Why Have Scientific Facts Become Easy To Deny In 2019?

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Why have scientific facts become easy to deny in 2019? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Robert Crease, Professor, Philosophy Department, Stony Brook University, on Quora:

Science is like Facebook in that the very things that make it work (in Facebook’s case, share and connect) also seem to provide a veneer of legitimacy to those who want an excuse to deny it.

What makes science go is that it’s technical and abstract, done in collectives, fallible, can challenge our values, can be passed on without repeating it, and is able to change nature.

That it’s technical and abstract can appear to legitimate politicians dismissing it, saying “I am not a scientist.” Mitch McConnell, for instance, saying that he’s only interested in Kentucky’s economy, not in global warming.

That it’s a collective means that it can potentially promote elite or disguised interests and amount to a “hoax.” Of course, this happens sometimes – think of the tobacco industry scientists – but not always. Think Robert Kennedy Jr and Jenny McCarthy on vaccines and autism, or you-know-who on global warming.

That science is fallible can appear to make it reasonable to say that “The jury is still out.” Like when former EPA head Scott Pruitt said that we just don’t know yet about global warming or its effects in the next century.

That it can challenge our values (it may show, for instance, that some disease is not a punishment from God but the result of bacteria) means that it can be rejected by those who hold those values to be fundamental. Think Sarah Palin or Rush Limbaugh saying that global warming can’t hurt the planet because God won’t let that happen.

That it can generate knowledge that can be passed on means that we can take it for granted. Think politicians not voting for earth satellites or more scientific research because we have enough already.

That it can act into nature can expose scientific projects to fears of producing Frankensteins.

Sometimes these fears are justified – but when they are not it’s science denial. Knowing these categories, which I go into at length in The Workshop and the World, is essential for identifying science denial, and countering it.

This question originally appeared on Quora – the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions:

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