America and its scientists: we're proud of, but don't believe them

I wonder how many people say engineer when they really mean javascript monkey?

3 Likes

I know a radiochemist who is basically a young earther – conservative orthodox church. Not sure what sort of cognitive dissonance that requires, but it is strong in that one.

5 Likes

Posts like this really bring out the Us vs. Them dichotomy, with a sad lack of irony.

1 Like

I suspect that this report largely reflects mistrust. Science is amoral. It gives us rice that grows on bushes AND depleted uranium munitions. We’re right to be mistrustful of it.

1 Like

Or if you polled members of the Union of Concerned Scientists vs the AAAS. In particular, I’m guessing that results for the questions about energy use might be different.

Given that these days the UCS and IEEE are pretty much in accord on energy policy, I doubt the AAAS from eihter.

The GOP’s antiscience attitudes have reached where they are in direct opposition to the domain knowledge of civil engineering and aspects of electrical engineering.

Also, it is important to note that you can subscribe to Science without being a member of AAAS. People who elect to also enroll as members are by and large professional scientists and academics.

Today’s Wondermark seems somewhat apropos:
Wondermark » Archive » #1097; Always Right has Never Left

10 Likes

Oh, come on! This is such bs polling.
Just look at something like “Safe to eat foods grown with pesticides”. The food is safe for . . . ? It’s safe for the environment, and so okay to eat? It’s safe for other animals? The wiggle room that someone could inhabit when they answer that is substantial.
Or “Favor increased use of fracking”. To do what? Against what standard? Because it’s safer, more efficient, better for the environment, more profitable, does fun things to tap water that allow me to sell more bottled water?
This poll allows people who thing they are pro-science to feel superior, but it uses some tricksy questioning to get there.

5 Likes

There are some questions in the poll that are indeed more opinion than science (like whether to build more nuclear plants or whether to do more fracking, as both have other considerations besides just safety), but it is pretty disingenuous to claim that questions about whether it is safe to eat foods grown with pesticides means anything other than the relevant question of whether it is safe to the people eating it.

2 Likes

I hate when my risotto comes with bits of depleted uranium!

6 Likes

Exactly. I count 2 questions that are matters of fact, and maybe 2 that are open to interpretation. The rest are political and moral opinions. I don’t disagree with science on any point of scientific fact, but I disagree with a lot of the opinions scientists express in this survey. Seems more like a reflection of the part of the political spectrum that ends up in the scientific field rather than being more informed about science.

1 Like

That chart seems like a great example of how to lie with charts via massive oversimplification and rigged suppositions of “science”.

I’d like to see the progression of, er… “science” over time with a series of charts especially for things such as “Cigarette smoking causes cancer” and how that “science” changes over time along with how that “science” relates to industry influence, etc. over time.

To do this, perhaps add the preponderance of non-transparent, industry-sponsored studies with conflicts of interest versus transparent, third party studies that support the “science” presented as well.

Oh, you know, to account for little things like this:

This:

Tobacco industry manipulation of research:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1497700/

And things like this: (Pesticides)


Just a wild guess, but I bet that graphic would look something more like this for 2015:

Then check to see how that may or may not parallel with conservative vs. progressive political persuasions as well.

3 Likes

The title of the poll is “Opinion differences between scientists and the public” - so I don’t know if Pew deserves the full blame or can be accused of tricksy questioning. When I read the BB title I was expecting a somewhat different poll, focused more on what scientists feel the facts are as opposed to what policy directions they feel the nation should take.

I had noticed that a lot of it can run both ways as well, but one could argue that some of these issues need to be considered differently. For instance, you’d have to try pretty hard to find a scientist that denies evolution or man-made climate change; these are pretty much considered fact. Denying them is just plain wrong.

I, myself, know GMO foods are safe to eat, but I don’t like how they can be sold without being labeled or how Monsanto bullies farmers whose crops have been accidentally cross-pollinated, so I tend to be anti-GMO. I understand how animal research is beneficial, but I also have ethical questions about it. These concerns tend to run into the opinion/broader perspective range.

Anti-fracking, I’m guessing, would tend to be a liberal slant, but obviously anti-frackers are in good company with the scientists. Even off-shore drilling is a mixed bag for scientists.

Anti-vaccine people are just loopy.

3 Likes

Not quite as relevant, but still appropriate…

4 Likes

People play up the conflict of interest angle way too much, in my opinion. There are genuine conflicts of interest like the paid consulting stuff you highlighted, but the logical endpoint of most “conflict of interest” arguments is that nobody qualified in any of these topics can do a study… because everyone qualified has in some way been involved with industry. Real incidents of bias are much rarer than most people seem to believe.

You see this kind of stuff all the time in things related to oil and gas: if a study is done by any consultancy or research group that has oil expertise (i.e., has some kind of connection to the oil and gas industry) they are automatically biased and untrustworthy. Never mind that a consultancy might work both for and against the industry, never mind that scientists are probably ought to be presumed independent unless proved otherwise, never mind that the no-links-to-industry standard excludes anybody with expertise or qualifications in the field! They’re not neutral! The only person that can claim to be neutral in an industry-linked field like nuclear engineering or agronomy lives in a bubble of enforced amateurism!

To turn this on its head for a moment, remember that this is the same canard trotted out by the climate change denialists to claim that climate science or carbon impact assessments are part of a huge renewable energy-big government gravy train. Of course, there are many real incidents of bias or irreconcilable conflicts of interest, many of which we already know about, mostly on the denialist side of that debate.

But what you’re offering is that most scientists that have worked, now or in the past, with or for a corporate interest, have zero integrity or trustworthiness on the level of well-compensated Phillip Morris consultants.

Judging from your graph and your reference to cigarettes, you’ve tarred all scientists that you disagree with using the same brush.

By the way, the scientific establishment is overwhelmingly liberal; I’m pretty sure that you could guess the proportion of Republicans by looking at the 13% who don’t believe that climate change is mostly due to human activity. The only academic fields that are majority conservative, to my knowledge, are business, economics, political science and law, none of whom I would expect to be members of AAAS.

2 Likes

I guess my point is that, while a scientist might tend to have a more science-oriented opinion on these things, on some of these questions it’s seem pretty obvious to me that it’s possible to answer them with a whole lot more than science in mind.

1 Like

This comment was edited to reflect some details about the polling data I had initially gotten wrong.

This infographic is a pain to read, and it only indicates one thing: The difference in opinions between a set of specific scientists and the average American, on a variety of issues.

Never mind that 68% of AAAS scientists believe genetically modified foods are safe to eat, what the fuck is their composition? I frankly don’t care if a theoretical physicist thinks GMOs are or aren’t safe to eat. If they have an opinion on the fine structure constant, I’m all fucking ears, but I doubt your average physicist understands more than the rudimentary biochemistry. Hell, even chemists aren’t that great at biology sometimes, which is why if you’re going to find a scientist to attempt to refute evolution, your best bet is a chemist. (I want to be a chemist, believe me, I take no pride in that fact.)

I am a AAAS member. I’m not even a professional scientist. I’m a student. What does that tell you about how much BS this poll is? Admission into AAAS is something anyone can do with a credit card. I realize that they cherry-picked scientists from the bunch, but “AAAS Scientist” has no cache for me.

Don’t get me wrong, the average American could use a little brushing up in the sciences and this poll clumsily and obliquely addresses that, but… c’mon. We should all be a little more savvy when it comes to this kind of nonsense polling.

4 Likes

Where there is uncertainty in their knowledge, there is probably a tendency for the scientists to side on what they think the proper sciencey answer should be (or against what they feel is a largely anti-science knee-jerk emotional answer)… This might play into what @Cowicide was pointing out about industry-sponsered research – all of us are susceptible to advertising/propaganda (even those who are disciplined to think critically).

I think that for a binary opinion poll, Anis’ quote is a wee bit relevant…

If they had framed each question with a short position piece on each issue, the answers might have been different. When asked about GMOs, instead of picturing a bunch of hippies versus a bunch of scientists (and automatically siding with scientists) your friendly neighborhood physicist might actually consider the information presented against what sHe understands.

7 Likes

Ya, what is up with you people? :smile:
More than other groups, chemists that I know tend to entertain some of the more ?backwards? ideas: anti-evolution, belief in angels, super-religious, etc.

2 Likes