Are Scientists Finally Engaging with and Educating the Public?
I’m excited to see the March for Science and believe it’s a good start on what I hope will be a successful defense against executive and legislative branches full of anti-science ideologues. According to the March for Science website:
“This is just the beginning. We are building an organization centered on informed advocacy, community building, and accessible education. We’ll work with Satellites and partners to create new programs and scale existing programs aimed at improving the relationship between science and society.”
As someone who’s watched the decade-plus long war on science, I finally feel a glimmer of optimism for the future of science in this country. One thing that’s always irked me is the scientific community’s overall unwillingness to engage and combat the falsehoods that are commonly spread. There have exceptions of course, but again, they’ve been exceptions. I will take this time to thank people like Bill Nye, Neil Degrasse Tyson, Phil Plait, Greg Laden, Richard Dawkins and a few others.
The bulk of academia however, have refused to engage and refute misinformation. So agenda-driven politicians and pundits have spread false facts that allegedly disprove climate change, and fake news sites spread these throughout the information sphere, and have been largely unopposed in the process. Tens of millions of people get their confirmation bias fix and spread this information on social media. These people are given cherry-picked data and never learn how climate measurements are taken (nor how many indicators have been taken into account) and never understand the importance of the peer review process.
It hasn’t been enough to simply express disappointment and fear that Trumps’ new head of EPA had sued the agency numerous times. There are tens of millions of people who think suing the EPA is a good idea and believe that it’s just more bloated government burdening American businesses. What’s needed is a explanation of what it’s like in countries with no EPA.
When a new false claim is made, based on cherry-picked dates for a single measurement type, we should take the time to explain that climate change data is based on the aggregate of various measurements, and over a long period of time. While we’re at it, let’s explain the peer review process and why it’s important. Maybe explain the difference between magazines like Scientific American and Newsweek (science deniers often straw man the science community by citing what journalists write in popular magazine, which is often not reflective of the science community).
Our best bet for fighting the war on science is to have a scientifically-literate American public engaging with these falsehoods and exposing the science deniers, as well as engaging their representatives. Science deniers are winning the war of ideas because they are engaging everyday audiences and providing them with false knowledge. The scientific community’s general lack of engagement is then taken as further confirmation that climate change is nonsense and that the EPA is just part of some globalist scheme. This has allowed for a misinformed public to fall prey to people like Alex Jones.
My suggestion to everyday scientists: Create your own platforms and get the word out. Perhaps begin blogging somewhere like Medium or Wordpress and create a Facebook page and Twitter profile so you can share your posts. When misinformation spreads, use your voice to counter it. You can stay within your field of expertise and simply link to the places where other scientists are posting on their field of expertise. Perhaps this new push will include this idea or something even more effective.
At the end of the day, if we want to counter the billions of dollars of anti-science lobbying power, we need an informed public that knows and understands science and WHY certain programs are important. We need the public to hold their representatives’ feet to the fire and to do so in large numbers.