Education alone is not the cure for science denial

What is at the root of science denial?

Our October Twitter chat focused on whether or not education plays a part in science denial and polarization of public opinion on controversial science topics. 

Education does not cure science denial

We reviewed findings from a recently published paper by Caitlin Drummond and Baruch Fischhoff,  which revealed an unexpected “paradox of polarization.”  We summarized this paper entitled, “Individuals with Greater Science Literacy and Education Have More Polarized Beliefs on Controversial Science Topics” in an earlier blog post.

Drummond and Fischhoff found that polarization was greater for individuals with more general education, science education, and higher scientific literacy scores across the issues of stem cell research, Big Bang theory, evolution, and climate change. 

Sampling of what we discussed about science denial

Our discussion focused on factors that may have contributed to this finding and what we (as science communicators) can do about this paradoxical relationship between education and polarization.   Some of the key ideas that came out of our Twitter chat include the following:

It is time for solutions

Sherry Nouraini felt there is now enough evidence against the “deficit model” and invited science communication professionals to start discussing solutions rather than generating more data that pretty much shows the same thing: public opinion is shaped more by who they are and less by how much they know.

Facts versus fiction

Heather Conklin called for solutions to help the public distinguish fact from fiction especially when their ideology nudges them towards accepting alternative facts.

The important role of trust in accepting facts

Not only one’s ideology but also the level of trust one places on a source of information is a factor that plays an important role in accepting information as fact or fiction.

Perception of risk and statistics

Matt Nurse addressed another limiting factor to accepting facts: our inaccurate perception of risk and inability to relate to statistics . More on that note, Sherry Nouraini suggested a book (see tweet below) you may want to read to learn more about this quirky human behavior

How do we combat science denial?

So, identity and ideology is what shapes public opinion and what they do and do not accept as fact. What is the remedy to helping the public make science-based decisions?

What do you think? Should we continue beating on the old deficit model drum and hope science-based decision making somehow seeps into public consciousness, or should we approach science communication differently? We’d love it if you would share this post on Twitter and add your opinion in the tweet.