Too often we see the "anti-science" label being tossed around and invariably we get behind our respective barricades and prepare for the barrage of arguments thrown at each side.

However, the question we should be asking is why a different point of view should automatically be considered "anti-science".  After all, how is "anti-science" even manifest?  Is it simply the denial of facts?  Is it simply the denial of research?

I suppose that any of those might be sufficient to consider someone anti-science, yet for people to have an opposing opinion, doesn't it suggest that exactly the opposite has occurred?  That they have facts and research.  They simply don't agree with each other.

This gets us to the crux of the problem.  In truth, it isn't that people aren't being scientific.  Unfortunately all too often it's because they are being scientific that they can be lead astray.  This is because there are enough organizations [and scientists] that have no problem making arguments from authority to support their particular position, regardless of how flawed those positions may be.  There is literally no end to the "facts" that are simply made up, or the stories that are deliberately misleading.  

These positions are invariably related to public policies that one group or another would like to see introduced.  Whether it be for economic gain or political power, the point is that the "facts" are carefully selected to promote the legitimacy of the particular platform being promoted.

When this is coupled with most people's natural tendency to distrust authority [whether it be government or corporate], we have all the makings of grand conspiracy theories.

Again, the same problem occurs when policy-makers get involved because they feel compelled to "market" their objectives, so instead of being truthful, they will engage in marketing to sell their point of view.  This garners further distrust because we see them also being liberal with the "facts" and promoting stories that are misleading rather than informative.

Ironically this actually produces some useful ways to navigate the flood of misinformation that we are all exposed to.  In the first place, we can easily assume that if we are reading anything other than an original research paper (1), it is likely going to be biased, and probably contain some things which are correct and some that are incorrect.  Even if this is just a matter of interpretation, the point is that neither side is to be believed as having unconstrained credibility.

So, from here one can examine things that both sides may be saying and often will discover that they both actually agree.  The difference is simply in how they interpret the results [or in what data might be missing].  So, one group may claim that "A" is bad because "x" occurs, while the other group may say that this is true, except that "B" counteracts the badness of "A", so simply because "x" occurs doesn't really matter because "y" is better for you anyway.

Sound confusing?  Yep ... and there's lots more of that to come.  So, what can you do?  

In truth, the best solution is to always go with your instincts on what you want to make an informed decision (2).  Need more data, then ask for it.  If someone is reluctant to provide it, then it creates room for distrust.  Perhaps it can't be provided, or simply doesn't exist.  We do have to recognize that the world isn't simply a large database, so it's entirely possible that there are some things that are just unknown.  That doesn't make the science bad or suspect.  It just makes it unknown.  Therefore, ANY side that is making promises or predictions based on that data is being disingenuous.

In general, it is important to recognize that most of these conflicts are related to public policy, and the deployment of technology.  They have little to do with the science, and everything to do with the marketing of interested parties.  

As a recent barrage of comments regarding GMO foods illustrates, the problem isn't that one side is scientific while the other is not.  The problem is that both sides can't agree on the "facts".  They are both being scientific, but reaching different conclusions based on their understanding or interpretation of the "facts".  However, the real irony in that debate, is that both sides agree on the science.  I haven't read a single comment that argues that the science [i.e. genetics] is wrong, that the biology is mistaken, or that any particular theory is incorrect.  It's the deployment of the technology and public policy decisions that they actually disagree about.  In other words, it isn't anti-science, it's politics as usual.


(1)  I'm not suggesting that research papers can't be biased or wrong, but usually they tend to focus on a specific topic and it's easier to determine whether they are saying something relevant, or subject to alternative interpretations.  Usually the problem is not the research paper, but those that would interpret that paper to gain more leverage than is warranted.  

(2)  That doesn't mean you'll be right.  You could end up being a nut job, but I've always firmly believed that we should never do something simply because someone else tells us to.  Therefore, if you aren't convinced, then do whatever it takes to get convinced.