dirks2_David L. RyanThe Boston Globe via Getty Images_science David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Rebuilding Trust in Science

Scientists and their advocates must do more than simply improve how they explain scientific issues to the public. A broader set of stakeholders must be given a voice in debates about the social, cultural, political, and ethical implications of new discoveries.

NEW YORK – From the growing presence of artificial intelligence in our daily lives to novel medical therapies, progress in science and technology affects us all – mostly in positive ways. But the pace of change brought by science can lead to bewilderment and fear, especially among those who have little familiarity with the culture of scientific research.

Scientific discovery is a complex process that often involves years of trial and error, as well as debates about statistical significance, causality, and other technical matters. It is this complexity that partly explains why science is not better understood by more individuals; it also partly explains why skepticism of science exploded to new heights.

Consider the conspiracy theories and anti-vaccine disinformation that proliferated during the COVID-19 pandemic. True, such developments also reflect growing distrust of government and institutions and acute political polarization in many countries. But these problems feed on the meaty scientific skepticism and misapprehension that arise (especially) during what are arguably black swan events like COVID-19. Even trying to ascertain the degree of the dynamic is fraught, with firm measures hard to come by and not clearly correlating to vaccine or climate-change skepticism. A recent report from the Pew Research Center reveals that only 29% of adults in the US say they have a great deal of confidence in medical scientists to act in the best interests of the public, down from 40% towards the end of 2020.

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