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Science and Public Perception - A Great Divide
The institution of science is perhaps one of the greatest things that we as a species have produced. It has allowed us to ask questions about the world around us and then carry out experiments that will answer those questions. These answers have yielded us insights into where we came from, where we are going, and how we are going to get there. From the big bang to evolution to antibiotics, scientific progress has had a profound impact on us all. Unfortunately, there are many in the world that do not have access to this scientific information, and there are still others that willfully ignore it for their own naïve reasons. It is for these people that I try to bring important scientific facts to members of the general public through writing on online blogs or on Devtome. Public understanding and perception of science is often warped by misinformation, and it is essential that scientists reach out to the public in order to keep scientific ideas in touch with those that they aim to aid and inform.
Scientific Progress and Scientific Denial
As science is a multifaceted entity, measuring scientific progress as a collective unit is difficult, but it is impossible to deny the ways that it has shaped our society. Despite the impossibility of such denial, there are those who would deny certain aspects of science. Their motives can be religious in nature, but they may also be driven by profit, paranoia, or merely by their own well meaning naïveté. As with anyone that holds a very strong opinion, science deniers are generally equipped with a range of biased or false “facts” which they use to chip away at their opponents arguments. As such, anyone who is not prepared for such a debate will likely be unable to refute much of the misinformation with which they are faced, and this may have the unfortunate side effect of some people questioning the beliefs that they already held.
Take, for example, the anti vax movement. Vaccines are unquestionably one of the most important innovations in all of human history. Vaccines allowed us to abolish smallpox, to all but eliminate polio, and to prevent millions of cases of other illnesses and hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. Despite the overwhelming evidence in favor of vaccination, there is a vocal contingent of people that are strongly opposed to vaccinations for a range of reasons. This is a fairly recent phenomenon that arose vocally after a fallacious scientific article was published claiming that the MMR vaccine causes autism. Despite having been disproved hundreds of times over in the years since its publication, this study is still used to justify fears of vaccination programs. It is often coupled with twisted information about the contents of vaccines - that they contain deadly toxins, for example - or about their efficacy. The movement is driven by celebrities that hunger for the spotlight and companies that profit from ignorance, but its largest member group is composed of well meaning but ultimately misled parents.
These anti vax parents will often buy into arguments that they hear about how vaccines might permanently damage their children, and then out of fear for their kids or out of mistrust for the government's mandatory vaccination requirements they will elect not to vaccinate. Unfortunately, the victims of this misinformation are their children, who are too young to recognize for themselves the essential value of vaccines. These children are now left at risk for developing debilitating diseases such as whooping cough or measles, both of which have begun to make a comeback in the USA since vaccination levels began to drop in recent years. Additionally, there are other people in the world who cannot get vaccines due to allergies or issues with their immune systems. If everyone around these people are vaccinated then they will also be protected as they will never encounter the diseases in the first place, but if parents stop vaccinating their children then this shield will evaporate. In this way, parents who elect to not vaccinate their children endanger not only the lives of their own offspring, but those of anyone who is unfortunate enough not to have the choice to be vaccinated themselves. It is for this reason that the anti vax movement is so insidious, and it is for this reason that scientists need to reach out to the public to prevent them from falling prey to the pseudoscientific misinformation that circulates on the internet and elsewhere.
There are those among the scientific denial movement that will never give up their perturbed beliefs despite any modicum of evidence that is provided to them. It is not these people that scientists need to reach out to. Instead, we need to reach the general public - people who do not have hardened opinions about scientific ideas, and who, if not properly educated, may fall sway to the likes of the anti-vax camp of thinking. By reaching out to people who want to learn, we can provide them with the tools and information necessary to encourage them to make informed decisions about their own health and how they interact with science and society. Writing for sites such as Devtome allows for an average scientist such as myself to post important scientific information that has the potential to positively impact lives through education and all of the benefits it brings. Anyone with specialized knowledge of a facet of the world should use such online platforms to compile their informed opinions. In this way, we can use Devtome as a platform to promote constructive dialogs about topics such as vaccination programs or GMO food safety, rather than diving into the unproductive madness that occur on one-sided blogs presenting these topics.
I write for Devtome for the readers of Devtome. I know I don't have all the answers, and I know that you don't either. I don't mean to force you to think a certain way, but I want to present you with my perspective on issues that are important to me and to society as a whole such as vaccination. I hope that by providing you with the facts, rather than mere ramblings, I can equip you for your next encounter with someone that holds an opposing viewpoint so that you will be able to stand your ground and engage them in a debate that may allow you to change their minds. In this way, we can all use these online publishing platforms to bring about a positive change in the world around us.