Reading #2

Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?

By Joel Achenbach

We live in an age when all manner of scientific knowledge—from climate change to vaccinations—faces furious opposition.
Some even have doubts about the moon landing.

read at (or as a PDF)


"Maybe—except that evolution actually happened. Biology is incomprehensible without it. There aren’t really two sides to all these issues. Climate change is
happening. Vaccines really do save lives. Being right does matter—and the science
tribe has a long track record of getting things right in the end. Modern society is built on things it got right"

  1. How does quantitative data determine qualitative measures for a large group?
  2. For example, in terms of medical issues and matters of vaccination, how is the quality of health defined? Is it not defined depending on the culture, beliefs, and background of the person?...What happens when a doctor's diagnosis goes against the patient's idea of health and well being?
  3. The article seems to side with the idea of "one truth". if so, how should data be read?

Response Questions

  1. Is the amount of dissent to major scientific ideas trending downward over time? Or are there just as many skeptics to brand new ideas as there have always been? Clearly the amount of people who believe in, say, global warming is trending upward, but in terms of new ideas introduced to the public, do people trust scientists blindly more than ever before?

  2. The average person knows the bare bones of most of the scientific ideas covered in the article (evolution, climate change, vaccinations, etc) but would probably struggle to explain the finer points. Science as a practice is far removed from everyday people, and handed down from the so-called ivory towers in more palatable chunks. How can science become more transparent and accessible to everyday people such that commonly accepted ideas are impossible to argue against?

  3. How can the government get involved in silencing dissenters to major scientific opinions, particularly those that put people in danger? Is it possible to make spreading alternative views to accepted science illegal - using the same logic that made shouting “fire” in a crowded theater illegal? Can this be applied to, say, televangelists who sell “miracle water” type products on their shows, making absurd empty promises to viewers?
  1. Where do “naive beliefs come from”, or how are they formed to begin with? How many of these beliefs come from the environment that they’re raised in?

  2. If health research centers want to further research on certain issues, why would they care so much about their secret procedures, as long as they’re able to make it known that they came up with the research first? Wouldn’t they want others to be able to reproduce their research to prove that their research is valid?

  3. If people trust the internet or the people around them more than scientific research, what are some ways views could be changed through these means?

Q1: Science has certain applications, many are incredibly useful and necessary, but there has been a trend within the fine arts and design disciplines to use scientific methodology to leverage the importance or justification of ones work. Is this something that people are aware of or is it part of the subconscious adjustment to the informational age we now live in? Is this a positive or negative trend?

Q2: "Science appeals to our rational brain, but our beliefs are motivated largely by emotion." (Achenbach). How can a shift in scientific rhetoric improve appeal to the more emotional beliefs that are not currently being accessed?

Q3: The rapid democratization of information over the last two decades has opened up a world of new access to information, but in turn has dissolved our past structures of believing. How can design encourage a new trust in the importance of accurate and verified information without pretense or heavy handedness? Is there a subtle way to revert the damage caused by this saturation of falsely created information?

Reading Response

Jonathan Melendez Davidson, (c.2017)

On, 'Why do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science' - Joel Achenbach

  1. I believe the act of "proofing" whether X is correct or incorrect is a vital tool for the sciences and should be implemented in design fields. Pharma companies go through the process of pre-market testing and multiple years of studies before their products reach the consumer. With our fields being (ID, GD, Arch.) so interconnected with materiality, trends and public exposure, how can a designer produce works which are pre-tested and reach the market at a proofed staged and at the right time?

  2. Is a lot of skepticism toward the Science's based on the inter connectivity of science, industry and governments?

  3. Recently there are fields of design focusing on fiction and naivete, meaning they part from reality. The argument for this type of design is that the breaking away from the concept of reality can lead to discoveries and or insights beyond those which we can currently conceive (discovery rather than research). There are arguments to be made about how fiction/naivete in the past has influenced science and technology fields today. How can the sciences not criticize naivete, but rather utilize it as another tool in their tool kit? If this were to happen, what role would "proofing" take in this process?

Question #1

"Shtulman’s research indicates that as we become scientifically literate, we repress our naive beliefs but never eliminate them entirely. They lurk in our brains, chirping at us as we try to make sense of the world. Most of us do that by relying on personal experience and anecdotes, on stories rather than statistics."

People are taught from birth to make sense of the world through stories (primarily through children's books). Many are not introduced to science until middle or high school (I was not introduced to science until seventh grade). Would our relationships with science be less anecdote based and more science or statistic based if these modes of reasoning were introduced at a younger age?

Question #2

“We’re all in high school. We’ve never left high school,” says Marcia McNutt. “People still have a need to fit in, and that need to fit in is so strong that local values and local opinions are always trumping science. And they will continue to trump science, especially when there is no clear downside to ignoring science.

There is always a downside to rejecting science. How can the downside to rejecting science be made more clear to those who doubt?

Question #3

"The Internet has democratized information, which is a good thing. But along with cable TV, it has made it possible to live in a 'filter bubble' that lets in only the information with which you already agree. How to penetrate the bubble? How to convert climate skeptics? Throwing more facts at them doesn’t help. Liz Neeley, who helps train scientists to be better communicators at an organization called Compass, says that people need to hear from believers they can trust, who share their fundamental values."

If people, particularly non-believers, need to hear about science from sources they trust, do news organizations and internet facilitators (Facebook, Reddit, etc.) have a responsibility to publish more of this information through certain information channels that are already trusted by skeptics?

Bonus: Refer to Parks and Rec Season 6 Episode 8 for a funny (fake) example of how hard it is to convince skeptics about the benefits of fluoride!


Chloe's q...

question 1.

how can we make people believe science again? can we trust scientists if they are given more power (even though the article mentions that they do not voice their work through media)?

question 2.

does fake news exist because deep down people crave shock? Who benefits from the fake news? is the culture around clicking to make money too corrupted? should we pay for the internet through tax and opt out of advertising?

question 3.

should there be verified information on the internet? and who should get to decide? should there be a committee of all knowing gods who choose which web pages should be "trusted"?