“[Electricity] has been used in medicine from time immemorial; but until recently its use was nothing more than a species of mere unscience, shadowed in mystery.”
John Vosburgh Stevens (ed.), 1900: The Annual of Eclectic Medicine and Surgery, Vol. 8
The definition of “unscience” is pretty self-explanatory. Webster’s dictionary defines it as “want of science or knowledge; ignorance.” In Middle English it described “false knowledge or understanding.” Many politicians still freely deny that humans have sped up climate change. In 2015, 1 in 10 Americans still believed that vaccines cause autism, despite several studies by the CDC rejecting the idea. In a 2016 report by the Canadian Council of Academies, 13% of people had forgotten that the earth revolves around the sun. In 2015, according to the 2016 Vaccine Confidence Project, 30-41% of study subjects in France strongly disagreed that vaccines are safe. The list goes on.
While the scope of scientific research continues to grow, it’s easy to feel like we’re living in an “un-scienced” world. (Hey, that’s the name of the blog! Spooky.) I’d like to use a dual meaning of the word “un-scienced” in this blog. First, I want to talk about how we can navigate the un-scienced world. Second, I want to help dissect and translate — in other words, un-science — scientific concepts, research findings, and just plain cool facts in a way that more people can understand.
A 2015 report by the Pew Research Center found that 79% of adults view science in a positive light. However, when it comes to individual issues, there are large gaps between what experts have found and what the public believes. The greatest difference — or discrepancy — has to do with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). 88% of representative scientists from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) stated that GMOs are generally safe to eat. Surprisingly, only 37% of representative adults in the U.S. agreed.* 87% of AAAS scientists stated that climate change is mostly due to human activity, but only 50% of adults agreed.
We live in a nation that claims to value scientific research. So why are we so resistant to the findings themselves?
Question Everything: How did the Pew researchers choose scientists and citizens in an objective way? Click here to read more.
With this blog I hope, in part, to help readers explore these gaps. There are discrepancies between scientific understanding — or literacy — and personal beliefs. I want to help readers Question Everything: in many of my posts you’ll find at least one asterisk (*) that will ask you to challenge something I’ve said, a resource I’ve cited, or an assumption I’ve made.
I want us to help each other think critically about everything we hear and read, no matter how seemingly trustworthy or reputable the source, no matter how eloquent or confident the speaker. Remember Andrew Wakefield? He started the infamous and multi-generational “vaccines cause autism” debate. You may have guessed that he’s not the only articulate, well-educated, fully qualified, highly credentialed scientist who fudged major findings… he’s just the most famous. Hell, Ben Carson is a highly accomplished and talented neurosurgeon, but in 2015 he openly stated that the theory of evolution was encouraged by Satan; made a woolly, vague claim that a significant number of scientists do not believe in evolution but are afraid to say anything*; and believes human organs completely refute evolution. Hmm.
Question Everything: Be wary of statements like this. These are anecdotal — meaning they have no actual evidence — and can’t be measured. Think of Fox News, where the reporters have a nasty habit of citing unnamed or anonymous sources when they present their claims. “People say…”
Last, but certainly not least, this blog is a place to discuss why science is important to our everyday lives. After all, how often does it actually come up in conversation that the earth revolves around the sun? How important is it, really, that we know whether water boils faster in Denver or in LA? (In a Pew Research Center poll to measure basic scientific literacy in America, only 34% of people knew the answer. Take the short quiz yourself here.)
Sometimes, science may seem irrelevant to the real world. But when it comes to concepts like global warming, reproductive health, green living, and so many other real-life issues, a solid working level of scientific understanding is essential to our ability to make a difference and improve our everyday lives. Science is like learning a language: you can’t become fluent without first learning the basics. The skills and values important to research apply to all facets of life: critical thinking, creativity, and, above all, a healthy sense of curiosity.
Schulman J. A Running List of Climate Change Deniers Joining the Trump Administration. Mother Jones website. http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/11/climate-deniers-trump-administration/. November 18, 2016. Accessed September 11, 2017.
83% Say Measles Vaccine Is Safe for Healthy Children. Pew Research Center website. http://www.people-press.org/2015/02/09/83-percent-say-measles-vaccine-is-safe-for-healthy-children/. February 9, 2015. Accessed September 11, 2017.
Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism. CDC website. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/concerns/autism.html. Updated November 23, 2015. Accessed September 11, 2017.
Chung E. Canadians’ science literacy rangs 1st among 35 countries. CBC News Technology & Science website. http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/canadians-science-literacy-ranks-1st-among-35-countries-1.2749413. August 28, 2014. Accessed September 11, 2017.
Vanderslott S. Despite skepticism, Europe has high vaccination rates – but it shouldn’t be complacent. Independent website. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/despite-scepticism-europe-has-high-vaccination-rates-but-it-shouldn-t-be-complacent-a7702081.html. May 1, 2017. Accessed September 11, 2017.
Funk C. and Rainie L. Public and Scientists’ Views on Science and Society. Pew Research Center website. http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/01/29/public-and-scientists-views-on-science-and-society/. January 29, 2015. Accessed September 11, 2017.
Funk C. and Rainie L. Public and Scientists’ Views on Science and Society. Pew Research Center website. http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/07/23/an-elaboration-of-aaas-scientists-views/. July 23, 2015. Accessed September 11, 2017.
Krauss L.M. Ben Carson’s Scientific Ignorance. The New Yorker website. https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/ben-carsons-scientific-ignorance. September 28, 2015. Accessed September 11, 2017.
Lombrozo T. Scientific Literacy: It’s Not (Just) About The Facts. NPR website. http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2015/09/14/440213603/scientific-literacy-it-s-not-just-about-the-facts. September 14, 2015. Accessed September 11, 2017.
Science Knowledge Quiz. Pew Research Center website. http://www.pewresearch.org/quiz/science-knowledge/. Accessed September 11, 2017.