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The war on science is getting a step higher: we must restore trust in science to save democracy and the future of humanity

Belief in science has turned from the basis of democratic decisions into a political matter. Researchers who have studied the processes are trying to explain how we got to this situation and what needs to be done to stop the phenomenon. If we do not stop the process, we will return to the Middle Ages, explain a number of sociologists who have examined the issue

A crisis of trust in science and democracy. Illustration: depositphotos.com
A crisis of trust in science and democracy. Illustration: depositphotos.com

In many debates on social networks, it seems that this is a deaf conversation. If there used to be scientific evidence, and everything is based on it, then everyone chooses their political views. Now the balance has turned. Worse, there is evidence that the political fragmentation has also brought with it a fragmentation in truth. The side that does not believe in science does not claim it out loud but simply invents its own science. For example, the real Earth and the one depicted in the media and social networks on the right side of the map in the USA (and unfortunately it also spilled over to Israel), are completely different. While the climate crisis attacks us, with the deniers, everything is fine, nothing happened. To this phenomenon sociologists studying the subject attached the name: the war on science.

The violence against scientists and the use of control over government budgets during the Trump era to suppress sections of science, became enormous with the worsening of the Corona epidemic. The truths are simply completely different. It turns out that this was before Corona.

In an interview with the French sociologist Bruno Latour which was published in Science magazine in 2017 He blames criticism of science as the basis for anti-scientific thinking that paved the way for climate change denial in particular. Today, he hopes to help rebuild trust in science.

Here are some interesting quotes from Latour:

"To accept shared facts, you need a shared reality. It should be communicated in the church (synagogues, mosques, etc.), in the schools, in a decent press, peer reviewed. … It's not about post-truth, it's about the fact that large groups of people live in a different world with different realities, where the climate doesn't change.”

"We will have to restore some of the authority of science. Scientists need to win back respect. The solution is to present science as science in action. I agree that it is dangerous, because we are clarifying the uncertainties and disputes."

“It's really quite brilliant. If you don't like the science out there, make your own. Then you can claim 'we need more research' and label the naysayers as a bunch of bigots." 

רand Brett Proctor, a sociologist.

Peter Gleason and Robert Proctor explain in an article on the MIT PRESS website and in their book "Science and the production of ignorance: when the search for knowledge is thwarted, how industry has fueled scientific ignorance. "It's really quite brilliant," says Proctor. "If you don't like the science that's out there, create some of your own, and then you can claim, 'We need more research.' You can label the opponents as a bunch of fanatics." 

In the seminar given by the writer Shawn Otto following the publication of his book "The War on Science" in early 2021, he describes how "millions of Americans believe, despite the evidence, that vaccines cause autism and that cell phones cause brain cancer - and that these things are hidden from the public. Millions of others believe, despite the evidence, that President Trump won re-election, that COVID-19 and climate change are a hoax, and that Trump is engaged in a rallying battle against some kind of Elders of Zion—a sort of top Democratic Party secret society that includes pedophiles. What causes so many people on both sides of the political spectrum to deny science and evidence and wall themselves in tribalism and outlandish conspiracy theories, what threats does this pose, and what can be done to stop it?”

In the seminar, Shawn presents Thomas Jefferson as the basic premise of being based on facts as one of the principles of the democratic system. This method has lasted for 200 years, but in the last 25-30 years we are experiencing denial of science in politics on a large scale.

Ups and downs in the public's attitude towards science

"A hundred years ago, with the great technological inventions that made wealth possible, there was a boom in trust in science. After the atomic bomb on Hiroshima some began to reject science as an anti-moral factor. Interest in science returned with the launch of Sputnik, which started not only a space race but an overall scientific race, which also enabled the allocation of large public budgets for research. Until then, the funding came mainly from donations and the audience had to be excited so that random donors would hear about the research and donate. When the public funds arrived and with them the criticism of the peers - the scientists stopped referring to the general public. Then doubts also began to arise in the public because of the contribution of science to the development of technologies harmful to the environment, as the pioneer of the environmental movement Rachel Carson noticed in connection with DDT. The chemical industries became the accusers and then began the first science denial campaign directed against Carson. In the following decade, progress in the fields of fertility again led to fear of scientific progress, this time it was fueled by conservatives who feared entering God's sphere of activity and moral problems in fertility. Industry people - mainly the fossil fuel industry who opposed the scientific approach to climate change joined religious conservatives who feared the study of the theory of evolution and the developments in the field of fertility, and recently they also joined the anti-vaccination wave. Even before the corona virus, there was a trend of opposition to papilloma vaccines that the conservatives feared might allow sexual liberation by reducing one of the risk factors in sexual permissiveness. On the other side, a belief has developed in the dangers that are hidden from the public eye in scientific developments in drugs, cell phones, vaccines, EMF, water fluoridation, and genetically modified plants even though they have no scientific basis."

"Wherever the people are well informed," wrote Thomas Jefferson, "they will trust their government." Jefferson was a lawyer and a scientist, and like the other founders of the United States, he risked his life to protect the ability of people to govern themselves, relying on scientific knowledge against the authoritarian rule of kings."

