Why does it seem like nobody trusts science any more?

I feel very lucky to deal with real scientists and engineers every week who are advancing science and advancing technology. These guys are running experiments, analyzing the data from those experiments and coming up with some really cool shit every year. As a former scientist myself I get the scientific method (that most of us should have learned in about grade three) but why is it when it comes to debating so many topics that the real science gets put on the back burner?

From immunization to LNG to climate change (all quite contentious topics in my neck of the woods these days) it seems that the debate usually ends up being between marketing “experts or economists” and emotional “zealots or environmentalists” who are armed with “facts” and are standing on their soap boxes trying to shout louder than their counterpart. In most cases, I suspect that both sides know very little about the actual technology behind what they’re debating and because of this they just shout louder. Unfortunately, the debates all too often can turn into bullying or defamation and very quickly deviate from the actual issues or real science.

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If you don’t understand, maybe try listening first

Many times when we don’t understand something, but we have an opinion on them, we’d rather yell than listen. I’m guilty of this too, just ask my wife, but the thing with science, however, is that science is science. Once published in a reputable location that is peer reviewed by the scientific community, science should become fact, but unfortunately that is not always the case.w

Now I get it that the scientific community doesn’t always communicate things in a way that the “average” person can understand, especially when 50% of people rarely read above a grade 8 level. So this can muddy things.

Similarly, when dealing with statistics in science, it is possible to play with numbers to skew the results of the data collection in one way or another, especially when limited data collection and research has been performed. For example, taking an air sample next to the exhaust pipe of your car for 10 minutes while the engine was turned on might suggest that the air quality in your city is atrocious. Or, taking a water sample in the middle of the ocean to suggest that the cooling of your LNG facility won’t affect the local fish population in your community is just as atrocious. These examples are the types of science that are NOT published in peer reviewed locations.

When real science is performed, you typically have a hypothesis and you either prove it or disprove it. You attempt to collect ALL the data that might have an affect on your hypothesis and then analyze the results to see whether or not your hypothesis was correct. This is the type of science that IS published in peer reviewed locations. Real science takes a long time to perform. It takes real experiments, lengthy data collection, in depth analysis and thoughtful conclusions. Finally, the results and conclusions should be repeatable by another scientist with the same data and ideally new data.

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Real science is hard to do and hard to understand

Science is hard work, which is probably why most people will not do it. Science can not be published in 140 characters and nor explained with emoticons which is why most people will not read it. We want to know everything now, we want to know everything immediately, but science doesn’t work that way. Science takes time, it takes patience. Maybe that’s why we’d rather trust Jenny McCarthy  versus the Canadian Immunization Research Network or why we’d rather trust Al Gore versus Dr. Steven Bryant. Is this why we don’t trust science any more? Is it because Jenny or Al have the biggest soap box or the loudest voice? Is it because the real scientists could care less what these “celebrities” have to say?

So my question once again, is why does it seem like nobody trusts science any more?

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2 Responses to Science vs “Science”

  1. Nicki says:

    I recommend reading some of the work of Ben Goldare. You’ll find it entertaining, if not a little bit disturbing.

  2. Sean Verret says:

    One of my favorites Nicki!