Dr. Fauci, Americans Believe Science, but They Don’t Believe Many Scientists (For Very Good Reasons).

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (click for credit)
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and one of the lead members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force was recently on the US Department of Health and Human Services’ podcast, which is called “The Learning Curve.” It exists so people can hear from experts in the department, learning what those experts are doing and what they think you should know. Obviously, Dr. Fauci was on to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic.

While some of what he said on the podcast was valuable, he made one statement that shows he is completely out of touch with most people in the United States:

One of the problems we face in the United States is that unfortunately, there is a combination of an anti-science bias that people are — for reasons that sometimes are, you know, inconceivable and not understandable — they just don’t believe science and they don’t believe authority…

Now, of course, you can always find people who don’t believe science for a variety of reasons. In my experience, however, they are few and far between. The majority of people in the United States hold science in very high regard. For example, Scientific American recently conducted a poll that found 90% of the people they surveyed wanted science to have a significant influence on society. An additional 7% wanted science to have some influence, which leaves a mere 3% that wanted science to have no influence at all. This is consistent with what I see around the nation. Most people believe science, some are skeptical, and very few think it has no value.

If people in the United States believe science, why does Dr. Fauci think they don’t? Because he is confusing science with scientists. As a scientist myself, let me put this very bluntly: In general, you can trust science. However, you cannot trust many scientists. Why do I say this? The Scientific American article linked above gives one reason: Many scientists have values that conflict with the majority of people in the United States, and those values affect how they interpret the science they know. For example, when a scientist doesn’t recognize that this world is a product of design, he or she will be led to all sorts of false conclusions. When the scientist communicates those false conclusions as if they are absolute fact, many reasonable people end up distrusting him or her.

But the Scientific American article linked above misses the more important reason people don’t trust scientists. It’s because scientists regularly make statements that they claim are absolutely true, but eventually, those statements are shown to be false. I highlighted a recent example a year ago. Visitors to Glacier National Park were told that computer models indicated the glaciers they are admiring will be gone by 2020. Well, it’s 2020, and the glaciers are still at the park. So what did the scientists do? Did they admit to their mistake? No. They quietly removed the signs, hoping the mistake would go unnoticed. In this day and age, however, such things rarely do.

The nonsense about the glaciers isn’t an isolated example. Time and time again, scientists make pronouncements and even take action based on ideas that they claim are absolutely true, but end up being utterly false. It was thought for a long time that the human appendix was a useless remnant of evolution. This silly notion was believed by surgeons, so many would remove the appendix from a patient having abdominal surgery, even if the appendix was entirely healthy. We now know that the appendix is an important lymphatic organ, and people without an appendix are more likely to have difficulty recovering from certain intestinal diseases. Tonsils are another example. It was once common practice to remove inflamed tonsils rather than treat the inflammation with medicine, because tonsils were supposed to be a leftover vestige of evolution. People who were unfortunate enough to be treated by someone who believed such nonsense (me, for example) are much more likely to suffer from respiratory, allergic, and infectious diseases. The fact that scientists routinely make definitive statements which are later shown to be wrong is so well-known that it is the subject of comedy routines.

In the end, scientists have themselves to blame when it comes to people not believing their pronouncements. They have betrayed the public trust too many times, because they have forgotten that by its very nature, science is tentative. Thus, it cannot be used to make grand pronouncements of absolute truth. Scientists have to realize that they are not priests. They are people who have expertise, but that expertise is based on a method of inquiry which routinely produces false conclusions. Rather than making grand pronouncements about the “truth,” they should show people the evidence and explain how they interpret the evidence. If they don’t communicate science that way, the public has no choice but to distrust them.

11 thoughts on “Dr. Fauci, Americans Believe Science, but They Don’t Believe Many Scientists (For Very Good Reasons).”

  1. TRUE…and today they are also messing with the evidence, by using incorrectly gathered evidence, and twisting it to fit their agenda. Many are just paid to spread propaganda and those that try to buck the system with real science correctly applied, interpreted and explained are shut down. Keep writing your books Dr Wile and telling us when they mess with the truth in other books…at least the kids that use them will know how to do science correctly. My student has finally graduated….but still enjoy reading your blogs. Thank you for caring.

  2. Dr. Jay:
    I agree with you summary paragraph almost in totality. But have issues with one of you opening statements. “…For example, when a scientist doesn’t recognize that this world is a product of design, he or she will be led to all sorts of false conclusions.”. I find this statement problematic for, If by “design” your intention is “intelligent design” I would contend a bias exists from the start that could as easily influence the outcome of any scientific inquiry. My understanding is that science the process and body of work should always be as unbiased as possible and only report the data and suggested conclusions for others to analyze and draw there own thoughts about the data. Here is where I do agree with you about where science is today. I believe our society has gotten lazy and just wants answers and we as scientists are far too quick to say, Here is the answer! We should rather be saying this is a complex problem, this is the data we generated and here is what we THINK might happen or might be the solution and forcing the public evaluate for themselves. Early on in the COVID pandemic too many statements were made as fact rather than understandings.. Joe Public often forgets that even a Scientific Law could potentially change in light of compelling evidence to do so and in that forget that Science is an attempt to understand the physical world as we know it. Just my two cents on a very complex issue.

    JS

    1. Hi John,

      Thanks for your comment. I agree that seeing the world as a product of design produces a bias, but assuming it is not the product of design also produces a bias. Thus, you need to use the bias that will produce conclusions that are the most accurate. As a result, you must look at the evidence and accept what it says, whether or not you like it. I think the evidence overwhelmingly indicates design, and to ignore that evidence produces a bias that ends up producing lots of incorrect conclusions.

  3. Much science is distorted because the scientists work for unprincipled multi national corporations. A corrupt system of exchange or currency has proven its ability to corrupt societies all over the world. The day of truly honest science which has no regard for economic impact is about extinct.

  4. “anti-science bias” Now, why would that be? “Snow is a thing of the past! Its SCIENCE!!!” “Sea levels will rise dramatically! Its SCIENCE!!!” “A man can menstruate! Its SCIENCE!!!”

    Really?

    No, sir, it is not science. Science is provable, observable. People do not have an anti-science bias. They have an anti Bull$#!~ bias!

    Sorry to be so blunt, but I’m tired of these charlatans writing articles. Just because you’re educated does not mean you’re honest. Fauci is a globalist propagandist. Shame on My President for ever letting him or other globalist charlatans stand with him.

  5. this is quite definitely something I want to post for atheists. Many atheists are science worshipers and in their li’l dark box of outdated atheist delusions believe Christians are anti-science. No, we simply do not have blind faith in scientists or their dogma that is the new and improved version of 19th century fairy tales from scientists. When I was a child, over 90% of my people were atheists or agnostics. All it led us to was suicide, alcoholism, drugs, rape. Today, it’s hard to find an atheist among us because psychology–based on the Bible–taught us where we were being less than intelligent by being so militant. niio, walk in God’s beauty.

  6. “One of the problems we face in the United States is that unfortunately, there is a combination of an anti-science bias that people… just don’t believe science and they don’t believe authority…”

    So he’s using the argument from authority

    That’s funny, I thought only creationists did that

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