Good article; articulate, thoughtful, and mirrors many of my own concerns about the Dark Age that appears to be dawning (if that's quite the right word!). That said, I still think the science community does need to take a good hard look in the mirror to understand some of the reasons for its fall from the Best Loved list of the American public.

One reason the public has lost faith in science and scientists, I believe, is the historical arrogance of (particularly medical) scientists and their fairly frequent collusion with authoritarian forces. Do we remember the Tuskegee Experiment? How about the prevailing diagnosis of bored and unhappy married women in the 1950's and early 60's as "neurotic" and in need of tranquilisers? Do we remember clitoridectomies? Forced sterilisations? Do we remember the credentialled scientists who developed napalm, among other hideous and inhumane weapons (and still are, btw)? Science has too often been the willing handmaiden to authoritarian power, and has lost some of its benevolent aura in the process.

When ill-educated members of the public fear that vaccines may cause autism, they are at least in part responding to a long history of allegedly "safe" products of science which turned out not to be. Thalidomide, for example. DDT. PCBs. POPs. Saccharine. Dalkon Shield? Leaded gasoline. Lead paint. Heck, internal combustion and CO2. A long litany of substances and products and technologies that we were assured were quite safe... until dogged determination and/or longitudinal datasets finally brought their hazards to light and they were, at long last, banned.

Scientists may well protest that it was "industrial science" and capitalism (in essence) -- profit seeking and product hyping -- that caused the over-promotion of risky technologies -- not Science itself which resides in a (hypothetical) pure Empirical Empyrean, seeking truth not profit. But as with Communism, there's an uncomfortable gap between Actually Existing Science and its lofty ideals.

Advertisers and promoters eagerly used (and re-used and re-used) the image of the reassuring middle-aged Anglo man in a lab coat (Generic Scientist) to make all kinds of claims, to associate their products with the (then) near-religious awe and respect for Science on the part of consumers... and for the most part Big Science did not respond openly or forcefully to these misrepresentations made in its name. Its reputation suffered thereby, a slow attrition of public trust. The image of the scientist was overused in marketing to the point at which people's trust in science became about comparable to their trust in advertising claims.

Many people are also aware of the overmarketing of pharma products, and the collusion of doctors (more or less openly bribed by big pharmacorps) in selectively prescribing meds from their pet pharma sponsors. Again, we could point the finger at a for-profit medical system which tends to bend individual ethics in the gravitational field of huge concentrations of money; but what people remember -- the takeaway that remains -- is "bent doctors." And the medical profession has done little so far to clean that situation up and restore trust.

Anyway, you get the point. The public has lost its naive, childlike 1950-era trust in the godlike Man In the White Lab Coat. And since human nature abhors an existential vaccum, it has turned to other sources of comfort and certainty which may be even more dangerous :-)

We might blame a sabotaged educational system, the pernicious influence of TV and mass media om literacy and numeracy, the culture of infinite distraction (universal ADHD), the economic brutality and precarity that intensifies people's appetite for escapism and easy fixes for their anxiety... but I think some of the blame -- more than a smidge -- still belongs to a science establishment that rode a little too long a little too high on the wave of Science-worship from the Sputnik era, got a little too arrogant, tolerated a little too much marketing using its image.

A bit of Truth & Reconciliation for the Big Science and medical establishment would not go amiss.

Retired; ex-software engineer. Paleo-feminist. Sailor. Arduino tinkerer. Enviro. Libertarian Socialist (Anarcho-Syndicalist, kinda). Writer. Altermondialiste.

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