When and How Should We "Trust the Science"?

By Duane Blackburn

Many factors have placed a recent spotlight on the role of S&T within public policy. It is clear we must work to help policymakers, the press, and the public when & how they should “trust the science” by assessing the science and how it is being explained.

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The COVID-19 pandemic, paradigm-shifting technological advancements, and (unfortunately) politics have placed a bright spotlight on the role of science within public policy. Science and technology (S&T) “facts” are alternatively used to argue multiple sides of debates, cherry-picked or taken out of context to “prove” an individual’s desired outcomes, or dismissed as being irrelevant if they do not support political objectives.

Scientific and technological advancements have long been the bedrock of our nation’s security and prosperity. Public confidence in the science community is higher than many other institutions and has been fairly constant for decades, but events of 2020 seem to have fractured that confidence as partisan divides and personal biases increased in prominence.  Because of this increase, combined with ubiquitous use of social media for millions to share their opinions, public discussion of S&T policy issues is rapidly growing and devolving into self-reinforcing (and opposing) camps.

It is clear we must work to help policymakers, the press, and the public better understand when and how they should trust the science.  This paper provides an initial primer along two important lanes to aid with their understanding:  the science itself and how the science is being explained.