Americans and Science: Love it, but are detached from it?

Discussion in 'Science & Society' started by Saturnine Pariah, Feb 2, 2015.

  1. Saturnine Pariah Hell is other people Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    1,072
    Sometimes I just wonder, out of all the incongruities one could extrapolate from a global super power like the United States, which functions in an age of rampant technological advancement and communication, why is there such a disconnect between the US populace and it’s scientists or the scientific field? There are certainly a myriad of factors involved in each misunderstanding , ranging with their own complexities or possibly hidden political agendas, turning them into quagmires instead of respectable discussions. Yet as a whole, the American public’s visage of lack of understanding in certain scientific subjects, is an alarming trend and cause for concern for the US and its scientists. These scientists, ironically, are a group that the American public holds in the highest regard for their work.

    The signs of such a phenomenon are given numerical context and figures, after a joint effort of research conducted by the American Associations for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Pew Research Center. The conducted surveys and results of them are in this writer’s views, very disconcerting regarding that these figures show drastic disparities in the scientific knowledge among this writer’s fellow citizens.

    A first example on a list of contrast is the 51 percentage gap on the consensus on the safety of consuming GMO’s. While 88% of AAAS scientists believe that consuming them is safe, in contention to this is that only 37% of the American public, deem GMO foods or products to be safe for consumption.

    · Anthropogenic Climate Change. 37 percentage point gap. 87% of AAAS scientists believe that current trends in climate change are anthropogenic in origin, only 50% of the American public agrees with them.

    · Animals in Testing/Research. 42 percentage point gap. 89% of AAAS scientists support the use of animals in research. Only 47% of the American public supports it.

    · Consuming Foods grown with Pesticides. 40 percentage gap. 68% of AAAS scientists say it is safe to do so, while only 28% of the US populace agrees.

    · Human Evolution. 33 percentage point gap. While 98% of AAAS scientists agree that humans have evolved from other species, only 65% of the American public agrees.

    As also found in the study, there is no single spectrum or direction in the conflicting paradigms of the scientific community and the US population. As a statistical representation of this lack of understanding shows, by at least a 20 percent point margin, US citizens are more likely than scientists to favor offshore drilling. By a 12 percentage point margin, US citizens are more likely to believe that astronauts are a key to the future of US’s space program.

    Contrasting with these statistics of the public are the concerns of America’s scientific community on certain issues. Only 15% of AAAS scientist believes that the most accurate science and findings are being used in concerns of policies governing land usage. In addition only 27% of AAAS scientist believes that the best data and research is proficiently used in regards to policies concerning clean air or water.

    One area that is within a relatively close gap on the scales of agreement between the two groups is that STEM, and its influence and integration into America’ public education system or how poorly it is performing. Only 16% of AAAS scientists and 29 % of the general US public rank the US’s K-12 STEM system as producing above average or the best in the world results, in terms of scientific literacy in its students. 75% of AAAS scientists contribute the poor understandings and breakdown of consensus to these scientific issues, to poor or limited education involving STEM. The majority of American scientists find that these glaring issues could threaten America’s scientific prowess or achievement.


    Reference.

    American Association for the Advancement of Science. (2015, January 29). Public and scientists express strikingly different views about science-related issues.ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 1, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/01/150129143030.htm

    Journal Reference

    A. I. Leshner.Bridging the opinion gap.Science, 2015; 347 (6221): 459 DOI:10.1126/science.aaa7477
     
    cosmictraveler likes this.
  2. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement



    to hide all adverts.
  3. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    6,465
    But do these numbers really show a huge disconnect? When I read this I thought actually the views of the US public seemed to correlate fairly positively with scientific opinion, on most criteria. And you do have to allow for the fact that scientists are a highly educated segment of society, compared to the mean, which is inevitably weighed down by the ignorant and stupid in the population.
     
  4. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement



    to hide all adverts.
  5. GeoffP Caput gerat lupinum Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    22,087
    Wow. I liked the animals in research part - what research? Which kind? No separation by relevance, invasiveness or utility. Love them shotgun solutions.

    I used to believe in democracy. I did. I used to take huge indignation on SF at the merest suggestion that there was something wrong with it. I did! I have never been more wrong.
     