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But what happens today, two hundred years later, when science and technology have become so advanced and so powerful that they affect every aspect of life, and at the same time have become so complex that few people understand them - including those we elect to powerful positions? 

Are people still informed enough? 

Denial of the corona virus. Illustration: depositphotos.com
Denial of the corona virus. Illustration: depositphotos.com

In the introduction to his latest book, Otto writes: "Recently, we have seen politicians at the state and national level ignore and deny areas of science that do not suit their political goals in such crucial issues as climate change, genetically modified food, the economy, environmental regulations, electronic cigarettes, alcohol, vaccines, sex education, contraceptives, and a number of critical issues related to the corona epidemic. President Trump's denial of science has led to political obfuscation regarding the acceptance of corona vaccines, causing millions of Americans and millions more around the world to actively reject science and basic public health precautions as part of their political identity. This has cost the United States trillions of dollars in lost economic activity and growth, and unfortunately, many of these science deniers have paid with their lives. M -April 4 to July 17, 2021, 34,972 (92%) of the hospitalizations for COVID-19 and 6,132 (91%) of the deaths related to COVID-19 were in people who were not fully vaccinated. Many people ask at the point of admission if a vaccine will help. " 

"As the most scientifically advanced country, America could have enjoyed knowledge in the best way in the world, and instead it became one of the worst. Initially, hoping to minimize the official numbers of infected Americans, President Trump ignored warnings about the danger of the virus and the need for full transparency and a quick response. His administration failed to implement timely testing, allowing the virus to erupt beyond America's ability to contain it. They failed to scale up the procurement and production of needed medical resources and public health measures, and failed to mobilize an early, evidence-based, coordinated response. They made it worse by pitting states against each other in wars over federal aid, and as the data got worse, they sought to obscure and hide the truth from the public eye."

Without being based on evidence, democracy cannot survive

"The lack of evidence-based leadership has cost America trillions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives. Ignoring scientists, a number of Republican governors and mayors have continued to repeat President Trump's mistakes and have refused to challenge his preconceived notion that the pandemic was an alarmist and a political hoax and an act of excessive authoritarianism, and they have refused to implement scientifically recommended actions immediately. These political decisions to denigrate science and evidence in favor of political solidarity have helped exacerbate the problem, causing unnecessary suffering and death for the citizens of these countries. The emphasis on personal freedom at the expense of facts and personal responsibility contributed to the worsening of the situation and, among other things, resulted in the attempted coup on January 6 by extreme Trump fans in the Capitol, and feeds a dangerous erosion of the social contract according to which evidence underpins democracy as a functioning form of government. Democracy was built on the principles of science as its foundation, and once objective truth dissolves as a reliable concept in society, democracy cannot survive."

"These problems developed even before the epidemic. From 2016 to 2020, the federal government lost more than 1,600 scientists. Half of the scientific leadership positions have been left vacant by the Trump administration, and scientific reports that did not support the president's political views were often changed or canceled. Almost all science related to climate change has been cut or discarded, as has science and policy related to global cross-border challenges that require a collaborative response, including infectious diseases like COVID and other SARS-like viruses. This happened with the support of elected congressional leaders of both parties, but most of them were Republicans. Otto adds.

The birth of the alternative facts

The cover of the book "The War on Science" by Sean Otto.
The cover of the book "The War on Science" by Shawn Otto.

"Just when we need it most, science is increasingly pushed aside by elected leaders in favor of "alternative facts" that fit their ideology better, and adherence to these alternative facts is strictly enforced in today's politics that emphasizes loyalty to party over loyalty to state based on scientific evidence. This is one of the main reasons why those mayors and governors ignored President Biden's views regarding scientific evidence." Otto explains.

"It's not just an American problem, it's a worldwide problem, at all levels of government. This occurs on the political right and the political left, as well as among celebrities who push pseudo-science and journalists who claim that there is no such thing as objectivity, so they must cover "both sides" equally when only one side is supported by evidence, further skewing public sentiment from factual reality. Postmodernist educational programs throughout Western democracies have taught for two generations that all experts and knowledge claims are suspect and truth is relative to one's perspective, so it should not be surprising that the public adopts this misconception."

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"The reliance on scientific evidence has been the basis of democracy since the days of Thomas Jefferson." A group of people with interests has been created - from people in the oil industry through religious conservatives to science skeptics looking for dangers in scientific products such as vaccines. The result: trust in science has turned from an objective matter into a matter of political identity".

Shawn Otto, author of the book "The War on Science".

"But without objective scientific facts, how do you settle disputes in the government? Traditionally, it was by the person with the loudest megaphone, the best sales job or the biggest stick. Ironically, postmodernist teacher and journalist training, designed to inculcate critical thinking, has instead paved the way for a new age of authoritarianism, so it is no surprise that we are seeing a global erosion of democracy.”

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"These many challenges are amplified by social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok, which are largely unregulated and make money by being social viruses – destroying democratic societies through the monetization of disinformation, extremism and conspiracy theories."

