggests. http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2012/02/weinberger_on_t.html
           
          If you’re uncomfortable with “the science” being subjected to rigorous scrutiny, you absolutely don’t get what science is. Scrutiny, even when it descends to sophistry, will make the science better. Dismissing scrutiny and skepticism as “religious” pretty much shows a lack of confidence in the truth you espouse and is a good sign that your truth deserves even more scrutiny and skepticism. And not just to piss you off, although that’s an important consideration too.

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        •  @Brad Hutchings So you’re just going to use the same argument said in reverse and think it makes your point any more valid? Sorry it doesn’t.

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    • @Brad Hutchings Here is another view of the non-replication issue in cancer-related preclinical studies: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v483/n7391/full/483531a.html#/ref1 (sorry, it’s behind a paywall unless you have a subscription to Nature). The Amgen scientists (and Nature) got a lot of valid criticism because, while they complain about non-reproducible results, they neither show the data (they did not publish it) nor they expose the presumed culprits, the scientists who published crappy data. Preclinical studies are very complex and even if published on a top-tier journal, the scientific community itself always takes the claims with a healthy dose of skeptic questioning until someone else reproduces the data. Scientists are human, and they compete for funding, and unfortunately there are always papers showing cherry-picked data, lack of adequate controls, sloppy scientists trying to rush to publish. In addition to bad practices, there is the inherent complexity of biological systems; we who work in the field know that minor changes in the system used, be it the cell line, or animal model, or the shRNA used to inhibit the target, etc, etc., can lead to different results. The pharma industry, including Amgen, greatly benefited from discoveries that got started by translational scientists such as the ones they criticize. Imatinib, and the newer drugs that overcome resistance to imatinib, nilotinib and dasatinib, are the product of long years of academic research, funded by public money in large part, before the pharma industry invested in them. Check this link to read the fascinating story of how chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) became the poster child of successful target therapies. If we scientists favored the status quo, we would never have developed treatments for many diseases.
      And if the status quo, as in the case of climate change, is also watching out for their economic interests, and are drtiven by the purest incentive known to mankind, money, as you say, then falling for the arguments of the status quo may be the completely short-sighted thing to do.

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  7. A good story can’t be told too many times :)
    I may be a dreamer, but research in its basic form is driven by curiosity! People have used entire lives to figure out some particular problem that just had to be solved.
    Money can be an incentive, but it should never exceed the amount one would need for living costs, because then you are in effect making yourself very susceptible for corruption.
    When big companies are involved, not an individual, the entire game changes since there often are requirements for the return-on-investment.

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  8. There is an article called Worst. Congress. Ever. from last year and a new book “It’s worse than it looks.” The authors concluded that American conservatives are unbending in their beliefs even in the face of great evidence. Nail. Head. 
     
    Kriss
     
    ps Steve, you made a funny.

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    • It’s like all the cool kids are here and I’m late to the party.

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  9. I agree to your points and I think the world would be a better place if more or all people would posses a certain level of science literacy. 
     
    But the important question is not whether science is better then religion, metaphysics etc. but whether we can give convincing argument that it is! Convincing is here to be understood as: an argument that convinces even people who do not embrace science as part of their epistemic background. 
     
    Meaning is always depending on the context and background. If certain persons simply have incompatible bodies of belief then – I fear – it will be impossible for them to ever come to an agreement. 
     
    As you pointed out education may be the key to a solution. But then again this only postpones the problem. The results and even the definition of education is dependent of the epistemic background of the teachers and parents (and society at large too I think). 
     
    Now one could argue that science has the advantage of empirically verifiable foundations. But direct empirical access to situations that would verify the situation is an extremely scarce situation and in (modern) science people almost always depend on others people testimony as a source of knowledge (Hardwig, 1991, The role of trust in knowledge) and need to trust (!) in the abilities scientific community (Rolin, 2002, Gender and Trust in Science). 
     
