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Anti-science must be combated with education and better communication

News: Jun 15, 2017

In the editorial “Science, antiscience, and environmental decision making: A call to action” featured in the journal Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management, five Environmental Scientists from the UK, Sweden, USA, and Canada, argues that environmental decision making in too many cases is no longer rooted in scientific facts and findings. Instead, decisions are in many cases heavily influenced by value judgments, political concerns, emotions, and naive calls for simple solutions, inadequate for a complex world.

Photo: Illustration - scientists must become better at arguing the wider implications of their work.

According to the scientists, it is particularly worrying that scientific findings are attacked almost routinely by politicians and special interest groups, who propose alternative descriptions of reality or even reject science outright. This anti-science movement relies on “alternative facts” that are presented as valid science but fall outside the rigors of the scientific method and the peer-review process. Instead, alternative facts are generated by cherry-picking data, distorting the findings of published peer-reviewed studies, concocting unfounded theories, and publishing papers or books that merely mimic peer-reviewed publications.

There are many reasons for the spread of anti-science. The Internet disseminates information at a rate unprecedented in history. However, there has been insufficient effort to educate the public in critical thinking, fact checking, intellectual commitment, and the scientific method. Paired with a lack of public access to scientific resources, a lack of understanding of uncertainty, and disconnects between risk science and risk perception, society's vulnerability to misinformation has been exploited across a broad political spectrum. This sows doubt and discredits scientific findings, resulting in widespread public cynicism and distrust of institutions and experts. Faced with an overwhelming hodgepodge of seemingly contradictory “facts” and “expert” opinions, the audience is tempted to simply pick the most soothing “facts” available.

“Science needs to be supported and encouraged, facilitated by the free exchange of information, uncensored by the preferences of industry, government, or academia, or social consequence.”

Rising nationalism and isolationism pose serious threats. Environmental and human health problems do not observe national borders. Therefore, scientific endeavors to solve those problems must be international to be effective. Increasing restrictions to immigration, international travel, and collaboration further inhibit the discovery of new science and the solutions to wicked, global problems. Further, scientists have a moral obligation to support students and colleagues who are subject to systematic harassment because of their gender, religion, nationality, or profession.

Sabine E Apitz

SEA Environmental Decisions, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom
Senior Editor
Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management

Thomas Backhaus

University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden
Senior Editor
Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management

Peter M Chapman

Chapema Environmental Strategies, North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Senior Editor
Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management

Wayne Landis

Huxley College of the Environment, Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington, USA
Senior Editor
Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management

Glenn Suter

Senior Editor, Book Reviews
Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management

Read full text in the editorial “Science, antiscience, and environmental decision making: A call to action” featured in the journal Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management


Originally published on: fram.gu.se

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In case of doubt or confusion, the Swedish version of this press release takes precedence.

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