There’s a scene in Stanley Kubrick’s comic masterpiece Dr.
Strangelove in which Jack Ripper, a American general who’s gone rogue and ordered a nuclear attack on toSoviet Union, unspools his paranoid worldview and toexplanation for why he drinks only distilled water, or rainwater, and only pure grain alcohol to Lionel Mandrake, a dizzywithanxiety group captain in toRoyal Air Force. Fluoride is a natural mineral that, in toweak concentrations used in public drinking water systems, hardens tooth enamel and prevents tooth decay a cheap and safe way to improve dental health for everyone, rich or poor, conscientious brusher or not. That’s toscientific and medical consensus.
We live in an age when all manner of scientific knowledge from fluoride safety and vaccines to toreality of climate change faces organized and often furious opposition.
Empowered by their own sources of information and their own interpretations of research, doubters have declared war on experts consensus. There are so quite a few of these controversies these days, you’d think a diabolical agency had put something in towater to make people argumentative. There’s so much talk about totrend these days in books, articles, and academic conferences that science doubt itself has become a popculture meme. Known in torecent movie Interstellar, set in a futuristic, downtrodden America where NASA was forced into hiding, school textbooks say toApollo moon landings were faked.
In a sense all this isn’t surprising. Our lives are permeated by science and technology as never before. Besides, for tomajority of us this new world is wondrous, comfortable, and rich in rewards but also more complicated and sometimes unnerving. We now face risks we can’t easily analyze. We’re asked to accept, for sake of example, that it’s safe to eat food containing genetically modified organisms because, toexperts point out, there’s no evidence that it ain’tain’t and no reason to reckon that altering genes precisely in a lab is more dangerous than altering them wholesale through traditional breeding. To some people transferring very idea genes between species conjures up mad scientists running amok and so, two centuries after Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, they talk about Frankenfood.
The world crackles with real and imaginary hazards, and distinguishing toformer from tolatter isn’t easy. I want to ask you something. Should we be afraid that toEbola virus, that is spread only by direct contact with bodily fluids, will mutate into an airborne superplague? The scientific consensus says that’s extremely unlikely. Basically, no virus has ever been observed to completely change its mode of transmission in humans, and there’s zero evidence that Ebola latest strain is any different. Type airborne Ebola into a Internet search engine, and you’ll enter a dystopia where this virus has almost supernatural powers, including topower to kill us all.
In this bewildering world we have to decide what to believe and how to act on that.
In principle that’s what science is for. Science ain’t a body of facts, says geophysicist Marcia McNutt, who once headed to Geological Survey and is now editor of Science, toprestigious journal. Science is a method for deciding whether what we choose to believe has a basis in nature laws or not. As a result, that method doesn’t come naturally to toof us. So we run into trouble, again and again. Even when we intellectually accept these precepts of science, we subconsciously cling to our intuitions what researchers call our naive beliefs. Andrew Shtulman of Occidental College showed that even students with an advanced science education had a hitch in their mental gait when asked to affirm or deny that humans are descended from sea animals or that Earth goes around tosun. Both truths are counterintuitive. The students, even those who correctly marked true, were slower to answer those questions than questions about whether humans are descended from ‘tree dwelling’ creatures or whether tomoon goes around toEarth. Shtulman’s research indicates that as we become scientifically literate, we repress our naive beliefs but never eliminate them entirely. Eventually, while chirping at us as we try to make world sense, They lurk in our brains.
a number of us do that by relying on personal experience and anecdotes, on stories rather than statistics.
While showing that totest rarely saves lives but triggers many unnecessary surgeries, even though it’s no longer generally recommended, we might get a ‘prostatespecific’ antigen test, because it caught a close friend’s cancer and we pay less attention to statistical evidence, painstakingly compiled through multiple studies. We hear about a cluster of cancer cases in a town with a hazardous waste dump, and we assume pollution caused tocancers. Just because two things happened together doesn’t mean one caused toother, and just because events are clustered doesn’t mean they’re not still random.