    I don’t like it but I am afraid that I my choice of science over religion is based on faith in science of pretty much the same kind as some peoples faith in religion. If someone has an idea on how one might refute scientific scepticism (a transcendental argument maybe?) please let me know. 

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    •  @DavidKretz My answer to your question is this.  “Faith” is defined as believing in something without evidence.  That is religion.  I believe in science but do not have “faith” in it.  For example, I cannot work out all of the complicated physics equation that cosmologists employ.  However, because of peer review and the competitive nature of the field, I trust that the numbers check out.  I trust that the overwhelming majority of people  who can explain the evidence have done it right.  There is a big difference between “faith” in no evidence,and trusting evidence compiled by experts.

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      •  @reasonbeingblog We can also establish confidence in the data based on the basic underpinnings of the advanced science. After all, there are no 6 year old quantum physicists, but we begin the scientific education of children with the most basic of principles of that age. This knowledge is built upon both theoretical and empirical study which leads to the greater understanding of the subject.
        The religious viewpoint of a bird in flight might be that “god holds it aloft” and leave it at that, while an afternoon in a classroom with a wind tunnel and a smoke generator would provide students with a scientific, and therefore informative, view of what is actually happening.
        The cosmologist and the quantum physicist have the advantage of having continued in those fields of study far beyond others, but it is our grasp of the fundamentals that allows us to have confidence in their findings, rather than faith in them.

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        •  @Inrideo I agree with that assessment very much.

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        •  @Inrideo That lowercase “faith” is merely some degree of secular trust. It isn’t the religiousFaith that profoundly transforms one (from agnosticism) to some knowledge of the divine.
           
          Also, don’t forget your history. Religions aren’t converging the divine, they’re schisming. Your religious neighbours distrust that you do in fact know what you claim to know about the divine.
           
          Enter the history of academia. Philosophy spawns “natural philosophy”, aka science. Scholars make earthly discoveries that mesh with church teachings. Specific theological ideas fall away as factually mistaken or unjustifiable. Then some modern academic fact (not the entire knowledge system) clashes loudly with a modern church teaching, ie. explicitly unscientific rhetoric about humanity and/or the divine.

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        •  @Inrideo  @reasonbeingblog 
           
          Concerning your point of the basic underpinnings: Of course we start education by teaching the children the basics first.
           
          I see two possible objections:
          First, we do not learn science bottom-up. When studying at university, the first thing we learn is that everything we learned in school was oversimplified and – drastically put – wrong. 
           
          Rutherfords model of atoms gets replaced by more complicated models, 1+1=2 suddenly requires a proof via set theory etc. (The examples may be bad but I hope the point gets across).
           
          So, it seems that in school we do not really teach the kids science but more a way of (rational) thinking. We teach them more a certain framework that then leads to the ability to learn science. (Maybe that was your point from the beginning on, I am sorry if I got that wrong!)
           
          But then again one can question these basic underpinnings! Especially the role of faith and the existence of god are two paradigms that will be very controversially discussed… 
           

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        •  @blamer  
           
          The history of religion and its inconsistencies are still not strong enough I think to convince a religious person of accepting science. 
           
          Unless you claim that religious faith really gives you knowledge of or access to the divine I see no conceptual difference with the secular faith in science.
          (This is actually a great example for my point that even the basic assumptions are not neutral in matters of science vs. religion)

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        •  @DavidKretz  @Inrideo  @reasonbeingblog Here the argument will be that those academic teachings aimed at children (based on simplifying what university professors know, say some scientific theory) are *just as* misleading as any conflicting teaching (based on simplifying what it is that some alternative institution’s employees know).
           
          To counter we can emphasise that the (misleading) teaching hearalded by the non-academic institution is not only rejected by self-interested academia but is also unacceptable to the remaining alternative institutions too (other alt-medders, conservative thinktanks, religions, etc).

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      •  @reasonbeingblog I think I can accept your definition of “faith”. But then the question is whether one has good reasons/evidence to believe. 
         
