“Believe the Science”

Can’t find it now, but earlier today I read a social media post somewhere to the effect of: “Believe the science” is not science, that’s not how science works. 

Social media being social media, this was followed by a hundred or more comments of varying degrees of conversational intensity, falling largely into the following categories:

  • Non-content-adding amens;
  • Non-content-adding dismissals;
  • Concurrence from those in scientific fields;
  • Demurral from others in scientific fields;
  • Huffy replies from those who wholly missed the point;
  • Sneering replies from those who willfully ignored the point;
  • Pedantic performatism from those harping on a tangential (but oh so smart!) point;
  • Reductionism from capital-A Atheists trampling the point astride their hobby horses.

None of which adequately addressed what I saw as the point of the original post: the phrase “believe the science” (and “trust the science”) in the context in which the public is familiar with it is in fact a method of social and political manipulation.

It’s little more than an Appeal to Authority in a lab coat.

The phrase is not infamous for its use by honest scientific professionals, after all (who might rightly refer to e.g. the provisional acceptance of research results), but as a rhetorical tactic by politicized scientists and the politicians and technocrats they serve. It uses the public prestige built up by real science* in order to imply a finality of knowledge about the subject in question, and a certainty of the practical (even moral) rightness of the approved narrative and the inescapable truth of specific policies and actions derived from it.

The tell is how it’s used not only against the uneducated hicks and faith-based hayseeds who lack the smarts to even begin to understand the Eternally True Science™ of the Moment, but against specialists in the same or adjacent fields, often those with equal or superior credentials, who dissent from an approved narrative.

When one must “believe the science”, those who question it are heathens and heretics.

* — I see this prestige as attributable less to abstract scientific research they probably never encounter and more to the practical applications of real science via engineering, since engineering is the “science” that the public interacts with daily. Being an engineer, I am of course biased in that regard, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.




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