‘The Science’ Suffers from Self-Inflicted Political Wounds
Once upon a time, science evoked enthusiasm. Yes, cinematic mad scientists went overboard with body parts and lightning, but real-life researchers brought us innovations, insights, and improved standards of living. But, like many institutions, science got political and cult-y. Thin-skinned narcissists with government jobs hijacked the systematic pursuit of knowledge and rebranded it as an unassailable body of Truth with a capital T. They cast out as heretics well-informed critics who interpreted evidence differently. In the process, they lost the trust of a public which saw insights replaced by bossy ideologues.
Plunging Confidence in Science
“A new Pew Research Center survey finds the share of Americans who say science has had a mostly positive effect on society has fallen and there’s been a continued decline in public trust in scientists,” the organization reported last week. “Overall, 57% of Americans say science has had a mostly positive effect on society. This share is down 8 percentage points since November 2021 and down 16 points since before the start of the coronavirus outbreak.”
A full third of Americans say science is a wash, equally positive and negative. Eight percent say it’s mostly negative. The plunge in support since the appearance of COVID-19 is no coincidence; that’s when some scientists, especially those in official positions, began wielding “science” as a shield against debate and a tool for control.
It seemed reasonable in 2020 to heed widespread calls to “follow the science.” With the outbreak of the pandemic why not let people versed in studying and dealing with disease set the tone? Pretty quickly, though, politicians and public health officials began justifying drastic and controversial measures such as lockdowns, mask mandates, and school closures as dictated by “the science.”
“The phrase became associated with safetyism and overcaution, like people would use it sarcastically when they saw someone running through a field wearing an N95 mask,” Faye Flam, a science journalist who launched the “Follow the Science” podcast and came to regret her choice of name, told The Washington Post last year. “So much is mixed up with science — risk and values and politics — the phrase can come off as sanctimonious, and the danger is that it says, ‘These are the facts,’ when it should say, ‘This is the situation as we understand it now and that understanding will keep changing.'”
“Sanctimonious” is a good description for officials who wield “science” to shield against criticism.
“It’s easy to criticize, but they’re really criticizing science because I represent science,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases a
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