        So our problem is still that – as you say yourself – we have to trust in the scientific communities ability and willingness to establish a system of control mechanisms that make sure that fraud, sloppy work etc. are detected and sanctioned.  
         
        But if I choose to trust in the scientific community and someone else decides to trust in a religious community then I see no conceptual difference between them. 
         
        Religion will not just asure you that god holds the bird aloft but it will tell you about scholastics and divine creation, concurrence, and conservation and a many other mystical principles.
        I am afraid that for a person from the outside science and religion may seem fairly complex in pretty much the same way.
        After all theology can be studied at most universities (at least in Europe where I live, but I think elsewhere too) just like science! 
        (Please note, that I believe that neither this is good nor that theology is a scientific subject!) 
         
        For a scientific and religious layperson the priest and the scientists may be equally seen as experts whom we should trust.
        Education will probably decide whom we actually trust – but then again this postpones the problem as shown above. 

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        •  @DavidKretz  @reasonbeingblog Just because you are an expert in something doesn’t make your views valid. I can be an expert on Dr. Suess. Does that make the things in his books real? So trust in that which can be proven, not that which falls apart at the askance of proof.

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        •  @Alisi  @DavidKretz Real and valid are not necessarily the same…that aside, I agree with your last statement 100%!

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        •  @DavidKretz The problem is that we put our trust in scientists and they deliver evidence to back up their beliefs, and in a way continue to earn my trust.  Religions do not do this.  They provide no evidence for their claims, thus, not earning my trust or belief in anything they have to say.  I trust scientists because I can read their work and see the evidence.  The same cannot be said for religious claims.

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        •  @reasonbeingblog  @DavidKretz I think what you mean here is “looking at their track record overall”. Then we see scientists making better physical stuff we can use – they’re controlling nature. We don’t see theologians as experts on what Yhwh wants – they disagree how to seperate biblical truths about the divine from fictions.

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        •  @reasonbeingblog  Evidence is a too vague concept I think. Mathematicians can proof things in a very strict sense (but even this sort of evidence depends on certain assumptions and axioms).
          Most other sciences can only deliver arguments in favor or against something. 
           
          But even the purest scientific data is given in some sort of language or code, and is always embedded in social contexts. So again there is room for interpretation. That in turn leaves room for ideology and again so on…
           
           @blamer I think your last point is a good one. It will be difficult for a religious person to ascribe the technological progress completely to something else as science. 
          But difficult is not impossible. 
           
          So basically I think that the religion is a position that is hard to defend and their claims are probably very unlikely but as long as we can give no knock-down argument it is not completely off the table and we have to show some humility towards our own positions. 
          A knock-down argument is here to be understood as an argument that can beat religion on its own field in accordance with its own rules – and might actually persuade religious people to abandon their religious views.  
           

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        •  @DavidKretz  @reasonbeingblog Here what counts as “evidence” deserves a bifurcation (like “Faith” above). As a technical term within academia “scientific evidence” implies a heavier burden (than say “anecdotal evidence”) because it must weigh the MISSES against the hits.
           
          I agree about humility. However I think the religious successfully defeat their neighbouring denominations using that sect’s own terms; conceding that it’s ethically questionable (impermissible?) to be inculcating life-changing beliefs that’re in fact theologically MISTAKEN.

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        •  @blamer   I believe this is what you are saying in a nut shell. “I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” …Stephen F Roberts
           
          Also trying to argue religion in it’s own field would be foolish. Why would I try to ague with within a parameter that has rules that  have zero basis is reality?

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        •  @Alisi That quote works well as a defence of atheism. Devistating to the monotheism of Abrahamists. Therefore I think quite predictably that it’s dismissed out of hand by anyone who’s formed the (biblical) belief “one god, creator of all that is seen”.

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        •  @Alisi Argue with the goal of finding rhetoric that changes minds. Not necessarily the minds of those you’re debating btw, more likely the bi-standers. Argue if you’re ethically motivated to change lives for the better. We can’t start with the conclusion that the believer’s understanding of the divine has “zero basis in reality”, but we can unravel the conventional wisdom that we can trust what religious leaders are saying about history (miracles), prophets (divine), evangelism (good), infidels (bad), and exactly one god (yahweh).

