Hi everyone, this is Sharon Hill. I’ve spent two months researching the topic of “anti-science” because I’m interested in why people reject science.Also, it’s a timely topic since we can easily find anti-science sentiment in the news today.I’ll discuss the broad ideas on this topic and go into a little detail on types of anti-science, characteristics, and few examples.One overall thread you’ll notice in this discussion is the strength of social factors that play more into the story than the lack of public understanding. Social issues can actively work against and prevent the public uptake of science. So, let’s get started with the obvious beginning.
What does it mean to be “anti-science”?I find a large selection of writers using the term and meaning different things. Some people use it in a broad way – to include pseudoscience and false science or junk science. For this use, writers consider that advocates of false science have rejected the scientific consensus and failed in the process along the way to produce legitimate knowledge. Examples of this are new age beliefs, alternative medicine and supernatural explanations. Alternative science explanation, such as Velikovsky’s ideas about “worlds in collision”, Lysenkoism (a politically based false science) and astrology are called anti-science because they attempt to supplant solid knowledge with false and dangerous beliefs. Moving down the spectrum of anti-science, we have a area where there is active attempts to devalue the process and products of science. There is a purposeful effort made to obscure scientific knowledge. This is the end of the spectrum where I focus – where science is being supplanted by another way of knowing. Examples of this active anti-science is anti-evolution, radical environmentalism, global warming denialists, postmodernists, animal rights extremists, anti-abortion advocates, biotech rejection, HIV denialists and various religious-based efforts relating to birth control and HIV prevention. I’m sure you can think of more than this and I will touch a little on the climate change, environmentalists and creationist examples in a bit. So, there are various ways to reject science – from faking it to actively attempting to discredit it but one can also ignore it. Gerard Holten, in his book Science and antiscience said that anti-sci lumps together too many things that have in common only that they tend to annoy those who consider themselves scientifically enlightened. That description also has merit.
Movements against science are not new. They appear and reappear in waves ever since the enlightenment.Some science historians argue that anti-science movements tend to occur in response to leaps in scientific knowledge. I disagree with that because I believe there are more than one factor always involved. But, it is fair to say that there will always be someone who is against science and what it says about the world. The anti-science feeling may go underground at times and wait for an event that allows the feeling to grow and manifest itself.We can find some hope though in the fact that long term trends of progress and attaining new knowledge overrun any short term trends of backwards slides the humanity has.
In the 2008 annualsurvey of the public by the National Science Board, nearly half of Americans think that science makes our way of life change too fast. No matter what time period or what scientific-based advancement for the public you examine, it seems there is always some group against it – pasteurization, sanitation, anti-smoking, seat belts, modern medicine, pollution prevention measures, computers and modern conveniences. Typically, it’s the industry groups that will argue against such things. And then you have what we call “luddites” which I’ll describe in a moment.People see science as going beyond the boundaries of their own worldview and circle of knowledge. It’s not needed or there is no value in that knowledge. I’ll give some further examples of this but I found this excellent quote printed in the Times of London in the 19th century: “We prefer to take our chances with cholora and the rest than to be bullied into health”. See, someone against everything…
Luddites is a term used in a modern sense to mean those who oppose technology and technological change. It came from a movement in Britain from 1811-1816. The term is used today frequently as “neo-luddites” This descrbes people who shun tech advances from science research particularly into bio technology. People who are against GM foods might be labeled bio-luddites. These people fear the consequences of technology run amok. The extreme version is for those people to abhor technology if it means feeding starving populations in third world countries or using less farmland and resources for food production. Not all feel that they want to stop progress but you can get the sense that they think science is bad. It’s possible that the rise of “natural” and “organic” labels on products is a rejection of science. The reality is, you can’t put the genie back into the bottle. You can’t stop the progress of knowledge and innovation so easily. Yet, they try.