  6. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement



    to hide all adverts.
  7. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    4,659
    One of the reasons why the public isn't as quick as some might like to express belief in scientific orthodoxies is that some of these issues aren't perceived by the public as being primarily scientific issues. Animal experimentation is widely perceived in the context of cruelty to animals, as a moral issue as opposed to a scientific one.

    Global warming has become so politicized that it's perceived by much of the public as politics as opposed to science. The science is widely seen as rhetoric invented to justify conclusions already adopted for non-scientific reasons. Instead of believing that the politics is being driven by the science, there's widespread suspicion that the science is being driven by the politics.

    After all, from the layman's perspective, science typically boils down to arguments from authority, to scientists' (or more accurately, those who supposedly speak for them) demands that the public simply believe what it's told.

    It's an unfortunate fact that the barriers to entry in science are tremendously high. To even speak intelligently about many scientific issues requires a background equivalent to several years as a university science undergraduate. Most laypeople don't have anything like that background. (That's why so many threads here on Sciforums are so lame.)

    Which leaves the general public without much choice other than accepting whatever they are told is "science" as being something uniquely authoritative. They certainly aren't in any position to question any of it (if they try, they will be mercilessly insulted) or even to understand what justifies the often counter-intuitive propositions that they are expected to embrace.

    In that context, it isn't all that surprising that the public's views about ostensibly scientific issues are less monolithic than the views of scientists. I don't think that a little popular skepticism is an entirely bad thing.
     
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2015
    Saturnine Pariah likes this.
  8. Saturnine Pariah Hell is other people Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    1,072
    Those are fair observations; the only pegging factor that is disconcerting to me about these discrepancies is how they may influence how the American public votes on these issues. If only half the public can agree upon or understand the vast evidence supporting say AGW, then policies that the government can pass to deal with it, could simply end up in gridlock and become highly politicized...oh..Wait…. (Sighs, then face palm)
     
  9. Saturnine Pariah Hell is other people Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    1,072
    Yeah, sorry about that. The source material didn’t go into detail about the how and why animals were being utilized or in what types of research.
     
  10. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    4,659
    My guess is that the failure to consider the subtleties in that issue is an artifact of how the question was worded.

    I suspect that 89% of scientists answered yes, they do support animal research (broadly speaking, no nuances), largely because they trust their colleagues not to maim, torture or needlessly kill animals. Only 47% of the public share that same confidence in scientists' basically good instincts regarding non-human sentient beings.

    Again, I don't really see that gap as unhealthy. A grain of popular skepticism can sometimes be a good thing in a democracy.
     
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2015
  11. GeoffP Caput gerat lupinum Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    22,087
    I don't know. I don't trust the public grasp of nuance. And I bet you don't either, whether you admit it or no.
     
  12. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    6,465
    Yes, but…I also think Yazata has a good point. Science inevitably appears to the man in the street as something he has to take on trust rather than fully grasping for himself, a bit as some of us do with economics, perhaps. If you don't follow it all, you look at track record of success, personal integrity of the speaker and all sorts of other things to help you judge whether you agree or not. I'm always pleased when a majority of people espouse what I think is the sensible view. I think it's about as good as it gets, whether on science or any other subject.
     
    Saturnine Pariah likes this.
  13. Saturnine Pariah Hell is other people Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    1,072
    True, but shouldn’t independent competence and understanding of these issues, even at the most baser degrees, be a paramount trait to have in order to have a well informed and educated public voting on them? I understand that specific fields or research will elude the common man, and be entirely esoteric, but to have disconnects between these groups and bridge them with a heavy reliance on trust ,is a trend I am wary of having for a democracy.


    I can agree that it is the citizen's responsibility for self edification, but with many of these issues being highly politicized or being influenced by private interests groups, the lines of opinion and rhetoric vs. facts and statistics can become blurred. That in mind, trying to find the truth as a common person can be difficult in the way our media portrays these issues.
     
  14. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    6,465
    Agreed. You have just explained why it is hard for the population to come to what seem to us scientists to be the right conclusion. I don't think they do that badly in the circumstances, as I say. But the only way to improve the situation is either to get involved in the communication, or to support those who do it well and to boycott the sources of disinformation, such as Murdoch's horrible Fux "News".
     
  15. Saturnine Pariah Hell is other people Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    1,072
    I shudder to imagine the frightening hedge way that could be made in the understanding of these scientific issues, if such vile and repugnant “News” outlets like Fox or its affiliates were to be dismantled.
     
