The Dishonesty of “Trust the Science” – Misconceptions

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The exchange of ideas requires language. Instead of using clear, well-defined language to convey their views, those who are dishonest use language as a weapon to obscure the nonsense behind what they say. They redefine words, create illusions of truth by repeating falsehoods, and, everyone’s favorite, “label and dismiss.”

At the risk of being on the receiving end of the nonsense “science-denier” label, it is more important now than ever to call out the sophistry behind the “Trust the Science” narrative, especially concerning the lockdowns.

“Trust the Science”

Since proper definitions are required, attention must first turn to the phrase “Trust the Science.”

There is, as most people would understand it, nothing wrong with the layman trusting science. If we were to question the consensus of every scientific conclusion, we wouldn’t make it very far in life at all. We generally trust that the science behind the technology we use is reasonably accurate. We trust the science behind planes and cars with our lives, despite most of us not knowing exactly how it all works. We take medicine prescribed to us by physicians, trusting the science behind it. To not do so would make life impossible.

However, there is also nothing wrong with a healthy dose of skepticism. The scientific consensus changes because some people do the research and question the consensus, providing new evidence and valid, contrary points. Sometimes these people are unjustly ignored, only to be vindicated far into the future. Other times they are accepted and their views become the consensus.

There is nothing wrong with asking questions and challenging the narrative. This is the nature of science itself. To say that one is a “science-denier” because they question a majority narrative is to go against the very idea of science itself. In fact, to establish the idea that questioning the consensus is “anti-science” is to tear down the legitimacy of the consensus itself. If we are to heavily disincentivize any effort to challenge the consensus, that rejects any idea that the consensus has “withstood the test of time” by holding up despite such criticism.

This also ignores the fact that “The Science” is not a single voice. The consensus is sometimes 99% of experts, and other times it’s more like 70/30 or 80/20, with the minority (in some fields) being purged from the mainstream by the majority.

“The Science Says”

To proclaim that the science has rendered value judgments, such as “the science says we should lockdown” or any sort of “the science says you should choose X over Y” is deserving of immediate rejection and ridicule. It would be fair to say that anyone making such statements is “anti-science” themselves, but there is more to this than simply “no u.”

Take nutrition, for example. “The science says” that candy is unhealthy. The scientific consensus in no way endorses eating candy instead of vegetables. And yet, most people eat candy sometimes. Are they science-deniers? Are they actually going against the scientific consensus? What about obesity? Are obese people anti-science? Can I dismiss someone as anti-science if I notice they are obese? I may not be an expert, but I’m pretty sure I learned somewhere when getting my health science degree that scientists say obesity is bad.

But we wouldn’t say that obese people are anti-science, nor would we say that eating candy is anti-science. We know that people are making value judgments. Many people act in moderation. They will eat candy sometimes, enough to get enjoyment out of it, accepting the minor health consequences. Other people may choose to cut it out entirely, and that’s up to them. We can say that living a healthy lifestyle is more virtuous and moral than living an unhealthy lifestyle, but this is a value judgment, outside the bounds of science.

To hear one then say that “the science says” that we should do X, and that’s why it should be mandated, or enforced, is nonsense that deserves ridicule. Does the science support a lockdown? Well, if it does, then it can’t really be science. Science can inform you of the risks and benefits associated with taking certain actions. But it cannot tell you which action is right or wrong.

“The Evidence Shows”

Another bit of nonsense from the Verified Opinion crowd is that the evidence (which is to say, a small piece of the whole puzzle) shows that what they set out to do led to the result they wanted, so all is well.

For example, let’s say a hypothetical policy is put in place to reduce traffic fatalities. Years later, they look at the evidence, and traffic fatalities have gone down. Even better, they verify that traffic fatalities were going up before the policy, and as far as we can tell, there is no messing with numbers, and the correlation is pretty solid. Traffic fatalities really did go down. And not just down a bit, but down by a tremendous amount!

Certain people, such as the “Trust the Science” crowd, will look at this and claim that the policy was a success! They’ll even go so far as to say the science is settled and to dismiss those who suggest this policy wasn’t such a good idea.

The more astute will want to know more about this policy before making any conclusions. They will want to know about the “unseen” effects of this policy, not only while it was in place, but also the effects that may arise in the future as a result of this policy. They might point out all of the negative consequences of this policy (that is, this policy of banning private vehicles). After all, “if it saves just one life” then why shouldn’t we go through with this policy of banning cars? The reasons are obvious.

This is the dishonesty of the “Trust the Science” narrative. It claims that science can make value judgments, which it cannot. It cites the evidence that is seen, but not what is unseen. And it works to purge the healthy dose of skepticism that everyone, scientist or not, should hold.

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Nathan A. Kreider is author of the Misconceptions column for Being Libertarian, and has written for the Austrian Economics Center, the Foundation for Economic Education, and the Liberalists. He also occasionally publishes a blog and video content, including short book reviews, which can be found on his website, nkreider.com. He can be contacted by email via [email protected]

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