From our perspective as science enthusiasts, it’s hard to imagine how people can be Anti-science because science is the means by which we obtained our modern world. But, there are many who are troubled by aspects of science. This is a fundamental problem since the institutions of science depend on public support & funding. The primary dilemma between science & society are those who see science as dehumanized and lacking morality. Some get the impression that scientists are out to master nature, not just examine it but twist it for their own purposes.In this sense, they see science as gone beyond moral boundaries and is out of control.Many seem to think that scientific discovery of nature means “unweaving the rainbow” – removing all the beauty and mystery.Sadly, much of science literature today is esoteric and too complicated for an average educated person to understand.Science endevors are hugely expensive.Society doesn’t even know exactly what benefits they get from all the investment.One example I found particulary infuriating as a scientist is Sarah Palin’s jeering of fruit fly reasearch. In a speech, she mocked the money spent on research with fruit flies – displaying astounding ignorance of just how useful fruit flies are in genetic studies to develop knowledge about disease and many human conditions. Unfortunatley, I think her ignorance may be reflected by the general public as well.
Those who feel science has those negative qualities have moral reservations about the value of certain avenues of scientific inquiry. Particularly in the last decade, protests about science are often in the terms of moral absolutes – what’s right and what’s wrong – regardless of what knowledge can be obtained. We see these aspects of anti-science color the arguments against stem cell research, cloning, bio tech like genetic modification of food or animals. It’s common to see this referred to as “playing God”. Many think scientists should simply stop research in these areas.
Here are more examples of what society associates with modern science.These examples relate more to some of the sociological backlash I’ll discuss in a minute that have to do with a relativistic notion of science.There are concepts here that are anti-democratic: Science is capitalist – its fueled by industrial and individual interests and not in the interests of the public good.It’s narrow and dogmatic – not open to new views or maverick scientists with sweeping new paradigms. It unfairly excludes these people, marginalizes their work.And, science, as some see it is predominantly Western, masculine and white. This is demonstrably untrue yet is a stereotype that is commonly portrayed in media.
Is the public in favor of science, ignorant of it or fear it? Yes. All are true.Society is increasingly dependent on science and resentful of it.The 2008 National Science Board science indicator survey noted the following:68% of americans say the benefits of sceince strongly outwegh the harm. Only 10% say the harm outweighs the benefits even slightly.Almost 90% say science and technology provide us with more opportunity. Americans express a great deal of confidence in scientists, second only to military leaders.So on one hand, they are positive about science, its producers and its productsOn the other, they fear it, worry about problems and think the scientists are on the take and conspiring against the common good.This dichotomy results in some hypocrisy – people will think it reasonable to take a stand against a scientific issue, say evolution, in effect ejecting the body of knowledge itself and the way it is obtained. Yet, they avail themselves of the products of that knowledge in everyday life. It’s an obvious disconnect.
Let’s examine the factor of science literacy.Or , lack of it. What is taught about science? Typically, Americans – kids and adults are familiar with the end products of science. Well, if we go by what people generally _associate_ with the term scientific, we realize that science is assumed to be clear & precise, unchanging, an authority. That’s not correct, in fact, that is more of the opposite of what science is. According to the popular conception of science, education does a poor or nonexistant job of describing how science is really like. It’s messy and its done by people. We end up with a public that has a distorted view of what science is, what it can achieve and who does it.The idealized version of science that the average nonscientists may have is unrealistic. One can make an argument that this false expection about what science is and how it works can lead to disillusion when its obvious that it fails to meet that expectation. When it comes out in the public that scientists are disagreeing about an issue, or that there are very human mistakes made in scientific research, the public reacts negatively. It’s easy to convince people to devalue science when they have never learned what it really is all about _and_ the limitations. So, a poor foundation in science can leave the public open to those who wish to deconstruct science.Also, I’ll mention, we see that a lack of familiarity about science doesn’t stop people from thinking they need to know about it. It’s an accepted view in American society that you can be basically ignorant about a subject, like a scientific subject, but its still OK to have an opinion about it since everyone is entitled to their own opinion.
