At the risk of giving you the impression that Idaho is full of backwoods uneducated types, I’m going to mention a recent article about the “vaccination debate” here in Idaho.
The article tells the story of a group of anti-immunization crusaders in Northern Idaho through the lens of two contrasting women. One of these is the leader of the anti-immunization folks, Ingri Cassel. The other is state epidemiologist Christine Hahn.
I’m not going to wade into the depths of the vaccination debate except to say that the vast majority of research points to vaccines being effective, and as a scientist, I like to make decisions based on data, rather than just speculation (when data is available, at least).
But what I will wade into is the communication debate. The article says about Cassel that she’s a “heart-on-her-sleeve rabblerouser who takes on everyone.” It says about Hahn that she “has no desire to engage in a heated debate over vaccinations.”
And that, my friends, is why science is going to loose a battle, yet again.
If you’ve noticed the alarming trend towards science loosing battles against all manner of crazies, you’ve got your reason why in the two quotes above.
The non-science folks are passionate. They tell stories. They pound the pavement. They “market” their ideas.
And most of the scientists on the other side just sit there thinking that “the facts will speak for themselves.”
No, facts don’t speak. Not now, not ever.
The public doesn’t care about the subtle nuances of immunogenicity or fancy buzzwords like that. They listen to passion and stories (yes, anecdotal ones).
If you think this problem is isolated to just a few loonies in Northern Idaho, think again. This is a significant trend that we’ve seen happen in the climate change debates, in the evolution vs creationism, and many more.
If science is going to prevail, scientists are going to have to start being passionate communicators for the value of what they do. Otherwise, we may be doomed.