Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Here’s What’s Wrong with ‘Trust the Science’

 

Think about the times you’ve been told to “trust the science.” Two occasions should come to mind immediately: when discussing climate change and when talking about the Wuhan coronavirus.

There’s a lot of science being done on the subject of climate change. There’s a lot of science being done on the subject of the coronavirus. Let’s assume, for the sake of discussion, that the vast bulk of this is “good” science — that it’s being conducted by competent people acting in accordance with the techniques and standards of science. That’s almost certainly a safe assumption.

You still shouldn’t “trust the science.”

That’s because when we’re talking about public policy — and that’s what we’re always talking about when people tell you to “trust the science” — we’re talking about a lot more than just science.

Take climate change policy. Science can make predictions about temperatures and sea levels 80 years from now (though how well it does that is open to debate), but science doesn’t make predictions about economics 80 years from now, or about national boundaries, or populations, or the pace of technological change, or human rights, or any of the myriad other things that have to be considered when creating public policy.

So when the politician tells you to “trust the science” about climate change, he’s also telling you to trust all the other “experts” who think they can predict the future 80 years from now, all the economists and sociologists and population experts and futurists, and to believe that they all know better than you how you should live your life.

And when the politician tells you to “trust the science” about the coronavirus as he’s announcing some new restriction, he’s also telling you that you should trust his judgment about a bunch of other things that aren’t science. Things like the value of: visiting a loved one in the hospital; having your family over for the holiday; keeping your business open; allowing your child to be educated; going to church; and living like a free human being.

Science can’t tell you whether or not those things are worth doing at the risk of possibly catching or spreading a disease that most people will survive and many will hardly notice. That’s something an informed citizen can do for himself, not something politicians, nor scientists, can do for him.

Think about it. The only time you’re told to “trust the science” is when the science is a small part of something much bigger, something that will require you to change how you live, to accept restrictions and limitations, to give up freedom and choices. No one tells you to trust the science of quantum physics or organic chemistry or fluid dynamics. It’s only when they need to leverage the authority of science as a tool for lawmaking that we’re piously told to put our faith in them and their science.

Sure, trust the science. But don’t trust anyone who tells you you should, as part of telling you how you’re going to have to live and what you’re going to have to give up.

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  1. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    When you peruse the awfulness that is Twitter you get this argument: Trump is a failure on Covid because he doesn’t trust the science. Well, in a true scientific manner we have other countries who have Covid and don’t have Trump as their head of government. The science, therefore, is showing them something that they don’t want to see. Namely, you can have lockdowns, mask mandates, and all types of government-run healthcare, no Trump, and the virus is going to do what the virus is going to do. And then they’ll point to some island country that’s closed it’s borders and still call you stupid. 

    • #1
    • November 19, 2020, at 9:04 PM PST
    • 10 likes
  2. Freeven Member
    Freeven Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    The thing about science is that even science doesn’t “trust the science.” The heart of science is skepticism.

    Trust the science, just don’t trust the scientists.

     

    • #2
    • November 19, 2020, at 9:11 PM PST
    • 19 likes
  3. James Lileks Contributor

    “Trust the science” usually tells me that the speaker wants to assume both authority and prestige, without earning either. In their minds, it places them above the people who react to the very idea of science like hooting chimps confronted with a Boston Dynamics robot. 

    It’s such an empty utterance. Eugenics was science. Lysenkoism was science. Phlogiston was science.

    • #3
    • November 19, 2020, at 10:24 PM PST
    • 22 likes
  4. Flicker Coolidge

    James Lileks (View Comment):
    Phlogiston

    I had to look that up. Thanks. But you know, it sounds right.

    • #4
    • November 19, 2020, at 10:36 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  5. Barfly Member

    There’s no more misused word in the English language today than science. I’d like to strike science, scientist, and scientific from the language, just to watch the halfwits struggle gape-mouthed to find words that might actually mean something.

    Science is the thing that is not affected by anyone’s belief or trust.

    • #5
    • November 20, 2020, at 6:00 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  6. mildlyo Member
    mildlyo Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Phrenology and Social Darwinism were science.

    • #6
    • November 20, 2020, at 6:00 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  7. Barfly Member

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    It’s such an empty utterance. Eugenics was science. Lysenkoism was science. Phlogiston was science.

    Climate science is science. That’s the one that broke the modern mind, I think, and let the mob in.

    • #7
    • November 20, 2020, at 6:03 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  8. Stad Thatcher

    When scientists make predictions based on a theory and carry out research to prove or disprove their theory, that’s science. When scientists make predictions on what will happen XYZ years from now, it’s fortune telling. In the latter example, scientists are really acting as futurists . . .

    • #8
    • November 20, 2020, at 7:10 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  9. KevinKrisher Coolidge

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    It’s such an empty utterance. Eugenics was science. Lysenkoism was science. Phlogiston was science.

    Any admonition to “trust the science” is a non-sequitur – a statement that literally makes no sense. Science is, by definition, a process that relies on demonstrable evidence rather than trust in any authority. If a scientific proposition has merit, then it does not need to be trusted.

    Good scientists know this, which is why they do not ask for trust. They simply show their evidence.

    • #9
    • November 20, 2020, at 8:27 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  10. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette

    KevinKrisher (View Comment):

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    It’s such an empty utterance. Eugenics was science. Lysenkoism was science. Phlogiston was science.

    Any admonition to “trust the science” is a non-sequitur – a statement that literally makes no sense. Science is, by definition, a process that relies on demonstrable evidence rather than trust in any authority. If a scientific proposition has merit, then it does not need to be trusted.

