The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.”
If you read my last post, you would have seen me leave off with a link to a proposed March for Science in Washington DC. In the two weeks since, this march has caught wind and turned into a movement, with a planned date of Saturday, April 22nd, otherwise known as Earth Day. The first Earth Day in 1970 was a celebration tied with the government’s changing policies on the Environment and acknowledgement of science.
The opposite is true for this march. Many are concerned about the direction the country is moving in terms of Environmental policy, especially with a climate change denier appointed as head of the EPA and other actions outlined in my previous post. However, this march has much deeper roots than just the environment, as scientists see the current administration as an outright threat to scientific discovery and understanding.
An article posted by the Scientific American just over a month before the election graded the presidential candidates on how they utilized scientific discoveries in their policies. On each of the 20 questions, Donald Trump received the lowest score of the four candidates, showing a complete lack of knowledge surrounding science. Overall, his scores added to a whopping 7 out of 95 possible points (each question rated out of 5, with grades not given for the question about immigration), compared to Clinton’s 64.
One section of this article, discussing policy about Scientific Integrity, notes: “Evidence from science is the surest basis for fair and just public policy.” However, an increasing number of Americans do not trust science as a basis for public policy, or for just about anything. Concerns about growing distrust in science have led to fear in the scientific community.
A commencement speech delivered at Cal Tech and latter printed in The New Yorker highlights the benefits scientific inquiry have had on our society (spoiler alert: there are a lot of them), alongside how individuals are still inclined to mistrust science. It lists examples where this is true, ranging from vaccines causing autism to the reality of climate change. Then, it goes to say that trust is continuing to decrease, as “In 1974, conservatives with college degrees had the highest level of trust in science and the scientific community. Today, they have the lowest.”
This distrust isn’t just along party lines. In fact, certain gaps between Democrats and the scientific community on supporting using animals in research, use of nuclear power, and benefits of GMOs are larger than their Republican counterparts. And again, evidence shows that this distrust in science is growing:
So where does this distrust come from? One study attempted to discover just that, and results showed again that it wasn’t only a divide between the right and the left. The study outlined more specific reasons why individuals fail to trust science, and the results showed biblical literalism and a distrust in the government itself as key factors. Therefore, this issue stems more from culture than from political leaning.
Living in a country that does not trust science is a huge threat to the climate, as denying climate change will not make it any less real. Despite significant evidence that climate change exists and is caused by humans, a climate change denier was elected as President, and his policies will have an effect lasting for generations. Ignoring other scientific proof will cause an abundance of challenges, and many issues could be resolved using science.
There is some hope in ending this distrust. A study that presented participants with the simple fact that, “97% of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening,” resulted in participants acknowledging to a greater extent the consensus among scientists. Additionally, this statement even changed actual beliefs on the existence of climate change and the influence of humans.
Until society begins to trust in science, it’s unlikely that significant and necessary movements to reduce climate change will be made. Hopefully the March for Science can bring some recognition to the important role science should play in public policy. A parallel movement called “314 Action” is directly focusing on getting scientists to run for office so government can actually include experts on scientific matters. A future where all matters of science, and especially climate change, shape the government of our country, might be around the corner.
Scientists Are Planning the Next Big Washington March
The March for Science is Set to Happen on Earth Day
Trump Picks Scott Pruitt, Climate Change Denialist, to Lead E.P.A.
Grading the Presidential Candidates on Science
The Mistrust of Science
Americans’ increasing distrust of science — and not just on climate change
This is where distrust of science really comes from — and it’s not just your politics
How to Combat Distrust of Science
Professor Smith Goes to Washington