Calling it a 'war on science' has consequences

January 11, 2019 by John C. Besley, Bruce W. Hardy, Meghnaa Tallapragada And Shupei Yuan, The Conversation
How does the concept of science in the crosshairs affect opinions? Credit: gan chaonan/Shutterstock.com

National Geographic's March 2015 cover story provided a thoughtful discussion around the question of "Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?" The actual cover, however, simply said "The War on Science."

That article never actually uses the term "war on science" but claiming the existence of a such a conflict has become quite common.

There are books to tell readers "who's waging it," "why it matters," and "what we can do about it" and many opinion articles and editorials in reputable publications describing its battles.

While we may fully agree as individuals that current approaches to seem deeply problematic, we also wonder as communication scholars whether it makes strategic sense to call the current situation a "war." Communication experts have long expressed concerns that framing an issue as a conflict might make finding a reasonable path forward harder by suggesting that people need to choose sides and vanquish their opponents in order to succeed.

Building on such arguments, our new research suggests that Americans may see scientists' choice to accuse conservatives of waging a "war on science" as relatively aggressive compared to potential alternative ways of describing the current situation. In turn, this perceived aggressiveness may harm the credibility of scientists in conservative audiences that already have doubts about them.

Investigating the effect of the frame

Framing is how communicators put an issue in context – whether naively or on purpose. For years, communication scholars have criticized journalists for frequently framing issues as conflicts or games rather than trying to find more meaningful ways to understand disagreement. For example, researchers have argued that too much media coverage of climate change focuses on the "fight" between conservatives and liberals. This kind of framing problem isn't exclusive to science-related coverage – but science communicators don't need to contribute to the problem.

For our study, we surveyed 1,024 American adults who were part of an online panel, selected to be similar to the U.S. population in terms of age, gender, education and political ideology. We randomly assigned participants to read one of three different versions of a blog post about science or an article about baseball. Then we asked them a series of questions about their perception of scientists and other topics.

When respondents read the article with the ‘war on science’ frame, liberals and conservatives diverged in how much credibility they gave scientists based on how aggressive they perceived the writing to be. This pattern wasn’t as evident when respondents read similar articles with the ‘challenge for science’ or ‘neglect of science’ framing. Credit: Hardy et al DOI: 10.1177/1075547018822081, CC BY-ND

We adapted the science article from a 2017 Scientific American blog that framed the Trump administration's approach to scientific evidence as a "war on science." The article called the administration liars, talking about specific "attacks" and trying to rally scientists to fight back.

We trimmed this initial article for length and then changed some wording to make two alternate versions. Rather than a war, one framed the current situation as either a "challenge for science," while the other used the frame of a "neglect of science."

The "challenge for science" article kept some of same aggressive tone as the original article, calling out the White House for lying, but replacing war-related terms such the "attack on science" with the "challenge for science." In contrast, the article that framed the administration as neglectful took a less aggressive tone, though still addressed the same ideas using the same structure.

What we ultimately found was that the level of perceived aggressiveness coupled with the "war on science" framing generally led conservatives, liberals and moderates to rate the credibility of scientists differently.

When liberals viewed the "war on science"-framed article as an aggressive message, their ratings of scientists' credibility increased. On the other hand, when viewed as aggressive, the "war on science" framing pushed down conservatives' perceptions of scientists' credibility. While not everyone saw the same content as aggressive, when they did, it affected credibility perceptions.

The differences are fairly small, but we only showed respondents a single article.

Researchers' understanding is that communication effects like these work cumulatively. So continued exposure to something like war framing might be expected to gradually increase the ideological differences that we found and that seems to be appearing in the available long-term data and associated research.

Scientists can’t count on high confidence ratings continuing forever. Credit: U.S. Department of Energy/flickr, CC BY
Aggressiveness won't broaden the base of support

The pattern is still faint, and average reported confidence in scientists – which seems conceptually similar to credibility – has remained stable over time since the late 1970s. Less than 1 in 10 Americans say they have "hardly any" confidence in the .

