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Science and Society at the Crossroads: Skepticism vs. Denial and Elitism vs. Public Engagement (Report on an international meeting at Chicheley Hall, 15-16 June 2015)

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journal contribution
posted on 08.01.2016, 11:36 by Stephan LewandowskyStephan Lewandowsky

Why do people reject the fact that HIV causes AIDS? Why do some parents withhold potentially life-saving MMR vaccinations for their children because YouTube videos accuse scientists of being corrupt? Why would a U.S. Senator write a book entitled The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, when scientists are 95% certain that climate change is human induced and when only a handful out of 14000 relevant peer-reviewed articles oppose that consensus?

There is strong evidence that attitudes towards scientific findings are determined by variables such as people’s worldview that have little to do with scientific evidence. For example, findings that entail regulatory implications for industry—such as the link between tobacco and lung cancer or between fossil fuels and climate change—are opposed by people to whom the preservation of unregulated free markets is crucial. If rejection of scientific findings becomes widespread, society runs the risk that policy decisions are not based on the best available scientific evidence. It is not clear how the scientific community and society in general should respond to those exogenous threats that originate outside the scientific community.

At the same time, there has been much recent concern about the integrity of science from within the scientific community. In some disciplines, such as psychology or genetics, there has been much concern about a replication crisis because a substantial proportion of phenomena does not appear to replicate. Likewise, concerns have been raised about questionable research practices and the misapplication of inferential statistics (e.g., techniques known as p-hacking). In response to those issues, there have been numerous initiatives, such as the Open Science Foundation, that seek to enhance transparency and ensure that data are freely available. Nonetheless, although much work has been done, it is not entirely clear how the scientific community should respond to those endogenous threats that arise within the scientific community.

Those exogenous and endogenous threats to science were discussed at an international meeting at Chicheley Hall in June of 2015. This is a collection of testimonials from that meeting.


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