Science Denial

Now I finished “Science Denial” by Gale M. Sinatra and Barbara K. Hofer. Their answer to the wicked problem of “What to Do About It” focuses on educating people about how science works.

In particular, that scientists are fallible and “there is no single method that leads to some objective truth.” (p. 5), but rather, it is the collective effort that plays its role in vetting claims and reaching the scientific consensus.

This is, IMHO, a very different picture from the one that makes science so attractive for some, and misleads others: the certainty about true or false, right or wrong, which can be used as a replacement for religion (for those who feel that religion seems too old-fashioned but who still crave for being a sheep following a shepherd), and which can be used as a banner to follow like a sports fan club (who is certain that their team will win and hence they are on the right side of history).

While this complacent arrogant image might have put off the deniers, they also fell prey to the underlying binary thinking, just with the added thrill of being on the opposite side of, and feeling even smarter than, the mainstream. While every dumb database ‘knows’ that there are three possible values — true, false, and ‘NULL’ ( = don’t know, yet) — they equal unproved with disproved (much like simple-minded ‘myth-busters’ do, BTW).

Sinatra and Hofer give plenty of useful advice to science communicators, for example “‘Both sides’ is for opinions, not science” (p. 176). IMHO, these tips are more promising than expecting that individuals are “adopting a scientific attitude” (p. 8), evaluating complex information, or “Monitor your own cognitive biases.” (p. 165) and “Know the role of your emotions.” (p. 167).

But what I think is very necessary, is that many experts themselves do not reinforce the impression of certainty and complacency. In particular, it is dangerous if they do so in a neighbor discipline which the layman cannot really distinguish. I, for example, could not sufficiently keep apart the scopes of Virology, Immunology, and Epidemiology, when the pandemic started.

Book cover "Gale M. Sinatra and Barbara K. Hofer: Science Denial. Why it happens and what to do about it."
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