But no one should take this stability for granted. The , for example, has seen its confidence rating decline. Less than 1 in 10 Americans said they had "hardly any" confidence in medicine during the 1970s and into the 1990s, but views have deteriorated in recent decades.

And the current results build on some of our own past work showing that aggressive attacks on those who oppose technologies such as genetically engineered food or vaccines may also push down perceptions of scientists.

There may be times when an aggressive tone and conflict-framing is helpful for getting one's existing supporters to donate money or perform some other behavior. But we have not seen any evidence that it helps expand the scope of support.

Our hope is to encourage science communicators to make choices about things like framing purposefully and to encourage research into approaches that increase the number of friends of science.

In making this argument, we're mindful of examples such as the LGBT community's efforts to stay away from conflict framing in its efforts to build support and lessen opposition to same-sex marriage. Rather than asking people to pick a side, the LGBT community framed marriage as a simple issue of love being love, not a fight for rights.

Aggressive tactics can come into play when those running for political office use personal attacks and negative advertising to gain advantage against their opponents. Although such an uncivil approach can damage the image of the candidate making the attacks, he or she has time to rebuild their image with supporters before the next election.

In order to have a positive impact, the community cannot rely on aggressive communication tactics. Science needs continuous and broad support, across the ideological spectrum, to engage in research and discovery and to see that these discoveries are put to use.

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julianpenrod
1.9 / 5 (9) Jan 11, 2019
Nobody blames Galileo not trusting Aristotle. "Science" devotees praise him for it. But "science" doesn't mention that the Ptolemaic System kept changing and actually ended up with the earth slightly away from the center of the universe and planets sweeping out equal angles in equal times. Consider the "definition" of "reason" today, to be told what to believe by people with white coats and to believe it without question. Meanwhile, the "press" fail to mention that 90% of articles in "science" magazines are in error, and many of those likely dealt with such things as asserting "climate change". Politicians and the "news" have been lying for years. That can lead many to question how much "science" can be trusted. Many don't realize the degree to which "truth" today is nothing more than a collection of doggerel to favor the Democratic Rackets. For example, there is absolutely no proof all races are spiritually, intellectually the same.
antialias_physorg
4.6 / 5 (10) Jan 11, 2019
"Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?"

Huh? Anyone who doubts the method of science is not a reasonable person.

Unless someone came along and has redefined what REASONable means.

As for those who have declared a "war of science": Those people are dumb. Dumb people aren't relevant to science. It's a shame - but at least they flagged themselves as irrelevant to this species for all to see.
Doug_Nightmare
3 / 5 (2) Jan 11, 2019
The genre of literature included in *The Flight From Science and Reason* (NYAS, 1996) edited by Paul R Gross, Norman Levitt, and Martin W. Lewis is the Science Wars. The hoax essay by Alan Sokal, Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity (Social Text, 1991) inspires the participants pro and con.
Scolar_Visari
4.6 / 5 (9) Jan 11, 2019
For example, there is absolutely no proof all races are spiritually, intellectually the same.

Full stop: The concept of 'race' is in and of itself unscientific, and we really don't have any metric for measuring, "spirituality" in any event. You're part of the problem, no t the solution.
Doug_Nightmare
1.7 / 5 (6) Jan 11, 2019
"The concept of 'race' is in and of itself unscientific, and we really don't have any metric for measuring, "spirituality" in any event. You're part of the problem, not the solution."

LOL. Potter Stewart said that he knows it when he sees it! So do I, though Scolar_Visari may be blind. Is Scolar a wannabe scholar missing the hell 'H'?

Culturism: A Word, A Value, Our Future (Press, 2001) by John Kenneth Press.

Sola Fide. Sola Gratia. Sola Scriptura. No words, works or rites required. Virgins not provided.

Bert_Halls
3 / 5 (4) Jan 11, 2019
Fucking Nazis in the fucking comment thread. Time to grab my M1.
Da Schneib
3.2 / 5 (6) Jan 11, 2019
This is almost certainly correct.

Scientists already have one strike against them: they're generally smarter than most people, or they wouldn't be scientists, and not only are people jealous of those who are smarter, but they fear what they do not understand. And they attack what they fear. Forty years of cold war because nuclear weapons were invented didn't help any either.