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        •  @blamer Yeah that doesn’t work either :)

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        •  @Alisi Not always. Not quickly. But persuasive efforts aren’t 100% futile.
           
          Just ask a politician. Lawyer. Or clergyman.

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  10. Great post Martin.  I think you hit the nail on the head when calling for the need to educate the masses on the scientific method and scientific literacy in general.  It is quite clear that many people do not understand science.  A good example of this can bee seen in evolution.  There are many people who do not realize its validity simply because it is often referred to as the “theory of evolution”.  They have no idea what the word “theory” means in scientific language.
     
    Many people also do not realize the concept of peer review, as the commenter Bob Flisser points out below.  Scientists are very critical of each others’ work.  There is little testing more rigorous than that.
     
    In response to Brad Hutchings comment below, I feel that the economics of science is nothing more than a red herring argument.  Without a doubt there are dishonest scientists—just as there are dishonest people in every occupation the world over.  Can economics play a role?  Of course.  However, that does not invalidate the mountains of scientific evidence for most theories, laws, discoveries.  That argument does not hold water with me.
     
     

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    •  @reasonbeingblog True that scientists are human, make mistakes, have egos, get greedy. Hence “one bad apple spoils the bunch” and many view science with skepticism.  Ironically.
       
      But one must agree, successes of science are obvious and science is the cause behind much of what is good and bad with the world today.
       

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      •  @neverquit my argument is that “one bad apple should NOT spoil the bunch”…it seems that to many who do not understand how science works, a few bad apples are all it takes.

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    •  @reasonbeingblog I bring you a concrete example of a guy who is a scientist and wants to take legitimate, peer approved scientific discoveries in the field of curing cancer to make his company [email protected] of cash, and he can’t replicate the results in 47 of 53 cases. And you call that a red herring. This is not one bad apple. Nor does it ruin the whole bunch. But it does call for people to evaluate this particular field of science, and perhaps science as a whole, with a healthy skepticism. BTW, skepticism does not mean that you think the world is 6000 years old. Frankly, that line of reasoning is both juvenile and insulting. 
       

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      •  @Brad Hutchings  @ploads I never said that skepticism implied believing in a 6,000 year old world.  I have no idea where you came up with that from my comment.  I agree with you, to make that assertion would be foolish.
         
        You brought up the case of one unethical scientist and you pointed out that skepticism towards science is needed.  I agree with that, and would argue that in most cases scientists are the best skeptics of each other.  However, many people try to discredit science all together with cases like the one you mentioned.  That is a poor argument for discrediting science.  Science cannot be invalidated because some scientists are unethical.  You and I agree on that, “one bad apple does not spoil…”  However, try making that claim to the anti-climate change and anti-evolution folks.  To many of them, the claim you are making is one that is central to their entire case. 
         
         

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        •  @reasonbeingblog I didn’t bring up the case of ANY unethical scientist. Not a single one. Not the 47 of 53 whose results were not replicable. Not the researcher from Amgen who, motivated by profit which would REQUIRE absolute truth in these matters, tried to replicate these “landmark” findings. So you’re off on a totally fabricated red herring there.
           
          What I am saying is that the process is flawed and leads to flawed results. It’s most definitely among the best processes for discovering truth that we have at our disposal, but it is most definitely flawed. Thinking, reasonable people ought to take that into consideration, especially when activists and politicians say “the science is settled”, etc. The late Michael Crichton wrote so elegantly about the importance of skepticism with regards to eugenics. http://www.michaelcrichton.net/essay-stateoffear-whypoliticizedscienceisdangerous.html
           
          The 6000 year old world thing comes from this article itself, with its strong implication that that’s what anyone who doesn’t believe in anthrogenic global warming and the Draconian solutions proposed to solve it believes. I’m glad we agree that such an assertion is foolish.

