Science & Virtue

The reason scientists are not believed now is because there is a deliberate campaign in place to discredit them by any means. Because they know most people can’t or won’t read the actual journals, the same cynical geniuses who bald-faced lied about the effects of smoking are teaching a new generation that scientists as a class are motivated by the same venality, mendacity and say-anything-to-get-approval motivations as are the rest of the world.

It’s pretty easy for people to believe this, because we recognise that there’s some of this in all of us. Indeed, it’s trivially easy to find individual examples of greed, jealousy, laziness and other human weaknesses in any field. But it’s a lie, of course, because it’s not true of scientists as a class, and therefore not true of Science. Science, by definition, is the removal of these weaknesses from the pursuit of knowledge.

There’s a new article out from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, which suggests that scientists don’t communicate very well with the public. Among the observations:

“Perhaps scientists are misunderstanding the public…due to their own quirks, assumptions, and patterns of behavior,” suggests [Chris Moody, a science journalist.]  Laypeople, meanwhile, tend to “strain their responses to scientific controversies through their ethical or value systems, as well as through their political or ideological outlooks.”

That’s the crux of the problem right there. What’s changed is not our tendency to filter everything through our own personal strain of moral and ethical judgment. What’s changed is what that moral and ethical fibre is composed of these days: fear, cynical distrust and an assumption of dishonesty.

It’s not communication skills that we’re short on, it’s moral and intellectual honesty.

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