Science needs a PR team. And so far no one is stepping up to the plate.
antigoracle
1.7 / 5 (6) Jan 11, 2019
This is almost certainly correct.

Scientists already have one strike against them: they're generally smarter than most people, or they wouldn't be scientists, and not only are people jealous of those who are smarter, but they fear what they do not understand. And they attack what they fear. Forty years of cold war because nuclear weapons were invented didn't help any either.

Science needs a PR team. And so far no one is stepping up to the plate.

BRAYS, Da Snot, the dumbest jackass on the forum.
Scolar_Visari
4.4 / 5 (7) Jan 11, 2019
Doug_Nightmare must be living under a pop culture rock underneath the larger boulder of ignorance.

Passing the John K. Press' reference for its irrelevance to the topic at hand, the reality is that race is indisputably a social construct or folk taxonomy with its origins in the 18th and 19th Centuries. This is literally covered in Genetics 101 textbooks. To quote an open letter for Genome Biology Lee et. al, "The ethics of characterizing difference: guiding principles on using racial categories in human genetics" 2008:

"We emphasize that there is no scientific basis for any claim that the pattern of human genetic variation supports hierarchically ranked categories of race or ethnicity."

Heck, there are even entire books on the subject ala Gould's "The Mismeasure of Man". The idea that race is an actual scientific category is so dead that people who insist upon it being real might as well start accepting humorism and Lamarckism, as they are equally valid fields.
Whydening Gyre
3.4 / 5 (5) Jan 11, 2019
...
"We emphasize that there is no scientific basis for any claim that the pattern of human genetic variation supports hierarchically ranked categories of race or ethnicity."
...

That's not to say there aren't genetic variations that provide an advantage of one sort or another to any specific race...
To "hierarchically categorize" is to classify those advantages (and subsequent DIS advantages).
Doug_Nightmare
1.8 / 5 (5) Jan 12, 2019
Yep, there is no Human Bio-Diversity.

They've begun erasing James Watson before he is even a dead old white guy. When Charles Murray is gone then it will be up to the Millennials and they are not equal to the task.

I'm glad that I am old. The kidz are making their own bed to lie in and die in.
Da Schneib
3 / 5 (4) Jan 12, 2019
Actually, @Whyde, those aren't racial differences. Turns out they are continental; in other words, they depend on the continent your ancestors came from, not your race.
Anonym
3.4 / 5 (5) Jan 12, 2019
"War" is way overdone. The "war on Christmas" never was, and that "war on drugs" was of course a war on Youth, mostly Youth of a certain ethnic background. The supposed "war on science" is nonsensical: what science? Physics? Nope. Chemistry? Nope. Geology? Nope. Um, Climate Science? Yep. Why? It is very reasonable to be dubious of any "science" which professes certainty and attacks reasonable skepticism as "denial" and doubters as heretics. Certainty is not a feature of science, it is religion.Where else have we seen certainty in "science"? Tobacco science, NIDA marijuana science, Nazi race science, Lysenko biological science --- in short, science in service of politics or profit. As to the climate hysteria, cui bono?
Claudius
2.6 / 5 (5) Jan 12, 2019
"We can close the book on infectious diseases" - 1969 Surgeon General William Stewart
"X rays will prove to be a hoax" - 1883 Lord Kelvin
"Louis Pasteur's theory of germs is ridiculous fiction" - 1872 Prof. Pierre Pachet
"Everything that can be invented has been invented" - 1899 Charles Duell, U.S. Office of Patents commissioner
"We are probably nearing the limit of all we can know about astronomy" 1888 Simon Newcomb, astronomer
"There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable" - 1932 Albert Einstein
"Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible." - 1895 Lord Kelvin
"The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years, ...If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000." 1970 Ecologist Kenneth Watt

Doubt is directly proportional to certainty.

Whydening Gyre
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 12, 2019
Actually, @Whyde, those aren't racial differences. Turns out they are continental; in other words, they depend on the continent your ancestors came from, not your race.

