Combating Denial Of Science And Fake News

Scientists around the world have made some marvelous discoveries in the past couple of decades however, that is only half of the battle. Despite how beneficial a scientist’s work is for society, there will always be some form of opposition. In recent years, denial of science and fake news have plagued the world of science and have made a scientist’s role much more difficult. Fake news and denial of science are tactics used to reduce the credibility of information so that other members of society will also disagree with the information. Scientists are forced to tread extra carefully with their findings and research to avoid being viewed negatively in the public eye. Whether the denial of science stems from political views or a monetary incentive, it damages the relationship between scientists and non-scientists. Due to denial of science by a society divided more than ever on polarizing scientific topics, presenting scientific findings and data in a clear, unbiased, and factual manner is imperative. The usage of fake news claims helps to fuel the polarization among topics in the scientific community. While it is the duty of the scientist to better understand the world through research, it is society’s responsibility to understand and form an honest opinion about the research conducted by scientists.

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Unfortunately, in today’s world, topics such as global warming and pollution that are crucial to the survival of the planet have become partisan issues. Once an issue becomes political, some people will automatically align with the views of their political party. “…The term ‘fake news’ has taken on its own life, referring not only to untrue reports but being increasingly used to dismiss reports that the user does not wish to agree with”. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, facts should not be deemed untrustworthy because it challenges the stance of one’s political affiliation. In a democratic society, this situation is a dangerous one when people become more concerned with being divided on issues than looking into the possibility of resolving the issues. Likewise, fake news is also manufactured to convince others that false information is factual. A hypothetical example of this might be an unreliable news source releasing a fake news article about how the EPA determined that global warming is a hoax. Those opposed to the idea of global warming will present this article as factual in arguments against those who are concerned with the topic. “…Being exposed to fake news made people more likely to rate those stories as accurate later on in the experiment. If you’ve seen something before, ‘your brain subconsciously uses that as an indication that it’s true, ’ Rand says”.

Fake news is an effective propaganda tool used to sway the opinions of others within society. Thus, scientists need to make sure they clearly state facts to ensure credibility. In this case, society needs to do a much better job in terms of open mindedness and consider the credibility of information before using it in debates. As long as fake news exists, the denial of science will be a continuing issue, and society will remain polarized on scientific topics. Denial of science is fueled in large by fake news claims. When it comes to important research being released, society should consider the facts and use them to form opinions. When learning new information, it is not only expected, but it is also beneficial to be skeptical. Statistics can easily be used to misrepresent data, the scientist may not be credible, or the research could have monetary incentives, therefore it is crucial to be skeptical. “The dividing line between denial and skepticism may not always be apparent to the public, but existing research permits its identification with relative ease because denial expresses itself with considerable homogeneity irrespective of which scientific fact is being targeted”.

Hence, scientific facts should not be denied just for the sake of denying them. Conspiracies are a good example of denying facts to create a movement within society. Leaders of the conspiracy theories completely deny factual information and attempt to use portions of information to misconstrue findings. “Conspiratorial content is widespread in anti-vaccination material on the internet as well as on blogs that deny the reality of climate change”. These conspiracies, such as climate change being a hoax and vaccines causing autism, are not actually supported by scientific fact. Unfortunately, there is a much larger following on conspiracies than one might think. Both fake news and denial of science puts scientists in a constant spotlight. While scientists can make improvements as far as presenting reports as unbiased as possible and ensuring clear representation, most of the issues need to be addressed at the social level. Society must do a better job of comprehending information before presenting opinions and drawing conclusions. While scientists devote their lives to making discoveries, the constant negative outlook society has on scientists damages the relationship between scientists and non-scientists. The relationship between scientists and the rest of society has been on a decline of recent years due to society denying simple facts presented in research. It is apparent that society has a negative outlook on scientists for various reasons. “A second common feature of denial, which differentiates it further from skepticism and legitimate debate, involves personal and professional attacks on scientists both in public and behind the scene”.

Society seemingly puts a ridiculous amount of pressure on scientists. When scientists are threatened for simply doing their job, the relationship between themselves and society disintegrates. Conversely, scientists believe that skeptics have no basis for their argument unless it is presented in a scientific manner. Scientists believe that these skeptics “…demonstrably shy away from scientific debate by avoiding the submission of their ideas to peer review”. Scientists seem to be less harsh on society than society is on them. The majority of scientists are logical people, so if someone catches a mistake in their findings or can make improvements, they would accept it. Rather than blatantly denying a fact, scientists might want the skeptics in society to go through the same process in order to share their compelling information. Perhaps one of the first steps to close the divide on scientific topics is to both improve the relationship between scientists and the rest of society, along with imposing a structure for society to voice their concerns similar to a peer review. It is of utmost importance for debate to occur in democracy, so there should be checks and balances in place for challenging the findings of researchers. In addition, scientists can do a few things to reduce denial in the first place. Scientists should begin communicating findings with transparency and using technology to its full potential in order to provide society with the latest facts in real time.

