MJC’s Comment on AAAS Blog’s “The intersection of science and public policy”

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (the publisher of Science magazine) has a piece on their Capitol Connection blog, discussing once again “Where does science play a role in shaping policy?” They unsurprisingly ignore, as usual, the deeper, complicated relationships between advocacy and science. My comment; reposted below:

Scholars have pointed out, repeatedly, that Climate Change and policy preferences are not really about belief or disbelief in science, but rather in clashing values systems. Since certain scientific conclusions imply certain changes (e.g. human-caused climate change implies we need to change our behaviors), many people find it appealing to question “the science” rather than question basic values of ethics and self-responsibility. Politicians and ideologues often encourage this questioning of the science as a specific tactic to delay action; many people are simply using the schema and mental subconscious shortcuts humans have evolved to minimize mental dissonance.

We will not and cannot advance if we continue to pretend that we simply need better communication or education, and ignore a need to engage as scientist-citizens. Indeed, it has been pointed out that scientists’ often reluctance to engage (as citizens) in questions of values may enhance distrust of scientists–non-scientists accurately perceive that pretty much every scientist actually does hold their own subjective values and preferences; a reluctance to enunciate these generates a suspicion of the scientist holding things back, either hiding their “true motives” or hiding their own personal views on the complexities of action and values out of condescension. Plus, it makes the scientist seem inhuman–but rather than viewing them thus as an impartial oracle as we seem to want, it generates distrust–after all, humans have evolved to be finely suited to reading other human beings’ intentions and actions. Someone who abstracts themselves from this invites suspicion by trying to expunge themselves of all the social cues and clues our millennia of evolution in communities that biology and culture have made us come to rely on.

See Exposing the logic of climate change denial, Capitalism vs. the climate, and Should we leave science communication to the scienists? (No.).

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