Next, religion as a factor in societies anti-science attitude.There are huge volumes of literature on the relationship between science and religion. I’ll be brief here and I’m afraid I’ll oversimplify quite a bit. Long ago, in the time of the intellectual enlightenment, science effectively replaced religion as the dominant way of learning about the world. Science and religion started out OK but as science was able to effectively explain more natural phenomena without invoking supernatural effects, religious beliefs were threatened. The relationship quickly became strained, primarily and initially in the field of astronomy. It’s come to blows ever since.Science and religion do not mix because religious views that invoke the supernatural to explain nature are incompatible with what science tells us about the world. The natural explanations are clearly suitable to supplant the religious ones. Thus, conflict from religious institutions that wish to hold on to their authority.The religious viewpoint has typically been to say that science is spiritually corrosive. The most intense disputes between science and religion have been about the moral implications of topics like evolution, fetal research, transgenic organisms as I spoke about earlier in the slide about off limits research. The important thing to take away from this issue is that when moral principals are at stake, its difficult or impossible to negotiate with the other side. Facts don’t work well beceuase you are asking for someone to give up a very deep-seated set of meanings in their life to accept those facts. They are not willing to do that in most cases. Currently, we still see the evolution debate come up every day but the religious factor comes up in geology, cosmology and public health issues such as AIDS, birth control, sex education, and even medical treatment for children. It’s a fact that in America, at least, religion is more important to the worldview of the average citizen than science is. That’s a powerful and high barrier to overcome.
In our time, science is inevitably politicized. Science costs money, it has power, it becomes political fodder. We can’t keep the politics out of science. We can find many examples of science used as a means to battle about contested values. As I spoke about in the last slide on religion, various proponents of these viewpoints will purposely invoke attacks on science in order to bolster their political POV. In the world of politics, data has only one use – to bolster one’s position. The position comes first, the data enhances it or is denigrated or ignored. Considering the political “right” and “left”: The right sees science and its products as a means to destabilize society. It’s a source or moral decline.The left can be against science because they see the consequences as social and environmental damage, science is power and elitism. I’ll discuss this “Left” attack on science in the next few slides. When it comes to politcal rhetoric, there can be no nuance or complexity. Political attacks on science are easy because of how simple it is to sow confusion and misinformation (even to just make stuff up) than to correct errors or generate and defend new knowledge. It is easy to to blame a company, institution or idea than to grapple with the more complicated truth.
When science became professionalized in the 18th century, there began a split between science and literary intellectuals. The two camps became ever more hostile towards one another. Scientist and writer CP Snow described the breakdown of communication between these two groups in his well known 1959 lecture. The gap was wide. In the academic humanities, a field of study arose called “science studies”.Gerard Holton who wrote the book “Sceince and Antiscience” said “Antithetical forces are gathering outside the laborator in what amounts to an effort to delegitimate science as we know it.”This became wha’t known as the Academic left assault on science or…
The philosophical agenda against science coming from the humanities academics was dangerous because the movement, called the “academic left” since they were liberals, attempted to delegitimize science. Science, they said, was not universal, it was constructed. So, as an example, some feminist philosophers concluded that science would be “different” and I use quotes there, had women been allowed to make major findings.Thinking about this concept, its difficult to imagine that the laws of physics would come out different if a woman had worked them out instead of a man.The concept of new cynicism, as described by one of the better writers about the philosophical anti-science movement, describes how sociologists and philosophers decided the ideals of inquiry and the search for evidence and truth was a mask for power and politics. Science was a myth. There was an interest behind everything in it and truth was not objective.
Postmodernism philosophy.Postmodernism as a concept is difficult to describe but in terms of science, it was represented by the academic left humanists who said that science is just another point of view. Other points of view were just as good and so science should have no special privileges. Science is a social construction. The knowledge derived was a product of the person and the times. As such, it was biased (white, Western, male aspects especially) and exclusionary.Po-mo as the postmodernist movement is colloquially labeled aimed to undermine the foundation of science as reliable and trustworthy. At its core, it represented a mistrust of authority. The critics of po-mo recognized that the science critics failed to understand the scientific endeavor and in their writings, blurred the distinction between science and other ways of knowing.What makes postmodernism ridiculous is the the principles upon which the universe operates are not “constructed” as these philosophers suggest, but discovered and would be the same for anyone doing the discovery.
In the 1990s, the postmodernist, philosophical polemics against science as objective truth merged with a sense of crisis in science funding. Univerisity social scientists allegedly felt antagonism towards the “hard sciences”. Thus, the conflict between the two cultures escalating into what was labeled a “science war”. There were conferences and a landmark collection of essays edited by Gross and Levitt. People took sides, it got national media attention. Sociologists loved it. Physicists and other hard science advocates hated having to defend their work as legitimate.Alan Sokal produced a paper of gobledegook language that got accepted into the Po-mo journal Social Text. He did this to expose the nonsense and it worked, I think. The science wars ended in 90s as well but perhaps didn’t die completely. We see shades of these social constructivist ideas when social conservatives or the religious advocates wish to advance their position over the scientific consensus. They particularly like to use the “bias” card and claim “academic freedom” to permit their views.