Scientists are responsible not only for making discoveries and presenting data to support arguments, but they must also communicate findings clearly: this is an avenue that scientists can use effectively to prevent fake news. Evidence that is not clearly represented might be misunderstood and thus rejected by society. “Decision making in our time depends on reliable scientific evidence, so neglecting or misinterpreting such evidence may impair decision making”. Clear presentation of findings is especially important in controversial topics such as global warming, genetically modified organisms, and vaccines. In order to make a compelling argument to the opposition, the evidence must be as factual as possible. Any error or bias will reduce the credibility of evidence and the argument will be ineffective. “Effective communication with the public is a rapidly growing concern for scientific fields ranging from biotechnology to ecology”. It is extremely evident that scientists in every field of study stress the importance of clear and effective communication of findings. For example, scientists need to spell out all of the details of their study so to be as transparent as possible. Hypothetically, a scientist can conduct a certain experiment and administer three tests. Rather than only presenting the results of the highest scoring test, the scientist should include all three in the report. While the scientists should provide the results from all of the tests, they should explain why the results are lower than the best result. This is crucial so that society can form their own opinion rather than be influenced as a result of the bias. Although some topics are more polarizing than others and thus will get more attention, it is important for the scientists to report the data and allow the individual to decide how to interpret the data. “Science communication is viewed as critical to ecology and conservation, where research findings are often used to shape public policy and mainstream media attention”. It is imperative to follow this nomenclature for reporting research, because while an issue might not be featured on prime-time news today, it could be the headlines of tomorrow. The rapid spread of information is a good principle as long as the information is factual in the first place. Therefore, scientists should utilize modern technology to its’ fullest extent to spread credible information more quickly than unreliable facts spread.

Another means of addressing fake news and denial of science is for scientists to utilize social media and other popular platforms in order to communicate reliable information regarding their research. The popularity of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter enable the rapid spread of information to billions of people all around the world. While these social media giants do their best to flag and report every article of fake news or misleading information, it is impossible to eliminate all illegitimate data. Thus, the more information spread on social media by credible scientists who put their work through peer review, the more factual information is available for people to digest and to form their own opinion. “Researchers have a huge amount to gain from engaging with media especially social media…”. While scientists may be concerned with meeting opposition and ignorance when dealing with society on social media, some may bring urgent details into the spotlight. If that is the case, and the data is compelling, more people will be on board with the research which will, in turn, positively benefit the researcher. In fact, perhaps public interest will allow the researcher to be given more funding to lead to even more crucial discoveries.

Social media isn’t the only technology that could prove helpful for eliminating science denial. Git is essentially an open source system that controls versions of work, usually pertaining to software development. Utilizing Git means that information can be shared with everyone that has an internet connection. It can be easily thought of as an advanced google drive that anybody can add information to. “Wider use of Git has the potential to revolutionize scholarly communication and increase opportunities for reuse, novel synthesis, and new collaborative efforts. ” Using Git would allow society to see all of the research completed by the researchers along with all of the raw data. Additionally, because it allows for version control, scientists can publish a work on Git, and members of society can make additions, comments or corrections to the research. The advantage here is that whenever information is updated, the original version is not overwritten, it is simply added to and it becomes the next version of the work. This could perhaps solve the issues of transparency as researchers could crowd source and collaborate with society to improve their research and overall data. This extra level of involvement and visibility might improve society’s view of scientists and vice versa. While there is no one simple answer to align science and society, it is certainly a step in the right direction.

In conclusion, the clear presentation of scientific findings and data alike in a clear, unbiased, and factual manner is critical in a society filled with polarizing scientific topics and denial of science. In order to formulate a solution on how to fix society’s view of science, it is important to understand how fake news and claims tend to further polarize society. Thus, society begins to deny science because it is unsure if something is fact or fake. This has led to a mutual decline in the relationship between scientists and non-scientists, which certainly makes matters even worse. While the future relationship between science and society seems dismal, scientists can present research clearly and unbiased in an attempt to close the gap. Another means of improving the disparaging view society has of science is to utilize technology and social media to share data and findings related to research. Although scientists have work to do, society should treat scientists more fairly. In order to respect the work done by the researcher, society should spend the time to understand the information before forming an opinion and creating a movement. Ultimately, everyone should be more concerned with working as one unit for one main purpose: to understand and improve the world inhabited by both scientists and non-scientists alike.

18 March 2020

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