Respecting scientific debate for what it is
Scientific debate must be accepted as the province of scientists but scientists then have an obligation to explain themselves well enough that the public trusts them
Scientific debate must be accepted as the province of scientists; but scientists then have an obligation to explain themselves well enough that the public trusts them. Given the importance of politicians and others making the right judgments over the next several decades, deliberate falsification of science should be strictly illegal and carry far greater penalties – it is hard enough to do the right thing without vested interests deliberately confusing issues. And the media should be encouraged to question the credibility of anyone without a relevant PhD passing judgment on the science of a contentious issue such as climate change or GM-crops or nuclear risk (as opposed to commenting on anything else about the issue).
Similarly, the scientific community – with funding from science-based corporations – must feel responsible for pushing-back far stronger against unbalanced or misrepresentative coverage of scientific issues by the media. Scientists have a deep obligation to argue their case, because if they do not then others less qualified will. This is especially true for politically-charged issues such as GM-crops or climate change where science needs constantly to earn people’s trust.
In addition, scientists also have a requirement to anticipate what may cause concern to the general public in the first place. Avoiding ‘unnecessary’ backlashes against science is just as much an issue of Pre-emptive Recovery as is developing defenses against something like cyberattack. Foisting a rapidly evolving and powerful idea or technology on the public without due consultation or an open and honest debate makes people worry that their government does not have enough oversight or understanding to protect them – or worse, is hiding things from them. So they react accordingly. Universities, corporations and scientific institutions must invest far more in training scientists to interact with the public and talk to the media as a matter of course. If they do not, then their ideas and ideals will be trashed by those with political and ideological agendas who do know how to behave in front of a camera.