As the universe around us continues to become more and more complex, we have time and again looked at science to provide answers for the very discoveries and questions it produces. And indeed, scientists across the world work day and night to ensure that humans know more tomorrow than they did today. So just imagine when people refuse to believe them, or better yet, accuse them of knowing things they genuinely have no clue about.
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Imagine, imagine spending the best years of your life devoting yourself to a particular topic, crossing countless examinations, practicals, assignments and papers, then going out to the field, studying your phenomenon in real life, and then reporting about it as objectively and systematically as possible, all for the sake of a better future – only to be flatly refuted by the comment section of Facebook.
Scepticism and open-mindedness are not just good values to have, they are also the cornerstone of all sciences. But when several independent bodies repeatedly produce evidence that proves a point and one still refuses to accept it, that goes beyond scepticism and into the territory of blind denial.
Take climate change for example. Nearly ninety per cent of scientists across the world agree that human interference is causing alterations in the natural climatic pattern of the Earth. Thus, our increased carbon emissions have led to global warming, which in turn is making the whether crazy.
And this is not just the trend with climate change. The theory of evolution, vaccinations, and recently, even the shape of the Earth has been brought to questioning.
But why? It is important to understand that very few people completely reject science as a whole. Rather, it seems to be certain particular topics that they have issues with, and these topics are almost always linked to a broader context.
Religion has widely been seen as science’s oldest ‘enemy’, symbolic of a dichotomy between the old, archaic, dark world and the modern world made bright by reason and development. If taking up a scientific stance requires one to give up certain religious ideas, people are much less likely to consider the stance in the first place. And if they do, their biases will always lead them to see the facts in a negative light, and their beliefs and what justifies them in a positive one. Science has to be objective and weigh all evidence, but people don’t. So when science puts forward the theory of evolution, all people may see is God being stripped of his greatest achievement – the creation of life.
Sometimes, it is even more personal, such as about an individual’s motivation and conception of the world. Cognitive dissonance, or the inability to hold two contradictory ideas, is a very powerful psychological force that creates tension in individuals. So when a smoker reads researches that state smoking is bad, they hold two opposing things – the behaviour of smoking and the knowledge that it is bad - in their hands. While dropping the former would be the better choice, many often take the latter, and thus refuse to believe in scientific evidence.
Then of course, there economic considerations. Climate change simply means that we will have to drastically reduce our fossil fuel consumption in the short run, and switch to alternative energy in the long run. This would mean disaster for the multi-billion dollar oil industry. Knowing this, they pumped hundreds of millions of dollars to covertly campaign against scientific facts, trying to pass of climate change as an uncertain phenomena scientists knew nothing about rather than as something with a mountain of evidence behind it.
Politics is another important driving force. Vested interests of certain agencies mean that facts are often manipulated, withheld or denied depending on what is suitable for The Man. Facts regarding conception and foetuses are often falsified and presented to the public to sway their opinions regarding abortion, usually in a way that reinforces pro-life ideas.
Sometimes, scientific community is attacked by itself. Andrew Wakefield, a British medical researcher published a paper stating that a link existed between the measles vaccine MMR and autism, which was published in a reputed journal. Later investigations revealed monetary conflicts of interest, considerable falsifications and ethical violations. Arguably, the whole debate of ‘vaccine causes autism’ can be traced back to this single ‘research’. Lack of rigours procedures and supervision, disregard for ethical standards and plain manipulation of data for gains by scientists continue to be major issues that science deals with, which weaken it both from inside and out.
In the recent years, yet another troubling trend seems to be bubbling, waiting to overflow – the idea of scientists as repressors of data. A fringe community believes that various agencies including scientists regularly suppress ‘alternative’ cures for cancer, because the illness is a major profit for a lot of people. The rules of probability prevent me from going full hundred per cent, but I can surely say with ninety nine point nine nine certainty that no such conspiracy exists. Such ideas, while today ridiculous, have a great potential – a great potential to turn a great many people against science, which is something we cannot afford. Not only are such conspiracies flawed on several levels, they are also a great insult to those who dedicate themselves to the truth and a better tomorrow.
The Earth is not spherical due to some giant international conspiracy by major space bodies, it is spherical because it has been observed to be so by those who spend everyday trying to answer the fundamental questions that we ask ourselves at night.
By Niharika Rawat