Science to masses: why it doesn't work?

Here I am, back from the holidays and ready to go back to my publishing rhythm. This post come quite late with respect to the piece of news that inspired it. Long story short, last November the newly appointed President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Junker eliminated the role of (independent) Chief Scientific Adviser after pressure of Greenpeace and other environment activists groups (see their open letter here). Such important role was given to successful biologist Anne Glover by the former President who is, you know, just the Chief Adviser of Scotland. Her crime? Basing her judgement strictly on scientific evidence that, we know, people hate.

This episode made me think of another persistent debate going on in the recent years: the one about vaccines. Usually I am all about freedom of choice, but I think freedom is nice as long as it does not hurt others. The vaccine connection to diseases as autism, was brought to light by an impostor and based on absolutely no scientific investigations. Let's spend a couple of words on such Andrew Wakefield: not only his license was withdrawn, but he was found guilty of physical abuse on mentally-ill children and - hear hear - of corruption from an insurance company.

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For some reason that I really do not catch, many people like this kind of conspiracy theories even when logic and facts are totally against them (I mean, they even proved the real conspiracy goes in the other sense!), and this story of harmful vaccination spread on. Problem is, such attitude can be really harmful sometime. Several studies have shown that anti-vaccine people are contributing to the spread of diseases (*). There is even an interactive map showing such damage in the world (I am happy to be in the blank space). After Wakefield's revelations, several articles where written supporting his theories BUT mainly by journalists and editorialists.

As a positive-minded scientist, I always wonder what we could have done more. How can we teach people about our methods, so that they can trust them more? How can we influence more politics, so that we do not get thrown out of the picture as it happened for the EU Scientific Adviser role? Is science too far from people and do we have the responsibility to communicate more with the press and the people, so that our research is more open?

 

(*) See for instance The Lancet (1998), this Time interview to Dr. Offit, this paper from the scientific journal "Vaccine".

The featured image is downloaded from this Reddit channel.

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Paola Elefante

Technical Project Manager working in Supply Chain Management solutions at Relex Solutions Oy. Proud mother with the best husband ever. Shameless nerd&geek. Feminist. Undercover gourmet.

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