So... the continent (environment) difference wasn't what DETERMINED your race?
Bert_Halls
1 / 5 (2) Jan 12, 2019
Nazi fuck! Go follow your leader, you piece of shit.https://en.wikipe...#Suicide
torbjorn_b_g_larsson
not rated yet Jan 12, 2019
The shown data does not imply a trend either way, just that a polarizing subject is polarized. One could as well say; "There may be times when polite tone and friend-framing is helpful for getting one's existing supporters to donate money or perform some other behavior. But we have not seen any evidence that it helps expand the scope of support."

Also, seeing how a century ago social conflict was used to promote women and eventually gay rights, the reference to the modern LGBT community policies is cringe worthy. Sure, science is not "fighting for rights", same as painting it as "a war on science" is wrong. But we cannot treat, say, anti-vaccine groups neutrally either - what has been shown to work is, ironically, the same social analog to contain "disease outbreaks" that are useful against other social problems.
torbjorn_b_g_larsson
not rated yet Jan 12, 2019
there is no Human Bio-Diversity.


That is not what it means to note that "races" are not mapping to human genetics. As DS notes, the largest variation is continental gradients of genetic diversity, but we can also follow gene flows as populations migrates. It is an informal category most useful in mycology [ https://en.wikipe...biology) ]; I would argue that in humans the subspecies level of Neanderthals, Denisovans et cetera would most appropriately fit the category.

(Lists some but by no means all science duds - it is estimated that 10-20 % of research will result in something - for some reason not clear to the reader.) Doubt is directly proportional to certainty.


Is this simply trolling; what was the meaning of the comment? Science can specify its uncertainty/doubt, repeatability et cetera.

Climate Science? Yep.


*This* is trolling; climate science is a science among others. (It is the *social context* that is politicized.)
Da Schneib
3 / 5 (4) Jan 12, 2019
Clarke's First Law: When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is almost certainly wrong.
MR166
2 / 5 (4) Jan 12, 2019
Science is riddled with people who either have an agenda or people who are bought and paid for by the power brokers of the world. Thus one has to look at the veracity of most papers. Climate science leads the pack in the pay for the results you want scam.
julianpenrod
1.8 / 5 (5) Jan 12, 2019
Scolar_Visari seems to think they scored a hit against my statements by insisting that "the concept of 'race' is in and of itself unscientific, and we really don't have any metric for measuring. [sic] 'spirituality' in any event." If that's the case, how do "science" venues get away with insisting that all races are alike in every way? To assert that, the "science" venues must acknowledge that there is such a thing as race and that all characteristics are necessarily ascertained to be the same. So often, those without a valid point to make demonstrate that in arch demonstrations when they think they are disproving someone else.
Da Schneib
4 / 5 (4) Jan 12, 2019
Climate science leads the pack in the pay for the results
OK, let's examine the pay of scientists.

You got any references for how all these "climate scientists" are getting paid all this money? It's all public information, so if you're not lying you'll be able to produce references.

Betting you'll try obfuscation next.

BTW they're called "geophysicists." On Earth.
Surveillance_Egg_Unit
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 12, 2019
For example, there is absolutely no proof all races are spiritually, intellectually the same.

Full stop: The concept of 'race' is in and of itself unscientific, and we really don't have any metric for measuring, "spirituality" in any event. You're part of the problem, no t the solution.

says Captain Beelzebub

Then you would have to consider Evolution as unscientific, since it is Evolution that has created the various "races" in humans. No two individuals are the same in any racial group - whether spiritually or intellectually, no matter to which "race" they belong.
Scolar_Visari
4.2 / 5 (5) Jan 12, 2019
I never said that, ""science" venues get away with insisting that all races are alike in every way". I instead noted that race was an unscientific concept, and I later cited actual geneticists as to why this is the case. It's not that races are, "alike in every way", but that the very taxonomy itself has no scientific meaning to begin with.

You have beautifully illustrated, however, that you have severe reading comprehension issues and also happen to be extremely dishonest.
Da Schneib
3 / 5 (4) Jan 12, 2019
@julianpindick is still spouting radioactive toxic waste racist politics.