  16. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    24,274
    We know this: most scientists in the AAS do not know enough about most GMOs to ascertain their safety or reports on their safety, there is no adequate body of research into most areas of consumption hazard from any GMO (let alone all of them, and all the new ones to come) , and several recently noticed and only recently approached fields of research (the nature, complexity, and various roles, of the bacterial flora of the human digestive tract, for example) bear directly on the consumption safety of some but not all GMOs.

    So if the scientists really do poll like that, which I do not believe (the exact wording of the question and its context make a big difference) they are quite clearly wrong. That error would be likely to make some GMOs - no telling which ones - the next in a fairly long list of industrial and modernizing innovations that scientific experts declared to be safe in error, and people suffered from unnecessarily for that reason.

    If that doesn't happen, it's from extraordinary good luck - not due diligence.

    And people intuitively know this - they recognize the signs of arrogance and false expertise and conflict of interest that have betrayed them in the past, such as the industry's refusal to track and label GMO food.
    (Even with such labeling it took years to extricate from epidemiological data the effects of industrial trans fats - and that stuff was killing tens of thousands of people every year, minimum. Without such labeling the spotting of even seriously lethal effects of certain kinds becomes quite difficult).
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2015
  17. billvon Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    12,755
    The exact wording was "generally safe" which I would agree with.
     
  18. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    24,274
    I would not - and I know more about the factors involved than most members of the AAS.

    And the context, if I recall correctly, was two specific GMOs under consideration for deployment in Europe as crops - which makes the extension of the already dubious and unsupp0rted verdict to "GMOs" farcical, intellectually.

    Scientists tend to make the same errors of inference outside their field that ordinary citizens do - in this case 1) mistaking absence of evidence of harm for presence of evidence of safety 2) underestimating the scope and variety of possibilities invisibly present in areas of ignorance 3) assuming self aware good faith in people like themselves.

    At any rate, the inclusion of that very problematic polling result in the list of disconnections between the "scientific community" and the general public opens up an overlooked set of issues for those hoping to close the connection: those attendant on the circumstance that the general public is correct, and the scientific community - or at least its public representation - is wrong about something.

    That situation is neither new nor rare.
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2015
  19. billvon Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    12,755
    OK. GMO's, to me, are generally safe because they have been used for decades without negative impact to human health.
    If that is indeed a fallacy, then ordinary hybridized crops are as dangerous as GMO's.
     
  20. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    24,274
    Exactly one GM has been "used" in a couple of Os (eaten by lots of people in their food) for "decades", and no effective studies of its impact on human health have been done.

    Another one - a completely different GM, in different Os - has been widely "used" for maybe a decade and a half: again, without being monitored or its effects carefully studied.

    Even if that one GM had been carefully monitored in human consumption of its various Os, which it has not been, and found to be harmless to human health in the short term ordinary circumstances available for study, that would say nothing about other GMOs. They are not the same, at all. Each new one is a different organism, modified in a different way, with much different risks and potentials. That means safety in one is no information in another. No one can say that "GMOs are generally safe" based on any evidence obtained from any particular GMOs. That would be true if there were such evidence of safety for several GMOs, even, which there is not.

    The mere existence of the argument is baffling, in a science forum. WTF is going on here?

    The ordinary crossbreeding of already long-vetted and familiar crops carries some small and largely known risk (especially with crops, such as potatoes, known to harbor particular hazards), but nothing like the risks inherent in GMOs, and far easier to monitor (we have a much better idea of where to look for trouble, for starters).

    Meanwhile the very weird inability of the technologically adept to recognize when they are making these basic errors of reasoning and perception, the same kinds they mock in creationists and climate denialists and so forth, is - besides being startling (I was taken aback, frankly shocked, the first time I saw a bona fide scientist with an advanced degree repeat that all human crops were genetically engineered because they had been bred for domestication) - directly relevant to the disconnect between science and regular people. It's apparently oblivious people using claimed authority to put over falsehood, and after that's been done a few times the claim to authority is likely to have been damaged by events.

    Nature sides with the hidden flaw. What are the odds that none of these dozens of different GMOs, none of them vetted well, none of the monitored carefully, all of them products of a new and largely unknown field of extraordinary complexity, have a single serious flaw?

    Just talking human health here - direct effects on human health. Not bothering with the economic, political, ecological, and environmental areas of risk. Narrowly focused query: what would the smart money bet?
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2015
  21. billvon Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    12,755
    Four staples, actually, with several other smaller crops (tomatoes, papayas) genetically modified as well. Do you have any examples of GM crops causing disease or illness? Even one?

