Science skepticism is growing, and for one very good reason: Science and the bureaucratic state do not mix.
Scientists in recent years have been getting so devoted to sucking off the public tit that public trust of public science is rapidly and deservedly diminishing.
The usual narrative in the science-communication literature [suggests Mises Institute’s Peter Klein] is that public skepticism toward "science" is rooted in ignorance and fear, that it reflects scientists' failure to engage the public with lively and convincing stories. But what if scientists deliberately mislead the public, for careerist, pecuniary, or other reasons?
If they do, and when they increasingly do, then public skepticism must jutifiably increase.
The latest story on point here is the lead found in Flint, Michigan’s town water supply, and the story around its concealment – a scandal only exposed at great personal expense by a scientist from out of state with no public connection to local authorities (because all the local ‘scientists’ had other loyalties.
That scientist too says “public science is broken.”
I am very concerned about the culture of academia … and the perverse incentives that are given to young faculty. The pressures to get funding are just extraordinary. We’re all on this hedonistic treadmill — pursuing funding, pursuing fame, pursuing h-index — and the idea of science as a public good is being lost.
This is something that I’m upset about deeply. I’ve kind of dedicated my career to try to raise awareness about this. I’m losing a lot of friends. People don’t want to hear this. But we have to get this fixed, and fixed fast, or else we are going to lose this symbiotic relationship with the public. They will stop supporting us. …
In Flint the agencies paid to protect these people weren’t solving the problem. They were the problem. What faculty person out there is going to take on their state, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency?
I don’t blame anyone, because I know the culture of academia. You are your funding network as a professor. You can destroy that network that took you 25 years to build with one word. I’ve done it. When was the last time you heard anyone in academia publicly criticize a funding agency, no matter how outrageous their behavior? We just don’t do these things.
If an environmental injustice is occurring, someone in a government agency is not doing their job. Everyone we wanted to partner said, Well, this sounds really cool, but we want to work with the government. We want to work with the city. And I’m like, You’re living in a fantasy land, because these people are the problem. …
What these agencies did in was the most fundamental betrayal of public trust that I’ve ever seen. When I realized what they had done, as a scientist, I was just outraged and appalled.
I grew up worshiping at the altar of science, and in my wildest dreams I never thought scientists would behave this way. The only way I can construct a worldview that accommodates this is to say, These people are unscientific. Science should be about pursuing the truth and helping people. If you’re doing it for any other reason, you really ought to question your motives.
Unfortunately, in general, academic research and scientists … are no longer deserving of the public trust. We’re not.