The editors of Britain’s New Scientist have frequently dealt with the productivity deficit of their approved ideas by spitting at the “anti-science” US.
Which, it turns out, does not collectively care.
That’s just a measure of the great gulf fixed between people who rattle on, Oxbridge style, about whether we are living in a giant sim and people who venture into real live outer space.
In “Spin or Sin?”, Creation-Evolution Headlines unpacks (November 01, 2011) a bit of the underlying mentality, as represented by the NS‘s US bureau chief Peter Aldhous:
The bulk of his article was how to communicate the truth of science to the masses. For this, he reluctantly had to reach into the “soft sciences” for help: how to “frame” the evidence from the scientific consensus for the anti-science elements in the population (“framing” is roughly equivalent to “spinning,” but with a more dignified touch of classical rhetoric to it). To set up the argument, Aldhous began his article with the counter-intuitive idea that more information can actually harden people’s biases. He told how John Holdren thought he would convince congressional Republicans of the truth of global warming by coming to “explain very clearly what we know and how we know it”. Result: it only inflamed their skepticism.
For researchers who study how people form their opinions, and how we are influenced by the messages we receive, it was all too predictable. Holdren’s prescription was a classic example of the “deficit model” of science communication, which assumes that mistrust of unwelcome scientific findings stems from a lack of knowledge. Ergo, if you provide more facts, scepticism should melt away. This approach appeals to people trained to treat evidence as the ultimate arbiter of truth. The problem is that in many cases, it just doesn’t work.
Facts and evidence don’t help? One can’t help, when reading such screeds, getting the uncomfortable feeling that what they really want is a government that just cracks dissenters’ heads and declares what the evidence is. To finally replace science (always full of uncertainties*) with “science,” which is whatever they say it is and beyond contradiction. Or, as some say, “incontrovertible.”
Consistent with his scientism, Aldhous did not consider the possibility that the scientific consensus is wrong, and failed to reaffirm skepticism as a good thing in science. Instead, he turned reluctantly to the “dark art of spin”: how to “frame” the truth of science (particularly, climate change and evolution) to the doubters, both in Congress and in segments of the public that are not yet “pro-science.” Not that he believes that the “US is in the thrall of a coherent anti-science movement” – he quotes a Yale professor who praises America’s scientific record, “You can’t find a society that’s more pro-science” …
In the end, in order to stay in contact with reality, Aldhous has to admit the truth.
Which is wise. Some day his life may depend on American medical research. Maybe his doctor will be a woman who doubts Darwin (as many doctors do).
* Not so many uncertainties that one can’t make a morally justifiable decision. But always enough to leave the door open.
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