However, it seems that wherever science and society directly intersect, controversy is never far away. My particular expertise is in shale gas, but we see similar controversies with respect to GMO food, nuclear power, climate change and vaccines, for example. A recent Pew Society report documents substantial differences between the opinions of scientists and those of the general public.
In an article for the Washington Post, Mark Lynas documents a "new Age of Ignorance", noting "determined lobbies working to undermine public understanding of science."
We've seen the (ex) Science Advisor to the European Commission hit out at dishonesty from environmental NGOs who pressurised Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to axe the position. According to wikipedia, the EU Commission:
"is the executive body of the European Union responsible for proposing legislation, implementing decisions, upholding the EU treaties and managing the day-to-day business of the EU."Why indeed would such an institution need someone to advise them on matters of science?
A recent article in Vox, on the anti-vax lobby, provided the original motivation for this post:
There's a broader point here. It can be easy to stereotype the vaccine debate as people who believe in scientific evidence versus people who don't. But that's an oversimplification. Vaccine skeptics do think they believe in scientific evidence. They can cite dozens of studies and cases. They see themselves as the side in this debate that's actually following the evidence, while the pro-vaccine side is blindly trusting in authority and ultimately getting taken in by a massive pharmaceutical scam.
The problem is when you dig into the studies they cite, the evidence they're relying on doesn't hold up — it's misinterpreted, selectively reported, or refracted through conspiracy theories. But knock down one bad interpretation of a study and there's always another, and another, and another. And then there's the flood of wrenching anecdotes which can't be checked, but which are reported by people who are in pain and arouse our deepest sympathies. The result is that to someone primarily consuming anti-vaccine arguments, the evidence looks overwhelming, the media's dismissal of it looks corrupt, and the victims seem very real.I couldn't help but notice that you could substitute any of the above controversial technologies into these two paragraphs. Read again but substitute "vaccines" for "GMO", for "nuclear power" or "shale gas" and I think this summary is equally valid.