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Why do so many people hate science?

  1. Oct 2, 2016 #1
    It seems to happen very often nowadays that people who are not scientists or aren't interested in science feel the need to express very strong, negative views on science and research, and on professionals in these fields.
    For instance, every time an article about a new scientific finding is published in certain popular news websites, if you read the comments you will almost certainly find a lot of sneer, disbelief, even outright abuse.
    An article about psychology describing the behavioural 'signs' that someone is lying to you had a comment saying 'most of the time researchers themselves are the biggest liars of them all'.
    And I'm sure you noticed too: any article about effects of certain food on health (probably the most recent being the one about the link of bacon and other processed meat to cancer) is almost guaranteed to attract the most vicious attacks by people who are 'fed up' with scientists 'dictating' what they should eat or not eat, of course accompanied by their own advice for a healthier life.
    You may think these topics are a bit sensitive, as they have such a direct impact on people's lives. But no, fundamental research/science is not at all immune from this kind of treatment, either. You will often see the most amazing and awe-inspiring facts of our universe revealed and explained to the public after years of hard work, only to gather a lot of 'we should spend our money on more useful stuff' kind of comments, often with much ruder language, which I think are not only extremely insulting to all the dedicated professionals who contributed to the discoveries, but incredibly off the mark too, as it's not at all uncommon to find very useful applications of fundamental research.

    I think this is very worrying. Not so much because it puts in danger scientists' jobs, but because it says something about our society, the inability to see the value of scientific research for the community, and the consequent future decline (or lack of improvement) of people's quality of life.

    One could understand, if not excuse, bullies picking on the 'nerd' in primary school: it is probably a primitive mechanism by which the 'group' detects those who are somehow 'different', and feeling threatened by them or not understanding them, tries to exclude and marginalise them.
    In theory though, this should only last until such bullies grow into (mature) adults. But when this anti-science attitude becomes the accepted norm in every age group and in every context, and even politicians who are in charge of important, history-defining decisions, feel the right to discredit and criticise science, I think we're in trouble as a society. I don't think I need to make any examples; only one word (OK, two): climate change.

    One could be tempted to react like Leonardo da Vinci did.
    He was a genius in all respects, and some of the things he wrote some 500 years ago are of such modernity to make you shiver.
    Like this, for instance:
    'Naturalmente li omini boni desiderano sapere. So che molti diranno questa essere opra inutile, e questi fieno quelli dè quali Demetrio disse non faceva conto più del vento, il quale nella lor bocca causava le parole, che del vento ch’usciva dalle parte di sotto; uomini i quali hanno solamente desiderio di corporal ricchezze, diletto, e interamente privati di quello della sapienza, cibo e veramente sicura ricchezza dell’anima; perché quant’è più degna l’anima che ‘l corpo, tanto più degni fien le ricchezze dell’anima che del corpo. E spesso quando vedo alcun di questi pigliare essa opra in mano, dubito non si come scimia sel mettino al naso o che mi domandi’ se è cosa mangiativa.'
    'By nature, good men desire to know. I realise many people will say that this is useless work, and these people are those of whom Demetrio said that the wind coming out of their mouths and forming words was worth just as much as the wind coming out of their bottoms; men who only have desire for material riches and pleasures, completely devoid of any desire for knowledge, which is nourishment and really secure wealth for the soul; because just as the soul is worth more than the body, so the wealth of the soul is worth more than that of the body. And often when I see some of these people pick up this work, I wonder if they're going to bring it to their nose like a monkey would, or ask me if it's something they can eat.'

    Now, it's perfectly possible (and probably even socially healthy) that some people have no interest whatsoever in what science does, in what our world is made of and how it works etc. I suspect a supercilious attitude by the scientific community, such that whoever doesn't share 'our' passion for knowledge is likened to a monkey, is probably not going to do us any favours.

    However, for the very same reason why should scientists tolerate to be brutally thrashed like this at the drop of a hat, most of them probably being individuals who sacrificed a lot (financially and personally) to do science rather than something else?
    Has anybody realised what science and research have done for mankind over the years? Does anyone have an idea what the world would look like without the advances they brought about?
    What generates this incredible disrespect, mistrust, even hatred for science by such a large part of the public?
    It can't be mere ignorance, there must be something else to it.