Denialism is what spun off from these po-mo views on science and it’s with us today.There are those that will without hesitation, dismiss estalbished knowledge in favor of thin evidence for a contrary view or just a few counter examples. Data doesn’t matter (unless it supports your view and the audience is not likely to check the quality of sources). There is that appeal to fairness. Who doesn’t want to be fair? Right? Sounds reasonable.Creating controversy is a tried and true way to confuse the public and manufacture doubt. Denialists will ignore or disrespect the rules of science because its too hard to play inside them. It’s far too easy, again, to create misinformation and confusion. Denialists are intent on muddying the waters, using rhetoric, anecdotes, and political games to promote their view. Thousands of peer reviewed journals mean nothing.Evolution, Global warming, HIV as the cause of AIDS, the connection b/w vaccines and autism are all modern examples of denialism.
Just to touch on anti-science infiltrating the entire executive branch, we have the example of the Bush adminstration. The Republican War on Science by Chris Mooney describes the distortion and supression of science that occurred during this time period because the results were inconvenient for the Republican ideology of the time. Ideology was clearly selected over expert opinion on topics like: stem cell research, sex education, climate change, endangered species and pollution controls.It was obvious that the intent was to preserve industry interests.Industries often use their own hired gun scientists to establish credibilty for the pro-industry position. The best known example of this was probably the tobacco industry. But, the Bush era “war on science” was trumpeted from mainstream science journals and from government insiders who were frustrated with the hijacking of their work.
Let’s look at three examples that have anti-science aspects all over them.First, creationism. In the beginning, so to speak, the Bible was the authority. Any knowledge gained by science that was antithetical to Biblical interpretation was rejected. But the science kept building up and it was obvious that the bible was not a science book. The primary target has been the origin of man. Anti-evolutionism remains a focus and attacks on evolution in school curriculum continues. But, now, the religious language has been replaced by shades of postmodernist ideas about alternate viewpoints and academic freedom. Anti-evolution is less anti-science than pseudoscience these days with a science façade used to make intelligent design appear scientific. This is interesting because it suggests that science is such an established authority that advocates of creationism have been required to make their ideas look like science in order to be accepted into mainstream discussion. Also, I think creationists willingly accept science findings when they fit into their ideology. But that’s a lot of cherry picking of the data. The political aspects of the modern creationists include promoting free speech and equality over facts. Their primary tool is rhetoric. The public is easily swayed by effective rhetoric. Technical expertise about biology means little when traditional values are at stake. It’s easy to persuade people who already hold the core ideological belief about creation already. They are not open to accept what they deem to be distasteful ideas about origins. An additional factor here is that the American culture is supportive of this alternative to science. It’s also possible that the attitudes towards science overall are influenced by attitudes towards evolution.
There are sections of the environmental movement that are extremely hostile towards science. The radical green movement has the view that science is ultimately bad - contributing to deterioration of the world – pollution, war, weaponry, habitat destruction. Science has failed to give us a better life. The viewpoint is a moral one. When it reaches that point, data doesn’t matter. From a personal aspect, I have seen environmental groups twist data to their purpose. Yet, they fail to look at the larger picture and may make every attempt to delay progress, for example on energy issues, in order to force another option. The delay has actually resulted in more pollution because effective changes could not be made. So, it appears they fail to notice the unintended consequences. An effect of this attitude is the grown of marketing of products with labels such “natural” “organic” or “chemical free” which is sort of nonsense language. The term “bio-luddites” has been used to describe those that reject technology in order to have a simpler life. In reading the propaganda from such groups, one gets the distinct impression that they hold a belief that scientists are tools of industry and government is not to be trusted.
