Ed Driscoll

Science Turns Authoritarian

On the American Enterprise Institute’s blog, Kenneth P. Green and Hiwa Alaghebandian write:

In a Wired article published at the end of May, writer Erin Biba bemoans the fact that “science” is losing its credibility with the public. The plunge in the public’s belief in catastrophic climate change is her primary example. Biba wonders whether the loss of credibility might be due to the malfeasance unearthed by the leak of emails from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom, but comes to the conclusion that malfeasance isn’t the cause of the public’s disaffection. No, people have turned against science simply because it lacks a good public relations outfit. Biba quotes Kelly Bush, head of a major PR firm, on the point:

Bush says researchers need a campaign that inundates the public with the message of science: Assemble two groups of spokespeople, one made up of scientists and the other of celebrity ambassadors. Then deploy them to reach the public wherever they are, from online social networks to “The Today Show.” Researchers need to tell personal stories, tug at the heartstrings of people who don’t have PhD’s. And the celebrities can go on “Oprah” to describe how climate change is affecting them—and by extension, Oprah’s legions of viewers.

“They need to make people answer the questions, What’s in it for me? How does it affect my daily life? What can I do that will make a difference? Answering these questions is what’s going to start a conversation,” Bush says. “The messaging up to this point has been ‘Here are our findings. Read it and believe.’ The deniers are convincing people that the science is propaganda.”

While nobody would dispute the value of a good PR department, we doubted that bad or insufficient PR was the primary reason for the public’s declining trust in scientific pronouncements. Our theory is that science is not losing its credibility because people no longer like or believe in the idea of scientific discovery, but because science has taken on an authoritarian tone, and has let itself be co-opted by pressure groups who want the government to force people to change their behavior.

Science turning authoritarian? That didn’t end very well the last time it occurred.