    Everybody out there is all too ready to swear that 'chemistry is bad' because it made pesticides and nerve gases and polluted the world. 'Physics is bad' because it made nuclear reactors and bombs. 'Biology is bad' because it made abortion possible.
    Only one little detail missing from this reasoning: Who asked for pesticides? Who killed people with nerve gases? Who dropped atom bombs on people? Who asked for a method to interrupt pregnancies?
    Science may have provided (more or less intentionally) the means to do very bad things, but certainly did not have the motives. Motives ultimately always lie elsewhere.

    But even if we forget this part, I think it's perfectly evident that, unlike science, there are many other human activities that have brought more suffering than benefits to the world.
    So, is it better to support an activity, like scientific research, that may occasionally be used against mankind by some ill-intentioned individuals, but is also likely to bring great advances and positive effects, or let the world of corrupt politics and unbridled finance rule, undisturbed by logic and reason, looking at their immediate interest without caring about long-term consequences?

    Because data can be manipulated, and wrong conclusions can be made from false date even using the rational machinery of science. But by its own constitution science does not allow wrong conclusions to stand (at least not for long): new data can always be collected to set the record straight, and there is no authority that can deny or refute a conclusion based on reviewed data.
    Now, try that with politics.

    In conclusion: I would please like to know your thoughts on this, in particular if you share my worry for the image and future of science and research, and if so, do you think there's hope to stop misinformation and offer the public a more balanced view on the subject?

  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 2, 2016 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    1. don't read the comments - they are seldom representative
    2. it depends on where you are from - it used to be in NZ "scientist" was a dirty word almost, especially anything nuclear. These days I can get popular at parties when people find out I'm a physicist. Unless they are a religious apologist...

    New Scientist did a series on the subject a while ago - it is a well studied phenomenon:
    ... I disagree with 1, 2, 4 and 7 though.
  4. Oct 2, 2016 #3
    What is a religious apologist?

    I think I disagree with 1-7.
  5. Oct 2, 2016 #4
    To the OP, people hate science because it is hard, and most people are mentally lazy. It takes a lot of hard work and paying close attention to detail to understand science. I can remember reading the same topic over and over again to understand it. Still do to this day.
  6. Oct 2, 2016 #5


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    Hmm ... yes.
  7. Oct 2, 2016 #6

    Simon Bridge

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    ... well, it will also depend on jurisdiction.
    I think I can find something to dislike about all the headlines ... but remember it is not about the claim being true but about the perception of reason and by extension any endeavour based on it like science. ie. a very religious community may have a lot of science haters if they also think that science is undermining their religious beliefs. Science should be distrusted and nobody distrusts science like scientists ... but the kind of distrust illustrated in post #1 is more about ignorance and fear.

    1. need more than reason to get moral values
    This is trivially true since reason alone can only get you analytic truths.
    Morals are an emergent behaviour of social systems so they are synthetic ... hence reason alone won't work: you have to test them. This is what science is for.
    However, the speaker is saying that God is needed for morality so I disagree with him.
    I agree with the article that this is one reason people distrust science and reason.

    2. If we had to think logically about everything we did, we’d never do anything at all.
    Well - we'd do some things. The speaker is a neuroscientist so he's on about brain processes when it comes to making day-to-day decisions.
    I'll grant that a lot of actions are not thought about on the spot - but it is possible to work out a bunch of rules of thumb for reactions by applying reason to accumulated experience. An example would be to refuse to accept as true any statement that does not have good evidence to support it.
    We see this "dislike" when people complain that it is too hard to find out about the science as a matter of routine (say, when evaluating dietary suppliment claims.)

    3. Science is routinely co-opted by governments and corporations to subvert people’s ability to make their own decisions.
    I agree that this happens - and the perception that this happens a lot is common ... see pretty much anything on the banned list.