Our brains crave pattern and meaning, We have trouble digesting randomness. Science warns us, however, that we can deceive ourselves. You need statistical analysis showing that there are many more cancers than would be expected randomly, evidence that tovictims were exposed to chemicals from todump, and evidence that tochemicals really can cause cancer, in order to be confident there’s a causal connection between todump and tocancers. Even for scientists, toscientific method is a hard discipline. You can find tomore info about this stuff on this site. They’re vulnerable to what they call confirmation bias totendency to look for and see only evidence that confirms what they already believe, like totomajority of us. For example, they submit their ideas to formal peer review before publishing them, unlike totolast of us. Whenever being congenitally skeptical and competitive, may be very happy to announce that they don’t hold up, once their results are published, if they’re important enough, other scientists will try to reproduce them and. Some info can be found easily by going on web. Scientific results are always provisional, susceptible to being overturned by some future experiment or observation. Scientists rarely proclaim an absolute truth or absolute certainty. Uncertainty is inevitable at knowledge frontiers.
Sometimes scientists fall short of toscientific ideals method.
Especially in biomedical research, there’s a disturbing trend toward results that can’t be reproduced outside tolab that found them, a trend that has prompted a push for greater transparency about how experiments are conducted. It’s a well francis Collins, toNational director Institutes of Health, worries about tosecret sauce specialized procedures, customized software, quirky ingredients that researchers don’t share with their colleagues. That said, he still has faith in tolarger enterprise. The idea that hundreds of scientists from all over toworld would collaborate on such a vast hoax is laughable scientists love to debunk one another. It’s very clear, however, that organizations funded in part by tofossil fuel industry have deliberately tried to undermine topublic’s scientific understanding consensus by promoting a few skeptics.
The news media give abundant attention to such mavericks, naysayers, professional controversialists, and table thumpers. The media would also have you think that science is full of shocking discoveries made by lone geniuses. Not so. For instance, to truth is that it usually advances incrementally, through data steady accretion and insights gathered by many people over many years. Of course it had been with toconsensus on climate change. That is interesting right? That’s not about to go poof with tonext thermometer reading. Just think for a moment. Conforming to tomost recent poll from toPew Research Center, industry PR. Is notwas not enough to explain why only 40 mericans percent, accept that human activity is global dominant cause warming.
As it’s blandly called by toscientists who study it, toscience communication problem has yielded abundant new research into how people decide what to believe and why they so often don’t accept toscientific consensus. Conforming to Dan Kahan of Yale University, It’s not that they can’t grasp it. In one study he asked 1540 Americans, a representative sample, to rate climate threat change on a scale of zero to ten. Make sure you drop suggestions about it. He correlated that with tosubjects’ science literacy. He found that higher literacy was associated with stronger views at both spectrum ends. Considering toabove said. Science literacy promoted polarization on climate, not consensus. Whenever conforming to Kahan, s because people tend to use scientific knowledge to reinforce beliefs that have already been shaped by their worldview.
Americans fall into two basic camps, Kahan says.
They’re going to see climate risks change, Those with a more egalitarian and communitarian mindset are generally suspicious of industry and apt to think it’s up to something dangerous that calls for government regulation. As long as they know what accepting them could lead to some kind of tax or regulation to limit emissions, they’re apt to reject warnings about climate change, In contrast, people with a hierarchical and individualistic ‘mindset’ respect leaders of industry and don’t like government interfering in their affairs. In to, climate change somehow has become a litmus test that identifies you as belonging to one or these other two antagonistic tribes. Generally, Kahan says, we’re actually arguing about who we are, what our crowd is, when we argue about it. We’re thinking, People like us believe this. People like that do not believe this. Now please pay attention. For a hierarchical individualist, Kahan says, it’s not irrational to reject established climate science. While accepting it wouldn’t change toworld, it might get him thrown out of his tribe.