Global climate change denialists are all over the place today, effectively spreading a message that undermines scientific knowledge and the integrity of research and the scientists themselves.The anti-science motivation here is, again, multifaceted. Various factors are playing against or in concert with each other. It’s an “inconvenient truth", if you will, that people are loathe to accept because it means change to our ways of life.It’s also a question about authority, its highly politicized, it involves personal values of one thing over another and perhaps worst of all, it’s extremely hard to understand and follow. The scientific consensus is that anthropogenic global warming is happening. Yet, a large portion of the public feels no qualms about rejecting this for the various reasons I just mentioned. It has finally come to the attention of the science community that they are facing a crisis of public confidence esp in the wake of the so-called climate-gate emails uproar. The public support on the scientists side is eroding. Why? Well, the public sees controversy (which has been deliberately sown), and they don’t understand the human processes in scientific activity so the exposure of some of the very human messiness may be shocking and seem unnatural. The public cry for fairness again in hearing alternate views no matter if they have no basis in reality. They have also been ever so quick to hearken to talk of conspiracy or fear mongering, scientists on the take or otherwise biased to protect their own funding. You can find various qualities of anti-science sentiment by reading the comments on any major climate change news story. You’ll notice extreme polarization of viewpoints and accusations flying left and right. Some appeal to science, others will attack the science or utterly discard it. A very interesting new development is the introduction of state bills that call for the “fair and balanced treatment of global warming as a classroom topic”. Just replace the word evolution with global warming, the motivation is the same, to teach the controversy.
Is the current backlash against scienceabout science? No. Is not simply about science. The public feels science is beyond their comprehension, and it may even be out of control in their view. Yet, the public has said they wish to be involved in these scientific issues. Instead of the science under discussion, it turns out to be value judgements thrown about. The scientific enterprise and community is used as a scapegoat for the helplessness felt by the public to participate in an advanced society. They also are open to suggestions that science (that they can’t understand well) is no longer serving them but other interests.In this situation, an appeal to emotions and values go far and even exceeds the value of data and expertise. It’s a dangerous situation.
This slide sums up other “rejections” the public will address in the same forum.The public has issues with the science establishment. There is power and influence in a scientific consensus and it is disturbing when that consensus makes a pronouncement they don’t like. They are less prone to give up their values than to reject or ignore a nasty fact. There a strong anti-authority component. This is manifest in accusations of conspiracy, bias and unethical behavior by scientists. Anti-intellectualism is a topic in itself which goes beyond science. Yet, there is still a stigma about those who pursue higher knowledge. They aren’t the “common folk” anymore and they are corrupted in some way. The whole backlash against elitism is rampant today bolstered by various political movements and speakers like Sarah Palin who will make fun of learned individuals simply because they are not one of them. The scientists have been cast as the evil “they” in the story, suppressing alternate views, being unfair. A broad distrust of government as a whole worsens the tension around scientific issues. Here is where you see something beyond just “lack of scientific understanding” by the public. There is active ignorance. Science is secondary to other social dimensions such as trust. This lack of trust truly impedes the public uptake of science and feeds anti-science attitudes.
Anti-science, as I noted, is effectively spread through rhetoric, intended to persuade, rather than data and reasoned conclusions. Politics plays a role in molding the story to suit one’s agenda and people can’t tell the science is being manipulated. The media and the internet are especially effective at promoting all sorts of contrarian viewpoints, giving them equal billing or more credit then deserved. The media is excellent at fear mongering and providing an outlet to extreme views simply because they are interesting. Universities are also a player in spreading anti-sci views. It’s still common to find classes in “science studies” where a deep suspicion of science is nurtured. And, with a distorted view of what science is and what it does, the public is prone to radical deconstructing of science.
Many of the authors in my references – scientists, philosophers and science writers – that write about this problem all call for similar solutions. First, education. We are missing the opportunity to teach children what science is really all about. It’s about a process, not an sanitized, perfect process but a messy human interaction with nature. There are calls for curriculum changes to address this. It seems that these types of changes are particularly hard to put in place. Jacob Bronowski said it was the duty of a scientist to explain his work. You must show the value or people will not be willing to support it. There have been several calls for universities to recognize the value of scientists teaching. Teaching, not just research ought to be rewarded. Scientists should speak out against egregious errors and misinterpretation of science or attacks against their work. There is a public perception issue about science being boring and scientists being cold so some positive public relations habits are in order. Talking about science in a passionate way can connect to an emotional and passionate public. Scientists need to stop using impenetrable jargon and be able to communicate with a broad audience. Scientific institutions should adopt a framework that takes into account public interests.