    Good scientists know this, which is why they do not ask for trust. They simply show their evidence.

    Yes, it isn’t a very science-y thing to say.

    I’ve always given people who use the phrase the benefit of the doubt, and assumed that what they were really trying to communicate is “trust that the methods and standards of science are our best hope of yielding meaningful results.” That’s a more acceptable interpretation than “trust that what the science says right now about this subject must be correct and final.”

    But even if we believed that the results of the science were correct, it would still be wrong to invoke science as the comprehensive defense of policy that involves a lot of non-scientific considerations. That’s really the point of the post.

    • #10
    • November 20, 2020, at 9:03 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  11. Unsk Member

    Great Post Henry. The sorry state of “Science” and it’s credibility is definitely a blow to civilization moving forward. 

    • #11
    • November 20, 2020, at 10:00 AM PST
    • 1 like
  12. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    Ironically, the faith/trust in science and scientists they call for is what used to be reserved for theology and the priesthood. 

    • #12
    • November 20, 2020, at 12:28 PM PST
    • 1 like
  13. EWZ Lincoln
    EWZ

    There seemed to be plenty of SCIENCE! in Soviet Communism. The results speak for themselves.

    • #13
    • November 20, 2020, at 12:47 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  14. JamesSalerno Coolidge

    “Science” is a weak, authoritarian argument. Real scientific integrity welcomes and encourages opposing opinions. It’s how you get from scientific theory to scientific fact. If a theory is allowed to run unopposed, it proves nothing.

    Very, very few things in the universe are “settled” science.

    • #14
    • November 20, 2020, at 1:44 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  15. cdor Member
    cdor Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Henry Racette: Sure, trust the science. But don’t trust anyone who tells you you should,

    That’s it @henryracette…hammer-nail-head. Very nice!

    • #15
    • November 20, 2020, at 2:00 PM PST
    • 1 like
  16. Chuck Thatcher

    Quite simply I’ve never heard that phrase, except when said jokingly, from any conservative. Ever.

    • #16
    • November 20, 2020, at 2:15 PM PST
    • 1 like
  17. MiMac Thatcher

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    “Trust the science” usually tells me that the speaker wants to assume both authority and prestige, without earning either. In their minds, it places them above the people who react to the very idea of science like hooting chimps confronted with a Boston Dynamics robot.

    It’s such an empty utterance. Eugenics was science. Lysenkoism was science. Phlogiston was science.

    You forgot phrenology. There is currently a major crisis of replication in science- two good articles :

    https://www.firstthings.com/article/2016/05/scientific-regress

    https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/weekly-standard/making-it-all-up

    • #17
    • November 20, 2020, at 2:29 PM PST
    • 1 like
  18. American Abroad Thatcher
    American Abroad Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    In both the issue of climate change and coronavirus, “trust the science” really means “accept my simplisitc computer model of a complex system” as gospel truth, even when those models fail to predict actual outcomes in the very short-term.

    • #18
    • November 20, 2020, at 8:09 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  19. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    American Abroad (View Comment):

    In both the issue of climate change and coronavirus, “trust the science” really means “accept my simplisitc computer model of a complex system” as gospel truth, even when those models fail to predict actual outcomes in the very short-term.

    Or even just ‘shut up and get out of our way’. 

    • #19
    • November 20, 2020, at 8:44 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  20. American Abroad Thatcher
    American Abroad Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    TBA (View Comment):

    American Abroad (View Comment):

    In both the issue of climate change and coronavirus, “trust the science” really means “accept my simplisitc computer model of a complex system” as gospel truth, even when those models fail to predict actual outcomes in the very short-term.

    Or even just ‘shut up and get out of our way’.

    Indeed. It would be so easy for our betters to centrally plan a perfect world if it weren’t for those pesky people who insist on liberty and rights. “Shut up and get out of our way” should be the motto of all central planners. If only we followed their directives, there would be economic plenty, a perfect climate, and no viruses to disturb our utopia. Their hubris is astounding.

    • #20
    • November 20, 2020, at 9:09 PM PST
    • 1 like
  21. Al Sparks Thatcher

    I prefer to argue that we (well, they) are not trusting the science, but trusting the scienTISTS.

    And scientists are human beings that fight amongst themselves, often are jealous of each other, and like every other fraternity (and mostly it’s a fraternity, not a sorority) the best scientist doesn’t always win.

    Look at Anthony Fauci. He hasn’t stayed in his lane. He’s not only leveraged his popularity for a cover story in Vogue magazine, but also thrown the ceremonial first pitch at a Yankees-Nationals game. He doesn’t display much humility.

    He’s also gotten himself involved in presidential politics. Again, not very humble.

    And the science infrastructure is in trouble in another way. I can’t cite the source, but I’ve heard that only 50 percent of science journal research are reproduceable.

    Most people who say, follow the science, don’t even know what the definition of science is or more specifically what the scientific method is.

    And that much of science includes unproven hypothesis. Science actually has more questions than answers. It’s a big part of the scientific method.

    But scientists like Fauci, don’t like to admit how ignorant they really are.

    • #21
    • November 21, 2020, at 12:53 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  22. The Reticulator Member

    IOW, it’s unscientific to say, “Trust the science.”

    • #22
    • November 21, 2020, at 8:02 AM PST
    • 1 like
  23. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    Science counts and measures things. When “science” recommends a course of action it ceases being science. 

    This doesn’t mean that the course of action isn’t a good idea – it often is – but to treat an informed guess as if it was hard data is to misunderstand (or just lie about) what science is. 

    • #23
    • November 21, 2020, at 11:01 AM PST
    • 4 likes