Friday, August 30, 2013

How do People figure out whom to Trust in a Scientific Controversy?

http://map.sdsu.edu
This was an interesting question when I first saw it, especially with all the controversy about Fire Ecology or Climate Change and the average person's understanding of just what is good for Nature when it comes to wildfire. Although you can certainly associate the question with any nonsensical controversial subject coming out in the News Feeds lately. But this whole fire ecology debate is troubling because of the responses posted from the average citizen about the present wildfire on most Social Media venues. Where do they get their info ? Who do they get their info from ? Do they actually do their own homework even 'IF' their favourite respected authority is viewed as an Expert in the field ? Take a sample look at many of the comments I'm following on Yahoo of people's understanding of 
Fire Ecology:
"Needs to be burnt out and new foliage planted to replace it. All forests are a necessary oxygen producing part of our Eco- system."
"That is what mother nature has done for the last several million years. Mother nature doesn't care where you build she is gonna do what she gonna do. It's NOT global warming, the planet has gone through warming and cooling cycle's for millions of years" 
"Lost in this discussion is the fact that fire is natural for the forests, and all of the preventive measures taken in the past by the Sierra Club and the USFS caused this problem. By not destroying the undergrowth with controlled burns, they provided all the fuel this fire needed. Let it burn; the area will recover stronger than before, and no firefighters will be killed."
"Like it or not fire is part of Natures plan in cleaning up the forest. In fact, some species only germinate after a wild fire."
"Its funny. Forest are created by NATURE. (Not Humans.) NATURE creates fires to reset itself. (Not Humans.) Yet, Humans still dictate if NATURE recreates forests or not."
"It's mother nature taking it's course let it be, It will weed out a lot of idiot's quick!"
"Forests and forest fires have been here LONG before humans ever showed up. It is all a natural process that we have no business interfering with. Like anything else in nature, if you want to live in or near a forest, you take the risk. Forest fires are a necessary function of nature. Let em do what they are meant to do"
and on Global Warming or Climate Change
(Take special note: I'm not into the Evo vrs Creo debates, but I actually have found oddballs from both Kamps denying there is any change to Earth's historic climate as this 1st comment by this person who sat on a left aisle worldview seat)
“Explain tropical fossils under the melting ice then since this climate of today has never happened before. Do you deny evolution as well as ancient climates? You say this climate trend has never happened before. I dare you to say that out loud.” 
(Also take note from the opposite worldview Kamp. As a general rule these are rightwing Fundies who believe the Universe is only 6,000 years old. But if look at published posts around the Internet by many of those types of Global Warming deniers, they ironically use the prevailing Science on dating to back their opposition to Climate Change like the example below)
"Global Warming, Global Cooling and Global Climate Change have been happening for millions of years - long before any possible human influence – Climate Change is natural and nothing new." 


