Among voting-eligible Americans, there seems to be an increasing rate of skepticism or even disgust towards the scientific community. Skepticism has always been and always should be a vital part of the American psyche, but a noticeable shift towards arguing the inarguable and rejecting the researched has recently become a louder voice in the public conversation. We have never been a country to simply accept the status quo of contentment, rather, we have insisted historically on setting world standards in scientific-discovery, free-thought and economic stability. However, these breakthroughs in academia and otherwise have always been subject to a degree of cynicism and sometimes even blatant refusal by a small portion of the populace.
Early medical research, and the public’s attempts at distancing themselves from it’s findings, provides useful insight into our superstitious habits that directly influence our eventual concessions. One such illustration of this “shoot first ask questions never” philosophy arose in 1928 when Dr. Alexander Fleming claimed to have discovered a mold that he suggested could eliminate the presence of bacteria in a treated host. The inception and initial recommended medical use of the antibiotic Penicillin faced this same kind of backlash from the general public before it became the lifesaving staple it is today. The idea that introducing a particular type of fungus to the human body would somehow rid one of a bacterial infection was suspicious to many and even comparable to heresy for others.
Fortunately for modern Americans, society’s familiarity with the contemporary scientific process and a push towards STEM curriculum in the public school system has proven to lay most of this historical uncertainty to rest. As with every rule, though, there are exceptions. These exceptions fail to materialize into any sort of noticeable problem until they attempt to not only discredit, but replace the tried and tested rule. The internet, and social media especially, have aided in transforming the consciousness this way. The internet, and it’s immense supply of both knowledge and fallacy, is plagued with exceptionally-illogical explanations of the natural world. These baseless ideas have won the hearts and minds of an alarming number of Americans, and that group continues to grow. These anti-science platforms contend that many of today’s prominent scientific concepts and claims must not be considered legitimate for a slew of varying reasons-with the most popular being that the scientific process itself has become “political.” Their replacement for what they view to be a biased mechanism comes in the form of YouTube documentaries, “no spin zones,” and increasingly popular podcasts that graciously inform their listeners of the hottest deep-state conspiracies all the while plugging cure-all supplements. The apparently self-convinced hosts of these programs try to convince their subscribers of their own hair-brained conclusions touching on topics like “the dangers of vaccination,” “flat-earth theory” and any flavor-of-the-day-conspiracy limited only by the theorist’s imagination.
While this desire to unearth the “real” truths hidden behind popular consensus might appear innocent on it’s face, it’s important to understand where this conversion to anti-intellectualism originated and what consequences, if any, it might have on our future. One area of our lives where the ramifications are already being felt is within the climate change debate. The existence of what climate scientists refer to as “climate change,” its causation, origins and impact on the globe, is an issue that splits public opinion nearly down the middle. The chasm it has created on perception is coincidentally similar in the divide generated by the two primary political parties. Further, ones’s stance on the issue frequently aligns with what party they vote for. A Pew Research Center poll conducted in October of 2016 found that while most Americans, including Republicans, don’t actually deny the evidence of climate change (70 percent), 31 percent do believe it’s caused by natural phenomena and that a human effort to combat the problem would be futile. The arguments perpetuated by all-out disbelievers (20 percent) and those who don’t agree climate change is caused by man, seem to always start with a curious preface. Before declaring that there is no evidence to support the contrary, it’s been my experience that they like to first inform the listener that they themselves are “no climate scientist” or expert in the field. Why then, would they assume that their anecdotal experience or untested hypothesis would be sufficient evidence to dismantle a scientific claim?
I understand that this outlook might produce some questions of hypocrisy, and that is why as an individual I don’t allege to, or even begin to grasp how or why the scientific community arrived at their near-unanimity. But, in an attempt to set myself up, and the people around me for a successful future, I am putting my confidence in the hands of those who devote their life’s work to this particular subject. In doing so, I am only assuming the logical, and arguably necessary idea that the motivations of most scientists are sincere.
NASA currently asserts that 97 percent of scientists agree that climate change is happening, and that our burning of fossil fuels is making it worse. While the accuracy of this statistic has also been subject to much controversy, we need to recognize that “97” shouldn’t be the magic number we look for before taking action. If the majority of scientific experts in their given fields are in agreement, why then would any layman attempt to contradict them, let alone support a political platform inconsistent with expert findings? The argument I hear most frequently is that most scientists are liberal-thinking, and therefore push their political ideology on the public. Supporters of this argument seem to misunderstand the goal of scientific research and the unethical implications of their stance. Is it rational to suppose that climate experts from every corner of the world are colluding together in an effort to pull the wool over our collective eyes? Or, is it sensible to suggest that our President might have the answer when he asserts that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive?” Whatever your stance may be regarding the topic, and it’s implications on our planet, realize just how unlikely it may be that any of these conspiracies have any bases in truth. And, if you are tempted to make the accusation that a given claim might have been slanted by, or rooted in political ideology, perhaps we should be focusing our efforts of skepticism away from the scientists and towards the more sensible culprits: politicians.