The Science Break-Up

We are approaching the end of another week. Yet another week where those who are actually quite keen on science could be forgiven for getting a little disillusioned at the unmitigated rubbish being mounted on walls as posters to support unscientific propagandists on a bunch of different subjects. Just this week there’s been rallies against wind turbines, partly on the basis that they are responsible for every medical symptom listed in Harrison’s Internal Medicine, anti-vaxxers likening doctors to terrorists, politicians suggesting a public review process on the evidence for fluoride in water and folks promoting pseudoscientific sexcereal (and no, I’m not putting many links in because there’s a balance to covering stuff and providing too much oxygen to these particular organisms). On top of the now constant hum of people still disputing the consensus on anthropogenic climate change, it’s enough to make a person go a little bit Hulk (although I’d probably only be able to unleash my muscled up rage on a crisp bit of celery, given the state of weakness I start at).

It’s easy to get frustrated with those who pretty much choose to selectively disregard everything science has to contribute on a topic to support a flawed paradigm. Particularly as sometimes that paradigm can impose real risks to others. There’s part of me that just wants to say:

“Look, if you’re planning to break up with science over vaccination/climate change/wind turbines, then it’s only fair to make a clean break. So science would like its stuff back. You know, all that stuff it has given you. Please hand back your mobile phone. Actually, you should really just hand back all means of telecommunication. It would be a little awkward for you to keep using that stuff. You can keep interacting with gravity though. I’ll have to get back to you about fire. The whole thing could be a bit awkward of course. Now that you’ve made the break, science expects you’ll take up with all sorts. Like homeopathy. Anyway, science already knows it’s not them, it’s you.”

I want to just point out all the good stuff out there debunking some myths, like this on vaccination. Or maybe some of these explanations around climate science (that one from @drkarl). Or I could point to the words of that well known tree-hugging unicorn apologist, the head of the World Bank (that one via @bencubby), who has not only said everyone should get on with addressing it, but suggested that disputing the evidence was to deny science itself. The evidence I could point to on all these fronts would be everywhere. To point it all out though would be unhelpful (although my moral superiority would get a good feed).

While some of the people stoking these fears and spreading misinformation aren’t covered by the next statement, the majority of people questioning the science are probably just good people with worries and fears. Most people at some point will look for information on a topic, and if they’ve landed on the side of those denying the science, then isn’t it possible that the real issue is that the window to communicate the science effectively has been missed? Maybe the problem is that the “crazy zealots” are actually being pretty effective at communication.

Maybe there wasn’t enough out there. Maybe people don’t like how those doing the science bit are engaging. What is undeniable is that those promoting the other side of the equation are sometimes effective. As covered most eloquently by Will J Grant here, the “Stop these Things” campaign demonstrates that these campaigns are not to be underestimated. So if the goal is to win hearts then minds, maybe those communicating on the science front need to double their efforts. It’s all too easy to see things from your side if you’re out there banging the drum, but maybe it’s more important to consider what other influences are striving to reach the person you’re trying to persuade (this idea has been much more elegantly explained and visualised by Heather Bray here).

So if I’m going to be someone who supports science and the evidence that’s out there, it’s important to reconsider what I could do better. Maybe in this break-up it’s more about me, than them.


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