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TRENDING SCIENCE: Why don’t people trust science?

Mistrust in science is growing, and scientists want to do something about it.

Fundamental Research

From refusals to get COVID-19 vaccines to denying the existence of climate change, the list of anti-science believers is getting bigger. On a few occasions there may be legitimate reasons for their distrust, but why do so many of them reject science? Researchers who study attitudes and persuasion explored the reasons why some people overlook scientific evidence when forming opinions. In the journal ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’, they outlined four underlying principles that explain why people have anti-science beliefs and ways to overcome them using strategies.

What’s behind the rejection of scientific evidence?

First, the source providing the information, such as a scientist, lacks credibility. Second, the audience for the message identifies with groups that have anti-science attitudes. Third, a scientific message contradicts a person’s beliefs and preferences. Lastly, there’s a discrepancy between how a message is presented and a person’s way of thinking. “What all four of these bases have in common is they reveal what happens when scientific information conflicts with what people already think or their style of thought,” explained co-author Richard Petty, professor of psychology at The Ohio State University in the United States, in a news item. “These kinds of conflict are hard for people to handle, and that makes it easier for them to just reject scientific information that doesn’t already fit into what they believe.” Prof. Petty added: “Vaccinations used to be a standard thing that everyone accepted. But there have been a few developments in recent years that have made it easier to persuade people against the scientific consensus on vaccinations and other issues.” With the continuous media and social media cycle, people can interpret facts any way they want to. Politics plays a major role, contributing to all four reasons. “Politics were always around, and people had political views, but politics didn’t permeate everything. Science and scientific beliefs were separate from politics at one time, but not anymore,” Prof. Petty commented.

Increasing public acceptance of science

“Some people may reject new scientific information because it is easier to do that than overturn their pre-existing political beliefs,” pointed out lead author Aviva Philipp-Muller, assistant professor of marketing at Canada’s Simon Fraser University. “Social media platforms like Facebook provide customized news feeds that means conservatives and liberals can get highly varied information.” Understanding of other viewpoints is another way to counter anti-science attitudes. “Pro-science messages can acknowledge that there are valid concerns on the other side, but explain why the scientific position is preferable,” Asst Prof. Philipp-Muller continued. So is finding common ground. “People get their defenses up if they think they are being attacked or that you’re so different from them that you can’t be credible,” Prof. Petty further elaborated. “Find some places where you agree and work from there.” Scientists need to gain insight into the psychology of how to communicate what they do to the outside world. “It’s often not enough just to present a simple and accurate message,” Prof. Petty stated. “Psychological research can help scientists learn to present their work to different kinds of audiences, including those who might be skeptical.” Asst Prof. Philipp-Muller concluded: “There’s an opportunity to counteract the anti-science attitudes and sentiment that is out there. We have to use evidence-based strategies to increase public acceptance of science.”


science, mistrust, trust, anti-science, politics, scientific evidence, scientific information, belief, attitude