Go back to arguing with the other trailer trash around the trailer park oil drum fire, pin dick.
Da Schneib
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 12, 2019
Captain Beelzebub
Tolja, this one's a YEC.

Thinks science is the devvul from its Babble about the super magic sky daddy by the drunken stone age sheep herders.

Never seen the slightest bit of science from this one.
Scolar_Visari
4.2 / 5 (5) Jan 12, 2019
I made the effort to look at their post history well before writing a response. I didn't expect and did not receive anything resembling sound reasoning or evidence to their suggestions (the closest being vague reference to a now disgraced Nobel Prize winner), but here is a good demonstration of how people who engage in pseudoscience tend to do so across multiple disciplines.

The same kind of thinking that goes into, for instance, denying the mainstream understanding of climate change, is also the same that goes into virtually every other pseudoscience paradigm ala Electric Universe, Intelligent Design, etc. You got your conspiracy theories, your insults, your appeals to authority and even some outright absence of reading comprehension. Rather than convince with actual reasoning and evidence, pseudoscience convinces via rhetorical flourish and dishonesty because it's easier and often works with people who don't know any better.
Surveillance_Egg_Unit
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 12, 2019
...
"We emphasize that there is no scientific basis for any claim that the pattern of human genetic variation supports hierarchically ranked categories of race or ethnicity."
...

That's not to say there aren't genetic variations that provide an advantage of one sort or another to any specific race...
To "hierarchically categorize" is to classify those advantages (and subsequent DIS advantages).
says Whyde

You are correct. To exemplify an overt disadvantage to the Negroid race - the many illnesses and deaths in Black communities that are caused by Sickle-Cell Anemia - also called Molecular Disease - is definitely race-related - however much it is denied to be.

-contd-
Surveillance_Egg_Unit
3 / 5 (2) Jan 12, 2019
-contd-
@Whyde

"The molecular disease concept put forward in the 1949 paper also became the basis for Linus Pauling's view of evolution. In the 1960s, by which time it had been shown that sickle cell trait confers resistance to malaria and so the gene had both positive and negative effects and demonstrated heterozygote advantage, Pauling suggested that molecular diseases were actually the basis of evolutionary change.[6] He also advocated eugenic policies, such as marking all who carry the sickle cell trait and other molecular disease genes, to reduce the number of children born with genetic diseases.[7]"

The vast majority of Sickle-Cell Disease affects Black-Africans anywhere in the world - but there are some victims who are found in certain other countries in southern Europe such as southern Italy that have also exhibited such a disease of the blood.
Surveillance_Egg_Unit
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 12, 2019
Captain Beelzebub
Tolja, this one's a YEC.

Thinks science is the devvul from its Babble about the super magic sky daddy by the drunken stone age sheep herders.

Never seen the slightest bit of science from this one.
says Da Pussyman

LOL Why do you consistently tell LIES all the time, Schneibo? Did your Mum teach you to tell lies about people off and on the internet? There has got to be a REASON for your telling lies so often, Da Scheide.
Are you telling lies to gain favour with your master, Beelzebub, so that someday when your flesh is rotting, he will take your Soul to hell with him? Well, of course, and why not since that is where both of you belong.
Keep telling your lies, Da Scheide. We won't forget you.
Mwahaahaahaahaa
Da Schneib
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 12, 2019
Sorry, @SEU, no one but genetically inferior inbred trailer trash believes in your devvul, your jebus, or your Babble about the super magic sky daddy by the drunken stone age sheep herders.
Surveillance_Egg_Unit
3 / 5 (2) Jan 12, 2019
Climate science leads the pack in the pay for the results
OK, let's examine the pay of scientists.

You got any references for how all these "climate scientists" are getting paid all this money? It's all public information, so if you're not lying you'll be able to produce references.

Betting you'll try obfuscation next.

BTW they're called "geophysicists." On Earth.
says Da Pussyman

Oh, you mean THIS?:

How much do climatologist make?
In 2011, half of all atmospheric scientists earned at least $89,790 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The top 10 percent of earners earned $136,120 or more, while the bottom 10 percent earned less than $47,950 annually. None of these figures, however, accounts for specialty, such as climatology.
How Much Money Do Climatologists Make? | Chron.com
https://work.chro...309.html

Surveillance_Egg_Unit
3 / 5 (2) Jan 12, 2019
Sorry, @SEU, no one but genetically inferior inbred trailer trash believes in your devvul, your jebus, or your Babble about the super magic sky daddy by the drunken stone age sheep herders.
says Da Pussyman

LOL Stop lying. None of those are mine - they are all yours, and it was you who made them all up in your worm-eaten brain, Da Scheide. Do you pray to your jebus?
But why do you repeat your fantasies in almost every physorg forum, Pussyman. It must be on your "mind" constantly. Does your master, Beelzebub know how mentally ill you are?
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Jan 13, 2019

Scientists already have one strike against them: they're generally smarter than most people, or they wouldn't be scientists, and not only are people jealous of those who are smarter, but they fear what they do not understand.

Which is something I don't get. There are plenty smart people out there who abuse their smarts for personal gain. Bankers. Lawyers. Politicians. You see them driving around in big cars and hob-nobbing it up in their mansions.

But scientists? When did you ever see a scientist abuse his smarts for personal gain? When's the last time you saw one step into a Ferrari and drive off?
Da Schneib
1 / 5 (2) Jan 13, 2019
I don't get it either, but I observe it. And I don't argue with what I observe.

Ferraris are irrelevant to psychotics. Teh evul siensetis are gettung teh rich. There's no accounting for psychosis.
Doug_Nightmare
5 / 5 (1) Jan 13, 2019
N. N. Taleb on IQ, "IYI". LOL
antigoracle
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 13, 2019
AGW Cult PATHOLOGICAL "science" as confirmed by their emails --
• Manipulated, hid or misrepresented data and evidence in official reports.
• Blocked the publication of scientific results that contradicted the IPCC theory.
• Expressed greater doubt in the emails about the science than they wrote in official reports.
• Manipulated the peer-review process to get friends to review their papers.
• Blocked access to data and methodologies to prevent other scientists from evaluating
their work.
• Pressured scientific journals to reject papers showing evidence contrary to their theory.
• Intimidated or discredited scientific journals that publish evidence contrary to their theory.
• Conspired to destroy data and emails subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) laws.

https://www.frien...ries.pdf
MR166
5 / 5 (1) Jan 13, 2019
"When did you ever see a scientist abuse his smarts for personal gain? "

Whether the bias their papers for financial gain or to further a political agenda makes little or no difference. Bad science is still bad science.
Eikka
5 / 5 (2) Jan 14, 2019
When did you ever see a scientist abuse his smarts for personal gain?


Many commit crimes but aren't nominally considered scientists: Andrea Rossi is a fraud, but you wouldn't argue him to be a scientists exactly because he is a fraud - which makes the whole question like a no-true-scotsman fallacy.

"Scientific misconduct" happens, and there's surprisingly few consequences:

https://www.inqui...l-fraud/

Former editor of the British Medical Journal Dr. Richard Smith agrees that scientific misconduct should be considered a criminal crime. In a recent blog post, he pointed out that some Volkswagen employees could be charged for their involvement in manipulating emission-test results, but if a scientist "invents data, defrauds funders and publishes fabricated data that may lead to patient harm," they are somehow "highly unlikely to face criminal charges."
Eikka
5 / 5 (2) Jan 14, 2019
In one sense, the difference between "a scientist" and "a conman" is whether they've caught you yet.

It's also called the demarcation problem:
https://en.wikipe..._problem

What anyone can say about the difference between science and non-science is really just: "wait and see if it works". While you're waiting, you ultimately can't tell bunk science from the real thing as long as the fraudster is clever enough, and this gets harder the closer you get to the established status quo, because then you get the support of the "consensus" on your side.

That becomes the most common scientific fraud. You can pass off little lies as results, exaggerate a little on a hot button topic and you get published and quoted, your department gets money, and you get to keep a well-paying job despite your lack of real output. The smartest conmen aren't greedy - they take only what they need and avoid getting caught.

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