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        •  @Brad Hutchings It seems to me that we largely agree.  I misunderstood your discussing the Amgen scientist.  I was under the impression that you were implying that he was acting unethically.  My apologies for the confusion.

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  11. The problem is not science the problem is scientists and people who portray themselves as knowledgeable about science but do not explain science they just want other people to be IN AWE of science.
     
    Like we are supposed to accept climate change which is very complicated and yet the scientists cannot discuss how the steel has to be distributed in a skyscraper to hold itself up and yet  those scientists at least pretend to believe but do not explain how a 150 ton airliner can completely destroy a 400,000 ton skyscraper in less then two hours.  They can also fail to notice the planned obsolescence of automobiles for the last 50 years but then expect people to get excited about climate change.
     
    The problem is not science the problem is that the scientists are not consistent.

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    •  @umbrarchist
       Your problem is not paying attention to your teachers when they were teaching punctuation.
       

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    • Scientist can and have explained all those things with the exception of the obsolescence of automobiles. (have no clue where you came up with that.) 

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      •  @Alisi Do you think science communicators are crafting their messages to appeal to the like-minded members of the public who generally accept science? (ie. to those who think similarly to the way they do)
         
        Are they crafting different rhetoric for those who don’t want to change their minds? (ie. see no reason to trust liberals and academic experts)

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        •  @blamer Scientist don’t give a damn about appeal. The great thing about science is that it’s not based on popularity or beliefs. It’s more a case of leading a horse to water so to speak. 

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        •  @Alisi Therein lies the distrust. We’re finding that scientific facts often don’t speak for themselves. So without impressive scientific outreach in those high-profile areas, public opinion and high-profile public policy will continue to be shaped by unscientific rhetoric, which is the talk that is undermining the credibility of academia and liberalism.
           
          Fortunately the Left can stay engaged in a battle of ideas if only they’d trust the scientific facts about how to rally the like-minded, and perhaps even change a few swinging, centerist, and Rightwing minds.

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        •  @blamer  @Alisi “which is the talk that is undermining the credibility of academia and liberalism.”
           
          OMG, someone here needs to review his/her progressive history. Back in the day, all the progressives were pushing eugenics. You know, before it fell out of favor because someone took it a little too far, right?

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        •  @Brad Hutchings  @Alisi I don’t say progressives always need to get their way. Just that it’s healthier that progressives ideas are heard and debated seriously.

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        •  @blamer  @Alisi But the Left has a sordid history with scientism (that is, BS wrapped up as science), be it eugenics, Socialism’s 5 year plans, McNamara applying his scientific management acumen to the Veitnam War, etc. Given the history, a skepticism that allows more time (like a decade or three) for some counter-evidence and more sensible remediation ideas to emerge is just a safe bet against these excesses. You don’t have to be a Bible thumper to conclude that. In fact, you can be an apatheist in good standing and conclude that. You can even recognize that man probably has some effect on the climate and conclude that. Lookup Bjorn Lomborg.

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        •  @Brad Hutchings  @Alisi Scientists agree with you. Academia is more “conservative” about new ideas than you might think. Paradigm shifts takes a generation. Three decade is about right, the old guard has to retire.

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        • Fun fact:  HIGW is the same age to science as Darwin’s Origin of Species.

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    •  @umbrarchist Multiply 150 tons by 400 miles per hour, what do you get? The problem is that you are too lazy or inept to find out what science is trying to teach you. I certainly don’t have the time to teach you.The answers to all of your questions are at your fingertips. Use them.

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      •  @jimolson1027  The plane that hit the south tower was doing 550 mph.  The building deflected 15 inches.  The NIST report does not say that.  They say it deflected 12 inches at the 70th floor so you must do an extrapolation to compute what happened at the impact level.
         
        The NCSTAR report does not even specify the total amount of concrete in the towers.  So there are lots of dumb people who believe in authority but have not checked out anything for themselves.

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  12. The issue, in the United States at least, is that “The Statesman” has not kept pace with “The Science”. 

