Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Denialism: The Integrity of Science is at Stake

I started this blog post by tearing a page out of George Orwell's "1984" for a reason. In his book, he depicts a dystopia in which the "Ministry of Truth" revises historical records and data in order to render the society incapable of making informed decisions based upon the truth [1]. As scientists, isn't it our duty to simply portray the truth based on research and empirical evidence? And yet this data is often undermined by public opinion and misinformation portrayed by the media. In the podcast by Michael Specter we listened to, he says that he doesn't even mention evolution in his book because he believes there is enough evidence supporting it that few people should doubt this theory. However, many do. Another crippling example of the anti-science movement is the impact it has had on vaccination campaigns. Many people, even to this day, believe that vaccinating their children children against diseases can cause more harm than good.
How do we as scientists combat this plague of denialism? Like any fight, it pays to know your opponent, and not to underestimate them. Just because a because a person's logic isn't entirely sound doesn't mean that they're any less smart than a scientist. My suggestion would be to find out the root their anti-science beliefs come from, and then support the scientific data on the topic in layman's terms. After all, the purpose of science is to promote knowledge. If science is misunderstood or becomes corrupted by popular opinion, the result is no longer knowledge but partial truths and propaganda. I think the most important thing to remember when combating denialism is to start small. The biggest impact will come from a collaborative effort among scientists to spread the truth to the masses in terms that anyone is capable of comprehending.

[1]Orwell, George. 1984. London: Secker and Warburg, 1949

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