The public has a strange relationship with science. On the one hand, scientists have been among the most trusted figures in American society, and the same is true in many other countries. On the other hand, there is widespread distrust of many of the findings of scientists. Perennial issues of public distrust such as development and climate change have been implicated in several conspiracy theories about the recent COVID pandemic – even as the size of the Earth has become an issue.
How do we explain the vast gap between what the public thinks about scientists and what they think about the conclusions scientists draw? And who do we blame for this difference? People have pointed fingers at scientists, at the public and at the journalists who act as mediators between the two.
This week’s Wisdom takes a break from exploring the mysteries of the universe and instead focuses on the mystery of what goes on inside our minds as they build beliefs through interactions with the society we’ve created. Huh.
Those interactions are incredibly complex, and there isn’t a single, simple problem that explains the evolution of false beliefs. As host Paul Sutter talks to various scientists and science communicators (including several Ars science writers), he bumps into a wide range of questions. What affects whether the public accepts scientific discovery? Does refusing to accept scientific evidence represent an anti-science attitude? Can better communication of science help avoid these problems?
As you might expect, there are no easy answers, and the people Paul talks with have different issues that focus on them. Also, the lack of an answer doesn’t mean we have no idea about what we could have done differently. Many have ideas about what might work to bring science evidence and public beliefs into better alignment.