Skip to content

Do we really believe in science: the emergence of truthiness

In an article in the Guardian the other day Georg Monbiot wonders why climate change denial is spreading in spite of what the scientific community states:

A survey last month by the Pew Research Centre suggests that the proportion of Americans who believe there’s solid evidence that the world has been warming over the past few decades has fallen from 71% to 57% in just 18 months(1). Another survey, conducted in January by Rasmussen Reports, suggests that, due to a sharp rise since 2006, US voters who believe that global warming is the result of natural causes (44%) now outnumber those who believe it is caused by human action (41%)(2).

A study by the website Desmogblog shows that the number of internet pages proposing that manmade global warming is a hoax or a lie more than doubled in 2008(3). The Science Museum’s Prove it! exhibition asks online readers to endorse or reject a statement that they’ve seen the evidence and want governments to take action. As of yesterday afternoon, 1006 people had endorsed it and 6110 had rejected it(4). On Amazon.co.uk, books championing climate change denial are currently ranked at 1,2,4,5,7 and 8 in the global warming category(5). Never mind that they’ve been torn to shreds by scientists and reviewers, they are beating the scientific books by miles. What is going on?

[From Monbiot.com » Death Denial]

He notes e g that there is a group of 65+ who seems to be more likely than other to deny that humans are causing climate change. Do their long life experience of technological optimism make them more likely to deny the threat? Or could it be that the accelerated discussion about climate change during the last couple of years have triggered some psychological defense mechanism working against negative stories so we boost our self image and behave like we were immortals?

There is however (at least) one other explanation that Monbiot don't cover. What if we are less and less inclined to believe in what scientists say?

Do we really believe in science anymore?

To me it is evident that people are less and less likely to believe in a scientific truth anymore. There seems to be a megatrend signalling that the emergence of the modern connected man is accompanied by a decreasing belief in truths which is instead replaced by the more pragmatic and quick concept of truthiness - the kind of truths you don't look up in books but search your guts to know if they are true!

Why does this happen? Here are a list of candidates for explaining the phenomenon, which by the way, will not go away any time soon.

  • the modern man (believe he) is more educated, connected and informed which make him or her believe he/she are in a better position to judge for him- or herself thus consequently more critical to truths that comes from authorities
  • increased transparency makes it much more easy to shoot down e g statements from authorities - and we do that constantly by critically swarming everything
  • the speed by which we produce new knowledge is constantly decreasing the half life of knowledge and truths - knowledge and truths becomes obsolete much faster
  • we are leading our daily lives in a fast and complex world with constant contradictions which we have to manage anyway - we have to be pragmatic and focus on what works here and now
  • every one of us is picking our own sources of information and thus perspectives, which causes us to spontaneous flock in clusters where local truths emerges
  • we also see the emergence of post secular insights - that many and the most import questions are not answered by the secular scientific methods

The period when scientific truths were highly celebrated by the many seems to have come to an end. Instead we are entering an age where truths are local, socially constructed, relative and consistency based like they most likely were in e g the middle ages and before.

What about the climate change issue?

It might just be that a certain group of people have come to change their perspective on the issue. If truths are fundamentally socially constructed it might be the explanation to why so many people started to worry about climate change at the same time - it was the tipping point - a state which also might change again when the hivemind is starting to worry about something else.

It is as usual the scientists who believe that their facts have changed the opinion of the people, a belief that might be completely wrong. What really happened was that a large enough group of people having a certain social status (consisting of e g a person named Stern) was starting to state something about climate change when at the same time occurs some dramatic natural disasters.

But the scientists believe that people at last listened to their truths...

Maybe it is on it's place to quote Robert Heinlein: "Man is not a rational animal; he is a rationalizing animal"

2 thoughts on “Do we really believe in science: the emergence of truthiness

  1. Jerry

    I don't understand the statement:

    "Never mind that they’ve been torn to shreds by scientists and reviewers, they are beating the scientific books by miles."

    I have to argue with this statement. Many scientists, meteorologists physicists, and climatologists don't believe that the human race has an impact on the temperatures of the earth through increasing CO2. In fact, temperature changes on the earth are more in step with the combination of output from the sun, wind patterns in the stratosphere (QBO) and ocean currents (PDI and AMO). CO2 is a trace gas that has little impact. I understand that scientific research has found that CO2 increases after temperatures increase (the opposite of what Al Gore and others think).

    Please check out http://www.icecap.us for a review of the science and current information concerning the issue of climate change. It is run by a meterologist.

    Also, read the book: Human Impacts on Weather and Climate by William R. Cotton and Roger A. Pielke. It is a good review of the issue, but it is technical in places.

    By the way, I am a meteorologist...but I have an interest in scenario planning and incorporate it into a couple of college business classes that I teach.

  2. Silvia

    A great deal of responsibility for the disappointment with science lies in the conduct of scientists. Too few are seen to be interested in truth, or furthering the knowledge of humanity; instead, the perception is that their opinions are being bought and sold by vested interest groups to the highest bidder who are not only funding what they research, but make this funding reliant on the "scientists" finding the right findings.

    You pay the piper, you choose the tune.

    This has been going on for too long and has left the educated population with a deep seated distrust of the scientific establishment and ANY findings they might produce.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *