Can we trust scientists?

I saw this video on New Anthropocene recently and think it’s worth sharing. It is mostly about climate change but also science more broadly and why people don’t always trust the scientific consensus whether it be a consensus about climate change, vaccinations or evolution.

Many years ago I lived next to a young woman who had cancer. She and her mother decided not to go ahead with the recommended course of chemotherapy and instead tried Gerson therapy, an alternative treatment for cancer without any evidence that it actually works. Why would someone choose to ignore the scientific consensus where matters of health are concerned? Sadly, the young woman died. She was the same age as me.

39 responses to “Can we trust scientists?”

  1. I was gonna use that video for my next post! 😦
    Very well explained, except the final part, I am not so sure blogs and YouTube will save the world. But maybe I am damaged by WUWT.

    • I think you should still use the video in your next post. It needs more exposure.

      I agree about the last bit too. I had high hopes for what he was going to say there and it does seem a bit optimistic to think that people can filter the information they find on blogs. Even I get confused sometimes by all the information out there.

  2. Scientists have a lovely habit of checking everything (“nullius in verba” and all that) so in aggregate their findings are likely to be trustworthy because they don’t take things on trust. They check so we don’t have to.

    • Thanks, BBD. I’ve sorted it now and have learnt something new! I’ve also added the <b> and <i> tags to my style sheet so you can use those and <blockquote> works as well as <cite> if you want to type fewer characters.

      • Thanks Rachel. My stupid really; I should have tried the alternative tags. Typical lazy, hidebound bloke, I’m afraid.

  3. Thanks for sharing, Rachel. To be honest, I didn’t think much of the final point as well.

    When you talk to many of the commentators, they still think it’s about education. That, and the debate, are dead (as far as their productive value is of concern). I’ve been very quiet of late, but I am working in the background on a number of other strategies… alongside desperately looking for a new role with greater security and development and my wife and I are expecting our second in about a month.

    I hope, when some of this starts to take shape, I can feed a lot of it on NewAnthro.

    This video is a great note on the reality of consensus and why none experts should conceed in the high probability of conclusions.

    I know of a similiar example of someone choosing alternative therapies to treat themselves of their cancer with tradgic results. I also have close family friends who knock everything from medicine and vaccination to the reality of anthropogenic climate change. Of course, when required, they are the first to go to hospital. That way of thinking is probably the most dangerous.

    • Moth,
      Congratulations on number 2. I hope you’re enjoying the peace while it lasts πŸ™‚

      I hear you on the close family friends who knock mainstream science when it suits them but accept it on matters of their own health. I have had the same experience and this is the reason I got involved with this in the first place. They told me things that just didn’t make sense to me, like climate scientists have been fudging data for years in order to improve their careers, and so I investigated more deeply and found things – like WUWT – that made me feel frustrated.

      I look forward to seeing some new stuff take shape on your blog.

      • I’m the same. My initial blog started about the same time of Monckton’s first visit and the first “debate” one evening over the dinner table with these family friends. I thought, ‘I need to do something about this misinformation.’

        I’ve come to the conclusion that it has limited impact. Time for new approaches. Personally, I think action, not talk. The March in March here in Aust gave me hope. That’s along the lines of what we need.

      • Yes, I was so pleased to read about the march and I hope the momentum continues to gather pace. I’m still shocked that my fellow Australians voted in Tony Abbott of their own free will.

      • When we voted, it was very depressing. Everyone around us was proudly sporting the Coalition papers. That anger at the ALP was evident. Unfounded, due almost exclusively to four years of smear from a party devoid of policies and honesty. I knew Abbott was going to win. He’d emlpoyed the scapegoat strategy and the people followed. He knows he won’t get a second term – especially once people get their power bills after the carbon price is gone. He’ll do as much damage as possible as quickly as he can.

        My hope rests on the WA election redo.

  4. Perception is very important in trying to get the effective world to pull together. With climate change, it is a significant factor in itself. I think many people find it difficult to change their view, because that means an admission of earlier error. Therefore, we tend to accept the views of those who support our pre-existing position.

    I wonder were the earlier perceptions came from. It seems to be the media. Far back they sensationalized and miscontrued. Even now they give excessive weight to the controversial.

    Changing peoples minds can be difficult. I think it requires sublety and respect. Particularly when trying to tell people how to think.

    Nevertheless a worthy and, I think, an essential part of the solution. Roll on and have a Teddy Bear 🐻

    • I think many people find it difficult to change their view, because that means an admission of earlier error.

      Indeed. I recently read about some woman in the 1950s who managed to convince a number of people that aliens were going to land on Earth on some particular date and destroy everything. I can’t remember the details and I’m about to head out so I haven’t got time to search right now. But when the aliens did not arrive on the expected date, she told her followers that they’d communicated with her and decided not to come. Everyone bought it because they’d already invested so much in it.

      Changing peoples minds can be difficult. I think it requires sublety and respect.

      Subtlety and respect. Absolutely.

      • No need to search. I’ll take your word for it.

        Odd, you are just about to head out. I am just about to watch some TV and go to bed. I’m getting jet lag just thinking about it. πŸ™‚

    • Thanks, Graham. And my apologies to everyone for the constant changing of themes this week, but I really need to take them for a test run before committing to one entirely. I like this one though, so I’m sticking with it.

    • I’m not sure, Shub. She may have died regardless of course. I can’t even remember what type of cancer it was but I do remember thinking it foolish to follow Gerson therapy.

      • In industrialized countries (which have widespread Pap screening and good population compliance), cervical cancer mortality is not too shabby until Stage III and above (for a bad cancer that is). The fact that she required chemotherapy implies she was at least a Stage II when diagnosed. Even with Stage II, it hovers around 50-60%, i,e, you have a ~40% chance of not making it. Can you imagine being told your life/death chances are like a coin toss? That would mess anyone’s head up. Don’t be too hard on her.

        With ‘Gerson’ (or whatever crap it is) of course, your mortality from cancer is assured – 100%. Unless the cancer regresses on its own – something that is quite rare with the higher-stage ones. There are people exploiting and feeding off the fear and uncertainty a cancer diagnosis brings.

      • Thanks for the information, Shub. I think she might have been 22 from memory and was being cared for by her mother. It appeared to be a decision the two of them had made together. I don’t know much more than that. I didn’t know them all that well other than for brief conversations over the fence. I was a student and living in rental accommodation at the time.

  5. It started with the tobacco industry. They had to cast doubt on science as well as on government regulations to keep selling their product. Now it has spread to climate change and also to economics where corporations practice it as well. It is become a conservative mantra, and though there is nothing conservative about it, those who think they are conservative reject all evidence to the contrary of their beliefs, which have been greatly shaped by propaganda. I’m not sure where this quote came from but it explains the motivation of those involved:
    Denialists are driven by a range of motivations. For some it is greed, lured by the corporate largesse of the oil and tobacco industries. For others it is ideology or faith, causing them to reject anything incompatible with their fundamental beliefs. Finally there is eccentricity and idiosyncrasy, sometimes encouraged by the celebrity status conferred on the maverick by the media.

    • That quote comes from Denialism: what is it and how should scientists respond?.

      I have been criticised personally for being politically motivated in my views about climate change and of being a greeny (not that there’s anything wrong with being a greeny of course) but it does seem to me that people who accept the scientific consensus of climate change come from both sides of the political spectrum whereas those who are “Skeptical” of the science come from just the one side: the right.

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