    4. Reason excludes creativity
    No it doesn't.

    5. Whose reason is it anyway?
    (Real people don’t live their lives according to cold rationality)
    ... is this a "no true scotsman" fallacy?
    I do think lots of people feel that rationality is not as good as, say, emotions (so I agree) ... but that is kinda begging the question.

    6. Reason destroys itself
    ... within the definitions used by Roger Penrose ... I'll go along with that.
    I don't think this is something that people think about in general - though you will hear people say that being rational is self defeating or something.

    7. Reason is just another faith
    No it isn't. Sure, unconditional reliance on a single authority is not advisable - but (a) reason is not an authority, and (b) it is by reason that we argue against relying on faith. Specifically the scientific application of reason is the opposite of faith.
    However - it is a common misconception: you may hear about "scientism" etc.

    ... someone who defends religious beliefs. Off topic for PF though.
  8. Oct 2, 2016 #7
    I don't think this is the right forum on which to ask the question. This (PF) is a pro-science forum, and the answers are necessarily going to be second-hand impressions and speculation. For direct, first hand answers, I'd post the question on various non-science oriented general discussion forums, and also on anti-science forums with religious and mystical foci.
  9. Oct 2, 2016 #8

    Simon Bridge

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  10. Oct 3, 2016 #9

    Fervent Freyja

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    I would love to have witnessed Leonardo da Vinci ranting, I bet he was adorable. :heart: People occasionally upset him, particularly those against the sciences! A few journal entries of many on the topic:

    "True it is that impatience, the mother of folly, is she who praises folly; as though such folk had not a span of life that would suffice to acquire complete knowledge of one particular subject such as the human body. And then they think to comprehend the mind of God which embraces the whole universe, weighing it and dissecting it as thought they were making an anatomy. O human stupidity! Do you not perceive that you have spent your whole life with yourself and yet are not aware of that which you have most in evidence, and that is your own foolishness? And so with the crowd of sophists you think to deceive yourself and others, despising the mathematical sciences in which is contained true information about the subjects of which they treat! Or would you fain range among the miracles and give your views upon those subjects which the human mind is incapable of comprehending and which cannot be demonstrated by any natural instance…” -Quaderni 11 11 r.

    "Falsehood is so utterly vile that though it should praise the great works of God it offends against his divinity. Truth is of excellence that if it praise the meanest things they become ennobled.
    Without a doubt truth stands to falsehood in the relation of light to darkness, and truth is in itself of such excellence that even when it treats of humble and lowly matters it yet immeasurably outweighs the sophistries and falsehoods which are spread out over great and high-sounding discourses; for though we have set up falsehood as a fifth element in our mental state it yet remains that the truth of things is the chief food of all finer intellects- though not indeed of wandering wits.
    But you who live in dreams, the specious reasoning's, the feints which palla players might use, if only they treat of things vast and uncertain, please you more than do the things which are sure and natural and of no such high pretension." - Sul Volo 12 [11] r.

    People don't hate science so much when the weatherman announces a tornado is heading their way do they?
  11. Oct 3, 2016 #10

    Simon Bridge

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    Ah - it it may be just the latest round of generational despair ... like "we used to treat our elders better in my day" and "the world is going to hell in a handbasket" that is basically the refrain of every generation?
  12. Oct 3, 2016 #11

    Fervent Freyja

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    It always astounds me when people cry out the world is getting 'worse and worse'! You can't even make an argument against it. Just because they had it all great when Clinton was president doesn't mean that the rest of the world did too!
  13. Oct 3, 2016 #12
    I think people with some decent education won't hate science even though many are religious. Claiming it "Science" they hate seems too generalized to me. I would like to say it is "truths" some people deny. Reasons are plenty. Educated people don't tend to believe things they don't understand or used to experience. Laymen and mean people might simply take what seems only most beneficial to them and ignore the rest. And it would be really odd to hear one say "I hate weeds because they always make me feel so good".
  14. Oct 3, 2016 #13
    I don't wish to discuss religion on a physics board. Simon mentioned it in his post, and I asked him what it was. He answered with the link.
  15. Oct 3, 2016 #14

    Simon Bridge

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    Yeah - to some extent it is difficult to avoid, it is important to establish who we are talking about for eg, but we should stick to what can be supported by established science. This is why I used science publications to illustrate the themes, and restricted my comments.