"These platforms are in turn used by companies specializing in social disinformation and science denial campaigns aimed at environmental activists in an effort to control the political discourse and the slow regulation of their clients who produce profitable goods despite being proven by science to have negative health or environmental effects. The same goals are repeatedly attacked with a barrage of anti-scientific messages, fueling a growing embrace of authoritarianism and evidence-dismissaling in the Republican Party that goes far beyond Donald Trump.”

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He concludes that the book "The War on Science" reveals where this movement comes from, who are the people and the social and economic factors that drive it, and what we can do to change things before it's too late."

More of the topic in Hayadan:

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14 תגובות

  1. Almost every article here makes me smile and laugh at the same time.
    And the responses - provide me with constant proof that man comes from the amoeba (mainly from the very enlightened seculars).

  2. Those who tattoo science are the philosophers of science.
    See the induction problem.
    Science has no basis or foundation.
    Modern science whose world view that the world is causal denies in this view the existence of a scientist observing the world.
    Consciousness cannot exist in a causal world

  3. It's a shame that the author of the article took a side "by explaining his doctrine"!!!
    From my experience, the "deniers" come with facts and data and the enlightened talk themselves into knowing and sometimes violently silence the opposing opinion (needless to say without data to prove their claim!!!)
    And if they bring data... these are falsified data at best!!!

  4. I think that this phenomenon of "doubting" or critical thinking as they call it here in the article was created, following the new social media, as an expression of the human thirst to know the truth in matters that are beyond his understanding. The most attractive thing about the content of social networks, at least in the eyes of the user, is the lack of censorship .
    The knowledge that what happens on social networks reflects the truth more than the media profit bodies full of economic and political interests. (Whoever checks will see Facebook's monitoring)
    And let's not forget that the thing that is most interesting to a person is what the hell is going on in this world and who is directing the movement and where? That's why conspiracy theories work so well. The question is who benefits from the conspiracy theories?
    A point I liked in the article is the exposure of the taboo on which we need to expand a lot and it is the ironic point in the definition of "world" because within our own world there are so many separate worlds that one person is literally alien to another person.
    I want to believe that the real decision-makers serve the general interest... but this is just as far from my understanding as just someone browsing Facebook in search of the truth.

  5. interesting. I thought the distortion of science (or ignoring it) came from the opposite side to Trump, but let's not argue about that (and both sides may be distorted). What is more interesting is how to base political decisions on scientific data, without turning science into something political?
    It seems that human dynamics put politics above science, and science is a tool in the hands of politics and not the other way around.

  6. Great, I've been reading here for years and see that progress has been implanted here as well, taking ownership of science is one thing, but associating it with a (enlightened) political agenda is art on a different level, sorry according to my thesis you have no place in science

  7. When will the evolutionary stage come when we will get rid of inventions that were as good as God for their time, and not continue to carry them around when they are no longer relevant?
    And why is the global left afraid to say out loud the word: "atheism" and try to openly promote it in any way?

  8. An important and sad article,
    Too bad there is a mistake in the nomenclature,
    Because as soon as you "believe" in science, it changes
    From a database, facts and conclusions to "faith"
    And indeed "faith" as it is called,
    No need for proof, no need to present facts,
    It is enough to believe, which turns "science" into faith,
    The wrong terminology gives charlatans a tool
    for strange claims.
    Therefore it was appropriate to use a different nomenclature
    such as knowledge or understanding,

  9. It seems that this is not a scientist but a person who thinks that science is a religion.
    In order for the public to believe in the scientific method, the scientists need to be more humble and well aware of the limitations of science and above all - the limitations of the scientists.

    This is the case, for example, in the farce of climate change science, which includes the silencing of scientists with an opposing opinion, disdain for opposing opinions and an immediate rush after unproven and even disproved theories.
    The public is not stupid, it smells even when scientists are lying to it.
    For example, in the farce of the corona vaccine, instead of giving the information, promoting appropriate research and promoting transparency, they engage in silencing, concealment and an attempt to create mandatory vaccinations.

    Anyone who thinks that science is the light and darkness of human society acknowledges the limitations of the scientific method and therefore is not really a scientist - he is an ultra-Orthodox in the religion of science.

  10. There is a problem of denying science, of that there is no doubt.
    But the bigger problem is the denial of morality. The main evil grows from here. At this point, it should be recognized that part of the moral problem stems, paradoxically, from materialistic scientific fanaticism, which is so characteristic of "believers" in science. If there is no truth value other than material truth, then there is no validity to true morality, as distinct from a mechanism of interest games. When you "believe" in science (and the article was definitely written from this position), in the sense that it is supposed to dictate your entire spiritual world and moral values, and do not consider science as an intelligent tool for the study of material phenomena and not beyond that, in the end, and after certain cultural processes, the result that emerges is The destruction of morality and the destruction of humanity in the overall sense - as a civilization and as an ecological environment.

  11. When there are invited studies, when the centenarian is the study owner. When the university does not allow you to receive an external scholarship for research if you do not receive a large share of the scholarship. Indeed, trust in science is declining. Science has beautiful achievements, but whoever mixes exact science with theoretical science invented from the stomach and treats both types with religious faith in science is the one who destroys trust in science.

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