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    •  @neverquit How true.
       
      Following that chain, the “Science Communication Problem” is convincing the elected Stateman’s voting base. Unfortunately we tend towards trusting what feels right over what those experts over there are saying.

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  13. Thanks, Martin, for a very good article. The bottom line is: science works. Science has given us targeted therapies against cancer, notwithstanding a certain measure of non-reproducubility, especially when we talk about enormously complex biological systems. This is just to mention an example. Science is not perfect, but it the scientific method is the best tool we have at the moment to try to understand the world and make useful predictions. Making predictions is hard, but scientists certainly get them right much more often than economists :-)

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    •  @AdrianaHeguy So like vacinations and herd immunity, we don’t need 99% of people to believe in incredible scientific discoveries… really just our leaders. So something more like 51% of voters.

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  14. Having recently talked with some people about this . . . the problem seems to be that science does always have clear answers, that science makes more nuanced discoveries over time, that some science is inaccurate, and that number/results/etc can be misconstrued (SPIN).  @activistatheist

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    •  @ActivistAtheist Psychology is telling us that less than half of the population is interested in new and nuanced ideas. So teaching scientific facts in a believable way (able to be believed) depends very much more than we thought on the personality of those in the room.

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  15. I have thought for a long time that since the far right has ‘taken over’ the word scientist and debased it we should switch to ‘Clear Thinking’ or ‘Reasoned’ or ‘Thoughtful’ when describing what scientists do.
    Let them try to transform those words to something bad
    … @ActivistAtheist

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  16. People distrust scientists – not science per se.  They distrust scientists because they are shown to be flawed, failed, weak, corrupt and immoral.  All perfectly good reasons for distrust.
     
    The story of LENR is an excellent example – we posted yesterday the saga of the Italian “Report 41” – a study of cold fusion at the very HIGHEST levels of government.  Ordered by Dr. Carlo Rubia a Nobel laureate, Director General of CERN (world’s most prestigious science center) and Chair of ENEA Energy and Environment Agency – a pillar of scientific achievement.
     
    But when the results of the 36 month study demonstrated hard evidence of cold fusion’s nuclear origins, Dr. Rubia went silent.  He refused to support the study HE ordered!  Taxpayer money wasted.  Clearly a man who has been compromised, corroded, corrupted.
     
    GreenWin post at 5:50pm: http://bit.ly/KLNlWR
     
    Same with the pack of thieves who doctored or denied results of P&F experiments at MIT and elsewhere.  Same with Climategate, tobacco, pharma, and big ag racketeering.  Same with the hot fusion boondoggle where 60 years and $200 Billion taxpayer dollars have produced absolutely ZERO useable energy.  While these same scientists whine that LENR is a fraud.  Pot – meet kettle.
     
    Science will be ever less trusted and revered until it polices itself, cleans up these glaring discrepancies.  Only a thorough purge of its corrupt old school ranks will refresh science stature in the community.  Until then, it grows more insular, an aging institution bereft of the moral and ethical backbone that leads good people and community.

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  17. Television is our best source for communicating information with the internet a close second.  When I turn on the tv I intentionally look for programs that will enlighten my brain.  Such as Science, History, Drama and Arts.  I love the Discovery Channel, or any channel that stimulates my thinking.  Too bad most people only want to be entertained with stupidity; i.e. soap operas, cartoons, sports, brainless entertainment……  No wonder, the majority believe in magic! 
    Evolution too difficult to understand?  Try religion !  We really have become a nation of zombies.  Ask people to think critically and you get, ” But, it hurts my brain!”  With an attention span of 20 minutes at best, no wonder America is so far behind in Science & Math education.  Time to use our most influential form of media to educate the public masses, TV. 
     

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    •  @RickRay2 I noticed you said 20 minute attention span. Then I noticed you put TV as peoples first source of info with the internet second. I believe for many it’s the internet first, but their attention spans are close to the time it takes to read a motivation poster.

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