Wow! So where do all these people get their science away ? Did they even bother to investigate the subject matter for themselves to verify if the so-called scientific claims were even true ? Most people in commenting have never ever done their own homework when parroting what they view as Experts in a field. They often will acquire an instructor for themselves who tickles their ears as to how they choose view the world. Even Corporate entities will pay for the best biased Company Scientists money will buy. This is not only true of Science, but also of politics and religion, but let's focus here only on Science. A few days ago, an acquaintance of mine who is a Plant Ecologist from Spain who now lives in Portugal, pointed out an interesting article about University or College Students and how they determine what or whom they will put their Trust in about a Scientific controversy. First off, the article had this to say about the purpose of Scientific literacy students receive in School which will prepare them for the outside world when they leave school to deal with important issues:
"Even when people disagree about what it means, there is almost always this common thread: scientific literacy somehow involves preparing students and adults for the science they will encounter outside of school, very often in media reports." 
Sure enough, that's how it's supposed to work. But notice an example the article's author gave of Stein Dankert Kolsto’s (2001) ‘To trust or not to trust,…’- pupils’ ways of judging information encountered in a socio-scientific issue, who worked with a group of 22 Norwegian Grade 10 students to find out how they actually went about arriving at the truth and conclusion of a controversial matter. After getting students involved, take note at some disturbing findings.
"Unfortunately, this status also led to biggest challenge that the students faced: what does it mean when researchers (who are trusted sources) disagree? How do you decide which claims to trust then? About half of the students said explicitly that when researchers disagree, it is very difficult to know whom to trust."
"So what did the students do? Kolsto found that when they tried to sort of disagreements among scientists, the students’ views were clouded by the way that science appears in schools. In school science, there is almost always a right answer. Even when a teacher lets students debate a solution or an explanation, at some point there is almost always a true answer that the teacher eventually shares or endorses."
"The effects of “right answer” science teaching were clear in the way the students responded to disagreements among researchers. Their only resources for making sense of those disagreements were their school science experiences and their experiences with disagreements in everyday life. As a result, the students tended to see the disagreements as illustrating either incompetence or bias."
But the students wanted the teacher and Kolsto to tell them who was right. They wanted to know what the truth really was, and they became suspicious of the various scientists for not knowing how to study the issue properly or for going in with biased preconceptions. One student said, “It is probably because they have made their own opinions. They might have different backgrounds and have come across different information. Maybe they have made up their mind in advance, and then found that their opinion is right and taken that as a starting point” 
"What made it especially difficult is that the students felt they had no way of knowing which researchers were highly biased and which were not. They wanted the researchers to be mostly neutral and objective, but they had few tools for figuring out which ones were. They did look for information about the background of the researchers (such as their area of specialty), which is a very good beginning strategy." 
In the end, the students did make some positive progress, but the author concluded with this:
"Kolsto argues, and here I agree too, that there still needs to be more emphasis on the social processes of science in school, not just that scientists work together but exactly what that means. Before leaving compulsory science education, students need a much better understanding of how scientific consensus happens, how ideas go from contested and tentative to sometimes firm and widely supported and how arguments and disagreement can be an important part of getting to that place."
How do students figure out whom to trust in a scientific controversy?
Please read the entire article from the above link if you've a mind to. For the average poor Joe/Jane Q-Public on the street, the situation is even more dire on the informational educational front. They've gone to school and learning has ended there. Gathering and processing information is even more of a lazy process than mere inexperienced college youth attempting to learn how to learn. The human tendency at laziness when it comes to accepting a truth of a matter is more of an emotional, rather than intellectual one. The problem though with the main subject of the O.P. here is that the Natural World is taking a huge hit as a result of this purposeful or willful ignorance as opposed to mature responsible individuals actually developing a correct information gathering competence. The comments which are referenced above are a mere tiny fraction of what is out there on the Internet and elsewhere in Social Media debate circles. If there’s any advice I would give to everyone reading this post, it is this: take nobody’s word about Climate Science and Fire Ecology. (or for that matter anything else) That’s the motto of the 'Royal Society' , and it has guided scientists well for almost 400 years. Check out the facts for yourself, and draw your own conclusions from actual evidence, as I have mine when it comes to the Natural World. I would think the conventionally religious among you all would have known better as there is no excuse for not getting any of this. 
Proverbs 14:14
"Only a simpleton believes everything he’s told! A prudent man understands the need for proof."

2 comments:

  1. Your post poses good arguments for why critical thinking should be incorporated in education. But that requires that teachers understand and practice the skill. And approval by the education boards and administration. Regardless, even the scientific community tends to be binary, exemplified by the continual search for the 'One Theory of Everything.' I do wonder if this has deep prevailing psychological roots. (I was pleased to read that Steven Hawking reversed his belief on this and proclaimed there is not one theory or answer for everything in the Universe.)

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    Replies
    1. I found it intriguing when I first read the article of how much it illustrates human nature in general. Teaching is definitely an Art and not many can approach it the way the should. A teacher who looks at his profession as, "well it my Job", isn't overly enthused about his or her career.

      At least most students are hungry enough to try and learn at a college level, or at least they should be.

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