Field of Science

In Science We Trust

Referring back to the Speaking Science 2.0 discussion I attended back in October, there was another point raised by PZ Myers I wanted to discuss. PZ, responding to a question I believe, explained that he wanted to educate society into how science works. He wants the general public to understand how we know what we know and how we deal with what we do not know. PZ would not be satisfied with the public simply buying it because scientists said it.

First, I am completely in agreement with this philosophy. Only when the public truly understands how science works can they make rational decisions regarding a variety of topics. For example, gay marriage is a devisive issue in national politics. Can a scientific approach solve it? No, but it can address specific aspects of the issue. Many people are still under the impression that a homosexual lifestyle is a choice similar to choices you make at a fast food restaurant...."Can I take your order?" "Yes, I'll have a cheese burger and large fries with a diet pepsi." For here or to go?" "Here, umm wait a second, make it to go. I think I'll check out that new gay bar." Here's where science can provide some insights. Are there genetic components related to homosexualiaty? Are there developmental (in utrero, psychological, etc) considerations that impact the "decision"? Do gender roles fall into a simply binary function? or is there reason to believe gender roles are better explained as two overlapping curves? In this way, science can add something to the discussion. Science will not affect bigotry, intolerance, or a particular -ism, but it can provide greater understanding to an issue that is generally framed by both sides to a point preventing any discourse.

All that being said, I do not believe this philosophy reflects an attainable goal. I do not believe we can educate the public as a while into how science works. First, people are busy and have other things going on. What I think is important and critical, others find superfluous to paying the bills and enjoying life. Second, science is hard....or at least it isn't easy. You don't always get a firm answer, people dislike grays, they like black and whites. Statistics are misunderstood (misunderestimated by our president).

Thus, I favor an Increased Trust Philosophy. It is immediately sufficient for the public to trust the scientific process. Basically the public does trust science, as evidenced by creationists, politicians, and industrial interests using psciense (it sounds the same but means something different) to bolster their preconceived positions. Much like we trust our pharmacist to accurately fill our prescriptions (unless you're getting birth control or retrovirals, then you might be concerned), our auto mechanics, etc, public trust in scientists would do much to offset some of the problems that have become apparent the last 10-20 years. No it will not necessarily fix a problem, but at least we can have informed rational discussions.
•Smoking is bad for you, yet many smoke. No rational person is smoking without that knowledge, they have made an informed decision.
•Vaccines are good for you, yet many do not vaccinate. Many people have mis-information regarding vaccines and autism, they have made an uninformed decision. In part, because these people do not trust the scientists/doctors, but do trust the charlatans.

So how do we increase trust? Difficult question, more science and the scientific process being explained is important. More head on critique/assault of psiense also good. Playing nice is important, but when assaulted for the forces of ignorance, playing nice is the kiss of death. Framing is a nice tactic, but does not truly deal with the problem. Science vs psience is not like Pepsi vs Coke and a matter of marketing. Its like milk vs a bucket of fermented cow shit, one could kill you.

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