Our Trust in Science is Complicated

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Writing for Scientific American, historian John Lisle explains why Our Trust in Science is complicated. Here’s the opening paragraph:

“Science is supposedly based on evidence, but in reality, for most people, it is based on trust. Scientific evidence is mostly inaccessible. Scientific journals are difficult to obtain and their articles are written in a specialized language that is incomprehensible to all but a few experts in the field. We trust what those experts say about their results without having the ability to question the results themselves. We trust that some knowledgeable person would question them if necessary.”

The article also introduces the “Matthew effect”, so named for Matthew 25:29 (For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them) which in the case of published science means that “recognizable scientists receive disproportionate credit, and therefore trust, in a repeating cycle.”

Moreover, this article shows that understanding how science works, especially in an age where massive teams contribute to so many of the major gains in science – think the Human Genome Project or CERN and the discovery of the Higgs boson – is necessary to appreciate why trust in science is so complicated.

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