Here is a summary of points that I made in this presentation.And, I admit that this topic was more complicated than I imagined. I also feel that I oversimplified some aspects of it. It definitely is a complex mix of cultural, psychological and value issues mingled with true and mistaken ideas about science.I hope this helps you view anti-science in our society in a more thorough way.Thanks for listening.
Anti-science<br />Public Ignorance, Rejection and Denial<br />
What does it mean to be “anti-science”?<br />Broad range of definitions and meanings in the literature<br />Includes pseudoscience and junk science<br />To be actively against the values and process of science<br />Indifference<br />An umbrella term that means many things.<br />
Anti-science history<br />Not new problem<br />Comes in waves<br />Persistent – rests just under the surface waiting for opportunity<br />Long term trends of progress and knowledge overrun short term trends against it<br />
Resistance to change<br />Fear of reaching beyond comfortable boundaries<br />Refusal to acknowledge an uncomfortable reality<br />Common in all aspects. Examples: new ways of doing things, safety implementation, new knowledge, technology<br />
Luddites<br />Tie between anti-science and neo-Luddism<br />Stop change, stop progress?<br />Forward into the past<br />Fear of consequences<br />
Troubled by modern science<br />Dehumanized, not informed by morality<br />Mastering nature<br />Out of control<br />Removing mystery and transcendent beauty<br />Esoteric, complicated<br />Expensive – what is the benefit?<br />Ignorance of benefits<br />
Troubled by modern science<br />Capitalist<br />Narrow, dogmatic<br />Elitist<br />Western, masculine, white<br />
Dichotomy of the public<br />Positive about the “good” from science<br />Use to solve world problems<br />Trustworthiness of scientists as experts<br />Science is dangerous and causes problems<br />Scientists are industry shills or greedy<br />Conspiracy of experts and government<br />Hypocrisy<br />
Science literacy<br />Lack of…<br />Distorted view of science process, goals, scientists<br />Poor foundation prone to deconstructing<br />
Religion<br />Incompatible with what science tells us about the world<br />Religion more important than science to people’s worldview<br />
Politicism<br />Science as a means to battle about contested values<br />Moral reservations<br />Power and control<br />Use of rhetoric, straw man of science, and the blame game<br />
Science and humanities<br />Two cultures (C.P. Snow)<br />Gap is wide<br />Science studies<br />
Denialism<br />Dismissing established knowledge<br />Unmoved by data & evidence<br />Appeal to fairness<br />Controversy<br />Ignores rules of science <br />
Republican War on Science<br />President Bush<br />Distortion & suppression<br />Industry interest to preserve the status quo<br />Hired guns to contort and manipulate scientific data<br />
Creationism<br />Bible as authority/truth – rejection of knowledge<br />Anti-evolutionism<br />Using science strategically for political gains<br />
Environmental extremism<br />Science has destroyed earth<br />Data not an issue<br />Simpler life, eschew technology<br />
Global climate change<br />Climate skeptics/deniers<br />Confusion/Crisis of public confidence<br />Attacking science and scientists<br />Promotion of controversy<br />Misunderstanding science<br />Difficult to interpret data<br />
Backlash<br />Is it about science?<br />Or about the ability of people to understand and be able to participate in society?<br />Feel science is no longer for the public good but for individual interests.<br />
Against more than “science”<br />Anti-establishment<br />Anti-authority <br />Conspiracy<br />Anti-intellectualism<br />Anti-elitism<br />
Spreading anti-science<br />Rhetoric<br />Media, Internet<br />Universities<br />Distrust of science in one area spreads to another<br />
Countering anti-science<br />Education<br />Outspoken scientists<br />Exposure of anti-science errors and misinformation<br />Positive public relations<br />Vigilance<br />
Conclusion<br />Anti-science is “against science values, community and results”<br />Science illiteracy is a factor<br />Anti-science is only a part of the social rejection of information<br />The public is easily swayed by rhetoric and deliberate deception.<br />Call for more scientists to be active in countering these views<br />What happens when society doesn’t use science-based knowledge to inform their decision? People suffer. (Sherman)<br />
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