Research & Insights

Who Are You Calling Anti-Science?

By Troy Campbell and Lauren Griffin

Lauren Griffin, Ph.D., frank director of external research and the manager of the Journal of Public Interest Communications, and Troy Campbell, Ph.D., frank2016 winner of the frank Prize for Research in Public Interest Communications and assistant professor of Marketing at the University of Oregon, published an article in Scientific America. Read their analysis below.

In a couple of weeks, crowds will march nationwide in the March for Science. It’s part of a recent trend pushing back against “anti-science” attitudes that have become all the more prominent since last November’s elections. However, many at this march may greatly misunderstand the “anti-science” behavior they will be marching against. This misunderstanding may be misguiding us in our attempts to make science actually matter.

People’s relationship with science is much more complex and nuanced than “pro-science” or “anti-science.” We need to correct some of the misconceptions we have and show that what is often labeled as “anti-science” or “science denial” is often better understood as isolated incidents of motivated bias. In general, trust in science is much higher than we often realize, in part because it includes a lot of people we might often consider “anti-science.”

For instance, a survey of “science lovers” would include people like Sally, an electrical engineer who loves Mythbusters but is skeptical of climate change, and Sam, an environmental advocate who loves science nights at Griffith Observatory but is also part of an anti-vaccinations initiative. Both of these people hold incorrect views about specific scientific topics, but both also self-identify as science lovers. When we label people like Sally and Sam as “anti-science,” we misunderstand much about their thought processes and risk pushing them away.

Today as the danger of so-called anti-science attitudes rise, we need to be more scientific about what we call science denial and ease our trigger finger off the damning label “anti-science.” When do this, we can see that complete denial of the value of empirical science—true anti-science attitudes—are less common than we realize, but other elements that may hinder scientific progress are more common than we’d think.

Seeing at least some of the denial of scientific facts in this light helps us better understand the mindsets of people like Sally and Sam who oppose the scientific consensus on specific issues like climate change and vaccinations, but generally support science. When it comes to “anti-science,” there are some true deceivers, and some truly anti-science people, but mostly it involves people with complicated views and biases. We suggest that those who truly love science will see why a better understanding of these complications is necessary to make science matter in this so-called “anti-science” era.

Read the full article on Scientific America

Troy H. Campbell is assistant professor of marketing at the University of Oregon.


Posted: April 7, 2017
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