When Politicians Cherry-Pick Data And Disregard Facts, What Should We Academics Do?

Advocating for facts and evidence at the March for Science in California earlier this year. Matthew Roth/flickr, CC BY-NC

Kristy Hamilton 15 Jun 2017, 15:31

Responding when science’s credibility is challenged

This is not comfortable terrain. Science and scientists have long been mistrusted by a segment of American society, newly emboldened to attack its credibility on several fronts. Consider just these five and how to respond.

  • It is not the place for scientists to become political. But any research that asks people to change their beliefs or their actions is, by definition, political. You can try to remain outside the fray, but in my view, that is the same as remaining irrelevant.

  • There are mistakes in scientific research, so scientists should not be trusted. Any good scientist knows you do not throw out an entire model when a flaw is found. Scientific research is corrected when subsequent studies challenge prior work, and fatally flawed studies are retracted.

  • Scientists are arrogant and don’t want to listen. One should not conflate the act of standing up for a conclusion that is based on rigorous scientific analysis with arrogance. It is an issue of tone, not of content.

  • Academics are liberal and therefore biased. Some studies show that academia in general is a left-leaning institution, and we can do better at bringing a diversity of viewpoints to campus. But, that does not mean that scientific research is biased. The peer review process is established to remove weak reasoning and selection biases, creating an environment where conservative professors thrive as much as liberal.

  • Scientists use fossil fuels too, so they are not serious. Scientists should be authentic and reduce their carbon footprint. But the solutions to climate change require broad-scale shifts in our industrial systems and culture, and this will happen only by continuing our research, teaching and engagement, all of which require energy.

The ConversationThe corruption of science is an existential threat to both the academy and democratic society, neither of which can function on half-truths and fictions that distort our sense of the real problems we face and the solutions we should enact. If scientists do not step up to change our course toward a scientifically illiterate public, who will? If we don’t do it now, then when?

Andrew J. Hoffman, Holcim (US) Professor at the Ross School of Business and Education Director at the Graham Sustainability Institute, University of Michigan

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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