October 07, 2014


No, really, folks. Can we stop misusing scientific studies?

Last week a story made the rounds that Americans don't trust scientists. It was pretty much everywhere.

If you Google Americans + trust + scientist, you get results that look kind of like this:

Admittedly, when I first saw it, I didn't find the results too out of the ordinary. Our country seems to have a rising tide of anti-intellectualism, and I see significant pushback in major areas of scientific understanding, like climate change and evolution, and it makes it easy to see how such a story can hold sway.

But the paper itself simply doesn't support those conclusions.

Scientists rated high on competency, but middling on trust and warmth. They rated higher on warmth than such professions as politician (no surprise there!), cashier, fast food worker, mechanic, banker, police officer...even garbage collector.

Instead of freaking out over the supposed anti-scientific leaning of our nation, Jolene Creighton wrote for From Quarks to Quasars:

Ultimately, Fiske’s research does not show that scientists are seen as a blight by Americans. Instead, her research demonstrates that, although expertise is an essential ingredient for credibility, appearing trustworthy is equally as important. To this end, her review reinforces the idea that humans have evolved to detect (and focus on) an individual’s intent—we try to determine intent first in order to quickly separate friend from foe. As a result, the public may perceive scientists that do not agree with their own ideas as being cold and uncaring. This makes it less likely that the scientist will be trusted.

That is what I call valuable insight.

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