Frustrated in dealing with the public? You are not alone. It may seem to researchers that the public is either stupid or intentionally ignoring evidence but it's not that one-sided, writes Chris Mooney in the Washington Post.
Chris generally doesn't think a lot of the science IQ of Americans (and don't even get him started on Republicans!) but he recognizes something more scientists should (and most do here, thus the whole Science 2.0 thing) - making scientifically smarter people does not mean they will always agree with you.
For example, if you are a string theory advocate, you may not think much of supersymmetry - this may lead you to believe readers here are stupid if there are a lot of articles about quantum field theory and no guest posts by Brian Greene (Brian, we'd love to have you write a guest post, that is just an example of a science disagreement), yet that is not really true. Physics is an exciting field because there are still big mysteries to argue about and we do here - loudly.
Some of non-acceptance of science is political and cultural interest, of course. Chris points out that Republicans who are skeptical of climate change are likely not stupid, but rather putting the political cart before the science horse. I could contend that Republicans are more skeptical by nature, if I wanted to put positive spin on that, while a political pundit who sides with conservatives would say Democrats are sheep who will believe anything they are told if it is framed as helping the environment. Basically, if a Republican had written his article, the framing would have been different, which is the point he is making.
And he's right in doing so. There are a subset, outside science and in, of people who, while intelligent, will rationalize ways to disbelieve what a more neutral person might accept as scientifically valid, and climate change is a good example of that. Skeptics are more likely to be Republicans and it is unlikely the correlation arrow is going the other way, such as that climate change deniers become Republicans.
On nuclear power, it is primarily Democrats who are anti-science, ignoring modern developments in the technology and the overwhelming success in countries that have adapted more nuclear power. The protests and anti-science attitude about nuclear power have resulted in more greenhouse gases produced by the US in the last 20 years, which hasn't helped the environment.
Vaccines are not a political issue but instead a cultural one - as I have pointed out before, both Obama and McCain said the same thing in the 2008 election about the possibility that vaccines cause autism, so it is not political leaning but instead primarily people with kids who have autism looking for any answers that don't involve bad luck and worrying that researchers are hiding incriminating information in return for funding - it's a common thread, the other side is for sale, and the same argument detractors of climate science use, because then you are not anti-science for not accepting something, you are pro-ethics. Simple rationalization.
If you have long felt the same way, you're certainly not wrong in thinking some Americans don't know science (Chris really believes that so I think he sees a different audience than we do but he is a journalist so doesn't always deal with science readers) but you're also not wrong in wondering if fellow scientists don't know much about the public and, most importantly, how to deal with the fundamental issues that concern people in an effective way.
It's good stuff. Give it a read.
The Value Of Listening In Science Outreach
- Michael Shermer, Chris Mooney and Mark Lynas Discuss Science Left Behind
- The Left Is More Anti-Science Than The Right Unless The Right Is More Anti-Science Than The Left
- Maybe Assistant Comment Editors Shouldn't Write About Science
- It's Been A Bad Decade For Union Of Concerned Scientists
- Why Don't You Believe In Global Warming? Making Greener Minds