Although there is a large population who agrees that vaccines don’t cause autism, there may be a few on the fence or believe that it does. I’m not going to spend so much time talking about why vaccines don’t cause autism, but here is a link if you are interested. No, instead I am going to discuss the two extremes on scientific opinion and the danger with each.
Skepticism implies Falsehood
There is a general consensus among many individuals in my family, and people I’ve met who will refuse evidence endlessly because of remote possibilities of bias or falsification of data. Has it happened that data has been wrong? Yes. On the scale of something such as vaccines or climate change? No. This doesn’t mean it isn’t possible, just that from our viewpoint the likelihood of such an event is so astronomically low that there is such discrepancy from independent sources on this data. It isn’t like there is an even split, and to consider that helps people like vaccines can be refuted by ONE party and gain such traction is a testament to how much bias there is out there. But even if you are still skeptical, do you know how dangerous it is to distrust science and hurt publics opinion of science? Even if there is bias in a few large facts, to disregard science as a whole can be the difference between having the proper medicine or not in time for a person with an illness. It is dangerous to disregard science as a whole on the falsification of a few.
Despite seeming like a direct opposite of the above, this can easily lead to skepticism, and maybe denouncement of science. While, I just warned of the dangers of skepticism, that doesn’t mean that what one reads in science magazine is necessarily always true. This is a huge problem, as peer review is really the only measure in place to ensure good research. The problem isn’t that the scientific community is filled with self-interested individuals doing sketchy research, it’s that we are really bad at making small logical errors in our work. Sometimes we catch these errors, other times they are hidden. It is very difficult to always catch these errors, however, usually there will be intense backlash if something is wrong in a respected journal. We can’t believe everything we hear in science, and this problem is amplified when learning science via scientific news. If you are an expert in something and ever saw a news article detailing it, there is an incredibly high chance what will be said is wrong, even if almost true. One needs to take science news with that same grain of salt.
A much more concerning issue is that of publication pressure. As the Globe and Mail puts it “fabricated papers in medical journals with fake peer reviews written by fabricated specialists.” https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/chinas-problem-with-fake-research-papers/article35937439/
One needs to consider; how did the problem get so bad? The answer is funding. Funding follows publication and so the more you publish, the more funding you get, while we do have fairly severe repercussions for such actions, the problem is that small fabrications of data can be very hard to catch, and the issue is that other papers may reference what is found in an earlier paper, which could have false data. This compounding problem can waste a lot of time, and this is the true danger of false data, as bad as it may be for your findings, it could be worse for somebody else’s findings. So be questioning, not skeptical, always double check your work, and what you base your research on.