Distrust in Science

By: Lena Katz — Guest Correspondent

As of 2009, only 32% of the general population of the US believed that humans came to be through evolution, while 87% of scientists held these views. The American public has become increasingly distrustful of the scientific community and its claims, which only leads to medical ignorance and divisiveness between individuals over matters which can be life or death.

One of the major causes of this distrust of the science community is that the general public of the United States is receiving inadequate science education. In many schools across the country, administration is trying to devalue widely held scientific theories and replace them with religious ideology. According to the National Academies, many teachers are under scrutiny in certain states — parents and policymakers are leaning more towards eliminating the scientific teaching of evolution in the public school curriculum. The public school system is supposed to maintain a separation between church and state; with religious beliefs being implanted in the public school system, not only would schools be indoctrinating a biased view of the world in their students, but they would also be demonizing science. Religious ideology as a replacement for scientific beliefs has possibly been able to gain more footing with the general public. According to The National Science Board’s 2010 “index of factual science knowledge”, Americans answered only 63% of science questions accurately. This statistic, even if does not exactly correlate with religion, is still a startling measure of the true disconnect between the scientific community and the general population. The bottom line is that the American public school system should provide all students with an equal educational playing field, leaving no child with an ignorant view of science or any subject for that matter.

Along with the religious interference in the public school system, with so many differing opinions in this country, and the right to free speech, the spread of misinformation and anti-scientific propaganda through social media and the internet has led a huge portion of Americans to become fearful of science. The internet has become a hotbed for false and misleading information, and the majority of the world has access to it in some form, permitting anyone to call themselves an expert. According to The Royal Society Publishing, the internet and especially social media, allow anyone to communicate any type of information worldwide, with little to no consequence for any false contributions. This free reign when it comes to the internet means that nowadays, a blurred line exists between real experts and “influencers”, or people simply trying to make a quick buck. This reality is terrifying because especially when it comes to scientific information, the truth can get twisted so easily just because a so-called “expert” believes vaccines are harmful. It can be virtually impossible for a person to discover the truth, as opposed to swaths of lies. According to Jason Stewart from The Media Online, the most valuable asset in modern society is a trustworthy media presence — in this age of social media, relevant information is needed more than ever. We have strayed shockingly far from going the extra mile to seek out legitimacy. We will believe nearly anything, so long as it came from a familiar source with some semblance of accuracy.

In the seemingly never-ending fight for genuine scientific gospel to once again be the norm, there are quite a few obstacles that stand in the way. For one, religious institutions have become more politicized than ever and will use absolutely any means to latch onto their sponsors. Scientific theories such as evolution, for example, are controversial issues in many religious communities, and because of the apparent contradictions between the story of biblical creation and evolution, religious communities have isolated themselves from science. Religious figures use this to their advantage to further their political agendas. With these agendas, the fear surrounding science is even more perpetuated. The other major roadblock to achieving success with this particular struggle is the natural human resistance to change — it takes a lot of time for a new idea to become the norm for everyone. It’s not a guarantee that science will ever be taught accurately and accepted everywhere in the country.

Even though the topic is extremely divided in our society, all hope is not lost. The best solution for this problem is to build better communication between the scientific community and the general public. This way, the myth of science being untouchable, sterile, and intimidating can be disputed. This solution has already been implemented by some scientists in Europe. For example, synthetic biologist Nadine Bongaerts has been attempting to bridge the gap between science and society for almost a decade. She founded the company Biotecture in 2011 and the foundation for the Dutch chapter of the Kairos Society, an organization designed to initiate collaboration between students and global leaders with a mission to solve world crises. The ideology behind Biotecture is one that promotes cooperation and a greater partnership between scientists and the rest of the population. Organizations like these are beacons of light in the darkness of modern scientific fear and ignorance. The effort is one that will need years to come to fruition, however, a solution like this organization may be our only hope in the war on scientific justice.

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