Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

Science and the Issue of Trust

Many messages emanating from the world of science are entirely bogus.


After eight years in which my focus has been mostly on climate matters, I’ve lately pulled back the lens to take another look at science’s bigger picture. In this respect, a 2001 book by Daniel S. Greenberg, a journalist who spent more than 40 years covering US science, is an eye-opener.

It provides mountains of evidence that the leaders, advocates, spokespeople, lobbyists, and public relations personnel of the science world have long promoted narratives that are fundamentally incorrect.

It’s true, for example, that much of the public knows little about science. But that hasn’t prevented science from being generously funded. Gushers of money have been allocated to scientific research decade after decade. Support for such funding amongst the public, as well as on the part of politicians from both major political parties, has been beyond enthusiastic.

Nevertheless, entire organizations and numerous careers are devoted to maligning the public that funds scientific salaries, equipment, and facilities – and to issuing hyperbolic warnings that unless this same public’s medieval ignorance is addressed, the future of science is threatened. To quote Greenberg:

the assumed connection between public understanding of science and public support of science does not stand up to examination…the delusional association pervades the politics of science and generates voodoo assertions, questionable behavior, and career opportunities.

…many dangers are attributed to deficiencies in the public’s understanding of science. Science, democracy, and prosperity are said to be at risk, though, mysteriously, all have spread robustly despite the dearth of public understanding. (page 206)

The public-needs-to-be-educated movement has its own peer-reviewed scholarly journal. Titled Public Understanding of Science, the acronym really is PUS. To give credit where it’s due, its full contents appear to be freely available online rather than behind a paywall. The latest post on the PUS blog, however, provides no evidence of sophisticated analysis.

Titled “Real science at Sundance film festival collides with science deniers,” it’s authored by Jo Ann M. Valenti, PhD, and contains numerous comments that assume readers must all share her social justice/left-wing analysis on everything from Donald Trump to oil pipelines to Planned Parenthood. And don’t get me started about her garbled, fake news account of what occurred with the Environmental Protection Agency’s website during the transition period from one president to another (see my earlier post here).

Science markets itself as a guide to the truth. In reality, this is a community comprised of human beings. Like the rest of thus, those human beings are often profoundly mistaken about a wide range of topics.



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This entry was posted on February 15, 2017 by in ethical & philosophical, historical perspective, quotations and tagged , , .
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