Scientific American: What is “anti-science”?

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Source: Science

Being “anti-science” does not mean that denying the benefits of scientific research or the validity of scientific methods. We can’t do anything but feel helpless or ruined to see Trump’s government’s recent policy changes in science (e.g. cut of EPA and NASA budget, anti-vaccine stance, downplaying of climate change). People in United States started a March for Science movement to “call for science that upholds the common good and for policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest.

In light of such sentiment, we can’t emphasis enough the importance of upholding the integrity and value of scientific research, especially when it comes to policy making process which affects the lives of millions. We need, however, to revisit the definition of “anti-science”.

As highlighted in a recent Scientific American article, the attitudes towards science cannot be divided clearly to two opposing sides “pro-” and “anti-science”. Human behaviour is more nuanced. It is more appropriate to address anti-science as denial of certain scientific issues. One that agrees with vaccination may deny the evidences of climate change. Psychologists call it motivated biased, which means we treat facts to reinforce our beliefs instead of convincing ourselves the otherwise is true. In short, we like to twist facts.

As the information is getting more accessible and easily retrieved and shared, people are likely susceptible to form “echo chamber”, be it on Facebook, Twitter or other social media. We seek out information that supports ourselves, and refuse or outright deny evidences that oppose to our beliefs. As called “motivated reasoning“, we are all tribal creatures.

Another interesting point brought up by the article is that people do not deny the scientific facts themselves, but the implication of solutions to the problems unsurfaced by the facts. Let’s say climate change. If the climate change is true, the implied solutions are to reduce the reliance on fossil fuel, to cut down the consumption of diary products and to invest in renewable energy industry. When confronted with a change of habit, human are very unlikely to change. It is called solution aversion.

So for us who wants to make a change, please keep an open mind. Understand the different backgrounds of the audience, and try to motivate them from the root cause.