    We should not just pretend religious themes do not exist, that would be unscientific, but this is not the forum for going into details and specific claims should be backed up by specific good evidence ... for discussing specific pseudoscience claims I would suggest the JREF forums as a good start. Anyone specifically looking at religious claims should try the iron chariots wiki and the various links from there and talk-origins. I've been doing way way too much of this and PF is a nice getaway from all that.

    If the thread turns out to be too much effort to moderate, then I have no problem with it getting locked.
  16. Oct 4, 2016 #15
    I also think it might have to do with the way science is taught. From what I've seen (I may be wrong), most people I know passionate about science had particularly good teachers at some point or the other. I myself, disliked physics till college because my high school physics teacher was hostile towards me (for personal reasons outside of school).
    Science should be taught, not just as subjects and facts, but as a skill that everybody needs, no matter what their profession is. Imagine how much lesser anti-vaccine and global warming deniers we would have if everyone knew how scientific research works, and could tell good data from bad.
  17. Oct 4, 2016 #16
    Thank you all for your replies!
    Funnily enough, I hadn't considered religion as a main factor, at least not for the specific anti-scientific feelings I was discussing.
    Simply, I was assuming that people who attack science, research and rational thought based on religious arguments are not even to be taken seriously, and in fact the comments I was referring to were from pretty 'secular' websites, with no particular religious connotations or tendencies.
    So no, I was thinking more about people who just strongly dislike/mistrust science and its professionals for some specific, more or less personal reasons, and I was trying to identify such reasons, with your help.

    So here's what we seem to have.

    1. People not growing up from the bully vs nerd phase (i.e. fearing what they don't understand and those who, unlike them, understand it) and variations thereof seem a big factor in a number of your replies.

    2. Very interesting points from the article in NewScientist too, which however seems to be more about 'reason' than 'science'; and like some of you, I am quite sceptical about some of the statements in the article.They should be better qualified; as such they're too broad and ultimately not valid in general.
    Plus, I suspect the type of 'science-haters' I am talking about are not very likely to take their attitude from such fine philosophical points.
    So to me, basically all points except 3 and 7 seem a bit too sophisticated.

    On the other hand, I'm sure point 3 plays a big role, because it's true to some extent. We all know it, doing science is expensive, and scientists need to eat, so it often happens that their income originates, more or less directly, from big corporations and governments (which are not all necessarily corrupt and ill-intentioned, but they don't always do much for their image, to be honest). So already by simple association, those who 'work for them' are seen as equally bad, or at least somewhat sly, ambiguous, untrustworthy. Put this together with a few scandals that got a hasty 'they're all the same' treatment by the media, and voilà, you have scientists and science condemned forever.

    Point 7 may play a role, but only by reaction, I think. When certain groups attack science based on irrational/non-factual arguments, it happens that the scientific community reacts (usually by simply showing facts) in an attempt to prove that their statements and claims are a mere consequence of a logical process applied to empirical findings. Those who don't (want to) understand such process and have vested interests in ignoring certain facts, completely blank out the rational part of the story and only hear 'I am right and you are wrong, because I say so' - which incidentally is the exact attitude of those who use faith as an argument - hence the impression that science is nothing more than irrational faith in 'something'. Philosophically speaking this may be true (none of us really goes to check personally all the facts and theories we study: at some point we 'believe' that someone did a given experiment and found a given result, and we use his/her conclusions as such). In practice this is not a real issue, because so many 'parts' are closely connected and interdependent in science, that nothing you do would work if you were using blatantly 'wrong' concepts and theories. So no, scientists need NOT have 'faith' in their theories. On the contrary: they need to be sceptical about everything, and use their scepticism to reach sufficient confidence that the methods they're using are based on solid factual and logical foundations.
    I suppose there is a certain number of people who hate science because science rejected some arbitrary claims made by their group, of whatever description, and they took that as a personal insult. Oh, well...

