In the face of scientific misinformation, the common approach is to counter falsities with facts.
But the Trump administration’s assault on truth, and the current climate of disbelief, calls for a campaign of “measured resistance” — including protests and advocacy — argues Lisa Rosenbaum, MD, a national correspondent for The New England Journal of Medicine.
“In the face of the suppression of science, should scientists resist or quietly proceed with their work? Resistance seems essential,” writes Dr Rosenbaum.
The Trump administration has shown a “dogged disregard for truth,” she says, pointing to President Trump’s previous denial of climate change as a “hoax” and his skepticism about the safety and efficacy of vaccines. Additionally, scientists have faced federal gag orders and bans against attending conferences.
Also, parents are hesitating to vaccinate their children, while some people think the Zika virus is caused by immigration and others are choosing to treat their coronary disease with organic food. All of these examples illustrate a clash between science and belief, rather than reflecting knowledge deficits, Dr Rosenbaum says.
Trying to remedy belief-based practices and preferences with facts risks increasing skepticism about science, she explains.
“More measured resistance may be the most effective approach [to build public trust of science],” argues Dr Rosenbaum.
Measured resistance can take the form of alternative scientific meetings, public protests, or gatherings of people from a variety of communities to advocate for science.
The approach could work well, since people sometimes dismiss scientific evidence if they feel it does not align with their cultural identity or ideology, Dr Rosenbaum continues.
“Forced to choose between recognizing what is known to science and maintaining our group identity, most of us choose the latter,” she explains.
These approaches are not yet backed up by evidence of efficacy, and further understanding is needed on the best ways of “empirically and effectively navigating assaults on truth.”
“We have long approached the communication of science unscientifically,” she concludes.
Rosenbaum L. “Resisting The Suppression of Science.” The New England Journal of Medicine. 2017. doi: 10.1056/NEJMp1702362 [Epub ahead of print]