Distrust of Science

I ran into a news item suggesting that at least in paranormal matters, public distrust of science is quite strong. Indeed, in a study done on belief in ESP, people informed that the scientific community was skeptical about ESP ended up more likely to think that ESP was real.

People like me, who are deeply involved in science education, often think that all we have to do is improve scientific literacy (whatever that means), and a better educated population will come to see that trust in science is well-warranted. Then we’ll have fewer people believing in ghosts and psychic powers, creationism, occult conspiracies, anti-vaccination paranoia, climate change denial, Scientology, etc. etc. Some of us extend such hopes to science literacy working against the popularity of religion—or at least the forms of religion that lean heavily on explicit supernatural bullshit rather than obscurantist metaphysical bullshit.

But such hopes themselves might be more faith-based than empirically well-supported. Substantial acquaintance with science is impractical to achieve beyond a small percentage of even a modern population. And inclinations toward supernatural belief are too deeply rooted in the nature of human cognition. If people trust science, it’s in the context of a general trust of established expertise, even perhaps trust of authority. The professional classes do this quite well. But those of us who live lives revolving around trust in expertise have also been more than willing to screw over lots of people in the name of established expertise. If trust in expertise erodes—and it is easy to suspect that now is such a time—a lot of people are not going to distinguish between economists and other modern witch doctors and natural scientists. I wonder if the present wave of distrust of science has a lot to do with a general rising “fuck the ‘experts,’ what do they know anyway?” attitude.

If so, it doesn’t bode well for science-inspired criticism of supernatural beliefs. It might be best to hunker down, pretend that science plays perfectly nice with religion, and hope that religious populism finds more enticing targets than boring people wearing glasses and funny lab coats.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03070613165507806320 Dan

    Interesting blog. Arguments from authority based on expertise are more effective when the expertise is really needed. Until we need the geeks to do our maths homework again by, say, beating the Russians to space or coming up with the solution to some major crisis they will be relegated to the corner of the classroom (apparently global warming is too long-term to be considered a major crisis by many).

    Unfortunately the low-key, incremental stuff that science contributes (the bulk of it) seem to be taken for granted. Or, more accurately that it doesn't force any cognitive dissonance in those that have faith but still get to benefit from it.

    Play nice with religion? Perhaps tactically it might be wise not to get stuck in as I don't know how you could force a showdown anyway. But defend like hell when religion comes knocking.

    As for economics, those cheeky buggers, I don't know what to do. They get the scientific cred and the convenient faith-based situation of having untestable axioms.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11389651479904502758 DM

    the really SHARP END OF OCCAM’S RAZOR…

    they mix SKEPTICISM with ATHEISM…

    KABOOM…
    ___________________

    Now I want you to listen to this little f*cker…

    http://www.ted.com/talks/james_randi.html

    Randi:

    When I see your UGLY FACE I understand why you are an atheist

    ___________________________

    now I want you to watch this video of DELUSION…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SW2zsobxJDU

    with the atheists:

    they start begging when they start dying…

    _____________________

    they PAY THE PRICE FOR ATTACKING THE SUPERNATURAL -

    with their LIVES…

    CRYSTAL NIGHT TONIGHT!

    Atheists,

    but you have NO ANSWER TO DEATH… therefore you FAIL…

    THE DEATH TRAP

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-8-Yxdphsg
    ********

    THE REAL QUESTION:

    DOES ATHEISM HAVE A FUTURE?

    AND THE ANSWER – NO!

    visit:

    http://www.clubconspiracy.com/forum/f30/does-ath-ism-have-future-no-11202.html#post66570

    with the atheists:

    they start begging when they start dying…

    _____________________

    FINAL WARNINGS THIS WEEKEND

    Repent and turn to God or be destroyed…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11389651479904502758 DM

    let me show you the end results of this particular *ONE-DIMENSIONAL SCIENTIFIC MODE*
    of thinking that is called *CRITICAL THINKING*, which is completely divorced from
    any human objectives…

    this style has been perfected by dawkins, pz, randi and the other *NEW ATHEISTS*

    THE BOOBQUAKE – 911!

    hey, atheists don't even BELIEVE IN BOOBIES!!!

    they thought BOOBIES had no effect… WRONG!

    see, I just want to make it clear to the rest of you:

    jen is unable to see that there is a CONFLICT BETWEEN EROS & SCIENCE….

    http://www.blaghag.com/2010/04/in-name-of-science-i-offer-my-boobs.html

    http://www.blaghag.com/2010/04/quick-clarification-about-boobquake.html

    see how we take a term and convert it into its AUTHENTIC POLITICAL DIMENSION – THAT
    OF LIBERATION – not just merely harmless expression…

    they thought BOOBIES had no effect… WRONG!

    Visit for the BOOBQUAKE:

    http://dissidentphilosophy.lifediscussion.net/philosophy-f1/the-boobquake-911-t1310.htm

    how about I believe in WHATEVER I want and you little fuckers have nothing to say!


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