    3. I will add my own point here. I think the media are partly to blame for the bad image of science. I would not underestimate this at all.
    We all know how it works. TV news show a lot of footage of armed robberies, shootings and street violence, they keep talking about it relentlessly for weeks and weeks, they constantly put them in the main headlines... Result: if you poll the public asking if they feel safe in their city, town, whatever, you're almost sure to find a significantly higher perception of danger compared to before the 'campaign'. Regardless of their own personal experience and regardless of whether the crime rate in their particular area is actually on the rise or not.
    And what about films? OK, that's fiction, you could say, but I think that's something that leaves a lasting emotional impression in people's minds, so the underlying 'message' they convey may be extremely relevant in splitting the public opinion about given subjects.
    Let's be frank, films have not often been friendly to science: just count the number of films you can remember where scientists were the bad guys, and those where they were the good guys.

    @zoobyshoe is right: this may not be the right forum to ask why people are often against science, because of course we (scientists or people close to science) can have our own interpretations, but ultimately the best approach is to ask those people themselves. I might do that if I find the right place - still I am glad I asked here because 'our view' on the subject is very interesting.

    Whatever the actual reasons for this widespread hatred of science are, it's probably worth finding them and counteracting them to the best of our abilities, to make sure society is on the 'right side' when important decisions are called for.
    Just look at the state of the world today, no need to make examples: what else but science and reason can give us hope to overcome the several tough challenges we're facing?
  18. Oct 7, 2016 #17
    Lots of people are told by people they trust that scientists are not trustworthy. Religious leaders and politicians can not control people and maintain power if their population is educated.
  19. Oct 8, 2016 #18


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    I think a lot of this is due to large scale marketing of populations, against particular scientific results, usually because a result was in conflict with profits or a belief central to the marketing organization's existence.
    In marketing, it is often said that no one will even notice your ad (in print) until they have seen it 7 times. Or in propaganda (very similar to marketing) repeat something enough times and people will repeat it.
    In our (US) society, the more extreme and shocking news get the media attention (example: Trump in the primaries more than $1B in free media (which denied media to others)).

    You have to remember that most of the population is not like the people at this website. There is a great diversity of people out there, in a gradient of mentality going from "highly scientific", to highly tied to (perhaps) "emotional ideals", which in some way they base their life's actions upon. This most extreme group would be pretty upset if they lose the philosophical basis for their beliefs. This provides a way to manipulate those with most emotionally based behavior.

    One major anti-science influence are industries that want science to be different for their short term economic reasons (profits). These would include the tobacco industry, the sugar industry, the carbon pollution industries (oil etc.), there are probably others I can't remember. These companies have long term national media campaigns against the results they don't like, including attacking scientists personally, buying off scientists to do their bidding, working against science politically, going on news shows and generally dissing science.

    The second major interest group would be religions which find themselves in conflict with scientific findings. These would usually be religions which have unchallengeable statements or ideas. Occasionally, some of these statements which have the unfortunate problem of being testable in the real world. This doesn't always work well in a world with science. However, not all religions have this problem.

    Racist groups might be a very similar kind of thing.

    Nowadays, Trump can be seen as an extreme example, tying these threads together in a political party making use of manipulable people by appealing to their emotions rather than their reason. He lies constantly, changes what he says about something from day to day and denies what he has said. But it doesn't really matter to his hard core followers because their behavior is based on maintaining their individual cognitive set-ups.
  20. Oct 9, 2016 #19
    Another reason might be that research especially in fields like nutrition is contradictory.

    Just try googling about health benefits or risks of milk, eggs or meat. Or even grains and fat.

    Some people get really tired of constant changes in recommendations. They see that whatever you want to claim, you can find a research that proves your view. It resembles proving anything with random Bible verses.

    I wouldn't call it hatred towards science, mistrust would be a better word.
  21. Oct 9, 2016 #20
    As homo sapiens, we have evolved to eat and digest a wide variety food stuffs. I posit that they all serve a nutritional purpose, and can be enjoyed in moderation. Regardless of how healthful your diet is, you cannot consume more calories than body burns. Even a healthful diet can be unhealthy in that case. In any event, I never bought into the FDA's food pyramid.
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