June 18, 2019

Why Are People Afraid of Science?

“Random things inspire what I write in Forbes Science – current events, extraordinary weather, or the need to debunk bad science. However, the inspiration for this piece was a conversation with a man while sipping Pinot Grigio and munching on lobster cakes at a fancy reception. The conversation began with a very common question that I receive as an atmospheric scientist, “Do you believe in climate change?” My answer was the usual, “science is not a belief system” followed by a deeper explanation. The conversation circled around to faith. I shared that I saw no inherent conflict between my faith and science. The conversation was interrupted so I really couldn’t tell where it was going. However, one topic prompted me to write about what I perceive to be fear of science. Here are four reasons why I believe people might fear science.

A perception of conflict with faith beliefs. As a climate scientist, I often hear statements like it is blasphemous to think humankind can alter weather or climate. I quickly point out air pollution, destruction of the Ozone Hole by chemical products, urban heat islands, and so on. I grew up in a small African-American Baptist church in Canton, Georgia. As a child, I put up a fight about going to Sunday service. Later in life, I actually ended up teaching a class on discipleship. My faith walk is personal and likely different from yours. I respect whatever faith, belief system, or perspective you hold. Increasingly, the scientific method, verified data, and scholarly publications are at odds with what people believe. In a recent TED Talk, I discussed three things that shape perceptions toward science. Biases associated with our “personal marinades” are strong. What are personal marinades? – How we were raised, where we were raised, our faith-based upbringing, political alignment, and our circle of peers. Each of these is important and life-shaping. However, none of them should fundamentally be used to undermine science.”

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