    I agree. GMO foods (the ones produced now) are generally safe to eat. That does not, of course, say that future GMO foods (or indeed any foods) will be safe to eat.

    What's going on here? You are trolling, substituting emotion and personal attacks for rational conversation. Pretty common here, actually.

    Precisely. There is a risk - but that risk has never been borne out into actual harm. Thus, if you are mistaking absence of evidence of harm for presence of evidence of safety, then there is no evidence of safety from hybrids.

    However, that is, IMO, a foolish angle to take. In fact, a long history of absence of evidence of harm IS evidence of safety. It is one of the criteria used to evaluate medical procedures, for example - a trial that produces no harm is evidence that the procedure poses little risk of harm, and is relatively safe.
    In this case it is apparently indicative of a disconnect between science and yourself.
    Low, since they have not demonstrated that flaw in years (sometimes decades) of use.
     
  22. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    24,274
    BTW: I edited out some of the inflammatory language, but apparently not quicfk enough - billvon's quotes are accurate.

    No apologies. Just a tactical decision - the language was perfectly appropriate and well deserved by its audience. There's no excuse for this situation on a science forum.
    One modification, in a couple of organisms, for "decades". Exactly one: resistance to glyphosate herbicide, Monsanto's version, in maize and beans. Period.

    That is the entire physical basis for anyone's contention that we have "decades of experience" with widespread human consumption of "GMOs".

    No. Do you have any examples of a study capable of detecting them? Even one study, of one GMO? I'll answer that for you - no.

    Are you arguing that in the absence of adequate study and the presence of complex unknowns relevant to a recognized arena of danger, safety is the presumption? Yes. Is that stupid? Why yes, it is.

    No, only the ones we have your "decades" of experience with, and that have been carefully monitored for the short term circumstances available for study, are generally safe in those limited respects. The rest are open questions.

    In other words, none of them in serious terms, and maybe the one GM in a couple of Os in casual terms, meet the minimum criteria for partial safety you agree with.

    New and potentially dangerous things are not declarably safe because they haven't hurt you yet, even if you know they haven't hurt you yet - and you don't even know that, with GMOs.

    If any of the several GMOs currently deployed is causing anything like the cardiovascular problems trans fats caused, for example, or the sugar metabolism problems we recently noticed from artificial sweeteners, or the like, we will not find out for years - nobody's looking. Recall that trans fats and sweeteners were far more thoroughly vetted than any GM has been, and were labeled - that's how their harms were eventually recognized, by the labeling which allowed epidemiological survey.

    But I'm not. I have ten thousand years of breeding and eating and experience and research and knowledge of mechanisms and trial and error to examine and evaluate for safety of hybrids. I know where to look, for the harms, and what to look for. I can detail, specifically, mechanisms that help ensure safety and circumstances that curb risk. It's not a new field, this crop breeding business. And it's much, much simpler.

    We don't have anything like that, anything even close to that, with any GMO - let alone "GMOs". No history, nobody looking for evidence or absence of it. Not finding what nobody is looking for is not evidence. Not finding what nobody has had time to find is not evidence. Inferring safety without evidence is error.

    With the obvious difference, in the case of medical procedures, that such trials are actually performed, and then evaluated to see if harm has been done.

    And the even more striking difference that the medical procedures are not deployed and used on millions of people until after the trials have been performed and evaluated.

    There's a question as to whether the scientific community knows that these ordinary things are not being done with GMOs. As the scientist quoted in Scientific American last fall put it: 90% of the scientists who think GMOs "are generally safe" to eat think they are being tested and evaluated as such food additives normally are. In his words: they absolutely are not, and they absolutely should be.

    Those years are imaginary, and so is your apparent belief that anyone has been looking for that flaw. None of that monitoring has been done, for any GMO - let alone the new ones.

    Not demonstrating something only informs if a demonstration has been attempted.

    It's the same point over and over and over: as the people who launched the Challenger that cold morning discovered, absence of reported harm is not evidence of safety without due diligence. Nobody is doing due diligence with GMOs. Not even in the limited arena of direct effects on consumer health. Yet the supposed "scientific" representatives are talking as if they had real science to back up their reassurances. That is a problem.
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2015

Share This Page