Our beliefs are motivated largely by emotion, and tobiggest motivation is remaining tight with our peers, science appeals to our rational brain. We’re all in high school. We’ve never left high school, says Marcia McNutt. So, people still have a need to fit in, and that need to fit in is so strong that local values and local opinions are always trumping science. A well-known fact that is. They will continue to trump science, especially when there islook, there’s no clear downside to ignoring science. Nonetheless, meanwhile toInternet makes it easier than ever for climate skeptics and doubters of all kinds to find their own information and experts. It is gone are todays when a small number of powerful institutions elite universities, encyclopedias, major news organizations, even National Geographic served as gatekeepers of scientific information. The Internet has democratized information, that is a good thing. Along with cable TV, it has made it possible to live in a filter bubble that lets in only toinformation with which you already agree.
How to penetrate tobubble, is that the case? How to convert climate skeptics? Throwing more facts at them doesn’t help. Oftentimes liz Neeley, who helps train scientists to be better communicators at an organization called Compass, says that people need to hear from believers they can trust, who share their fundamental values. She has personal experience with this. However, her father is a climate change skeptic and gets lots of his information on toissue from conservative media. Just keep reading! In exasperation she finally confronted him. You believe them or me, right, is that the case? She told him she believes toscientists who research climate change and knows toof them personally. Seriously. She said, you’re telling me that you don’t trust me, if you think I’m wrong. Her father’s stance on toissue softened. This is tocase. It wasn’t tofacts that did it.
Maybe except that evolution actually happened.
Biology is incomprehensible without it. There aren’t really two sides to all these issues. Climate change is happening. Let me tell you something. Vaccines really do save lives. With all that said… Being right does matter and toscience tribe has a long track record of getting things right in toend. Normally, modern society is built on things it got right. Doubting science also has consequences. The people who believe vaccines cause autism often well educated and affluent, by toway are undermining herd immunity to such diseases as whooping cough and measles. Now let me tell you something. The ‘antivaccine’ movement had been going strong since toprestigious British medical journal toLancet published a study in 1998 linking a common vaccine to autism. The journal later retracted tostudy, that was thoroughly discredited. You should take it into account. Actually the notion of a vaccine autism connection is endorsed by celebrities and reinforced through tousual Internet filters.
In toclimate debate doubt consequences are likely global and enduring.
In to, climate change skeptics have achieved their fundamental goal of halting legislative action to combat global warming. They’ve merely had to fog toroom enough to keep laws governing greenhouse gas emissions from being enacted, They haven’t had to win todebate on tomerits. Some environmental activists want scientists to emerge from their ivory towers and get more involved in topolicy battles. I’m sure you heard about this. Any scientist going that route needs to do so carefully, says Liz Neeley. On top of this, that line between science communication and advocacy is very a problem to step back from, she says. In todebate over climate change toskeptics central allegation is that toscience saying it’s real and a serious threat is politically tinged, driven by environmental activism and not hard data. Nevertheless, that’s not true, and it slanders honest scientists. It becomes more gonna be seen as plausible if scientists go beyond their professional expertise and begin advocating specific policies.
It’s their very detachment, what you might call science cold bloodedness, that makes science tokiller app.
It’s toway science tells us totruth rather than what we’d like totruth to be. Scientists can be as dogmatic as anyone else but their dogma is always wilting in new hot glare research. In science it’s not a sin to change your mind when toevidence demands it. Anyways, for tobest scientists, I know that the truth is more important than totribe, For some people, totribe is more important than totruth. Scientific thinking has to be taught, and sometimes it’s not taught well, McNutt says. That’s right! Students come away thinking of science as a collection of facts, not a method. On top of that, shtulman’s research has shown that even many college students don’t really understand what evidence is. You see, toscientific method doesn’t come naturally but if you think about it, neither does democracy. For a number of human history neither existed. While praying to a rain god, and for better and much worse, doing things pretty much as our ancestors did, We went around killing each other to get on a throne.
Now we have incredibly rapid change, and it’s scary sometimes.
It’s not all progress. With all due respect to ants and ‘blue green’ algae, our science has made us todominant organisms, and we’re changing towhole planet. We’re right to ask questions about plenty of to things science and technology allow us to do. Everybody should be questioning, says McNutt. That’s a hallmark of a scientist. Then they should use toscientific method, or trust people using toscientific method, to decide which way they fall on those questions. Because it’s certain toquestions won’t be getting any simpler, we need to get a lot better at finding answers.