When we understand so little of our world, how critical should we be of what is presented to us as fact?Prakhar Kont

“Trust the science is the most anti-science statement ever. Questioning science is how you do science.”

Science has been endowed with the role of the “explainer”. Everything we know today can be rationalised by science, with even those who don’t wholly understand the subject’s intricacies affirming that science is trustworthy. The other day, a family member forwarded an interesting comic on our WhatsApp group. The comic illustrated a young boy stating that “trust the science” was the most anti-science statement one could make, for “questioning science” was how one “did science”. This comic got me thinking about why science and trust go hand-in-hand for most individuals, even though it has time and again proven itself to be fallible.

We’ve all heard the adage “because science says so”. It’s often used by slightly impatient and nescient parents when their explanations are insufficient for their curious children. And therefore, from a young age, many of us begin to harbour an inexplicable loyalty towards the sciences. However, scientific theories are not immutable. Think of how many scientists it took to elucidate the structure of an atom – from John Dalton’s basic model to Neil Bohr’s solar system-like model to the most recent quantum mechanics model, science is ever-changing. There are several such examples. Yet, every time a new theory is postulated, people believe in it. This continuous cycle of rejection and acceptance of theories leads us one step closer to understanding the world we live in.

An article in The Guardian has a fascinating take on the mantra of “trust the science”. It illustrates how this very rational subject finds its basis in assumptions. It makes an important point of how one can be rational without being certain. Given the available information, science will always present the most reasonable explanation. While the information based on which the conclusion is theorised may change with time, the method of science remains sound.

“Despite all the goodwill that science has garnered, it remains esoteric”

Despite all the goodwill that science has garnered, it remains esoteric. It is understood by few and remains reasonably inaccessible to most, primarily because few people pursue science beyond high school. Thus, ignorance often overrides trust. Moreover, trust is not uniformly spread over all areas of science. This is especially true when the impact of science is experienced by people directly. For instance, even if someone is ignorant about black holes, they may blindly believe that light cannot escape from a black hole. However, blind trust begins to take the back seat when it comes to life sciences and healthcare. New medicines, vaccines, and other treatments are backed by years of rigorous research, but the slightest hint of side effects are enough to undo all the benefits of a new treatment technique. Novak Djokovic’s reluctance to get vaccinated despite all the available research to validate the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines is an excellent example of people’s unwillingness to put their trust in the life sciences easily. In these cases, trust is often replaced with scepticism because trust would mean putting their lives in the hands of a subject that is eventually driven by erring humans.

Despite all the progress made in science, global health emergencies are constantly emerging. Science has the potential to control emergencies from turning into catastrophes. However, the positive impact of life science research can be realised only if people are willing to engage with science and take a leap of faith. To cite an example, the World Economic Forum’s report explains how people’s dubious relationship with scientific research has made it incredibly difficult to fight the Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It also highlights how Rwandans have the maximum trust in their scientists and healthcare systems among all the African countries – a whopping 97% compared to the world average of 76%. Extensive trust was built via grassroots engagement, and these efforts will pay off with Rwanda having a 95% immunisation coverage.

“This surge in belief in sciences is promising”

COVID-19 seems to have played a role in strengthening people’s faith in life science by highlighting the role played by scientists during a global health crisis. After all, scientific research has been the beacon of hope in these uncertain times. According to the New York Times, 80% of people from 113 countries trust science a lot more than they did. This surge in belief in sciences is promising, especially in the field of health with doctors and other health scientists generating greater confidence in their prevention and treatment plans. This would increase the public’s engagement with healthcare treatments and lead to more efficient handling of global health issues.


Mountain View

Science denial: can celebrities help?

Coming back to my central theme, I believe that the comic of the little boy was only partially correct. For the process of science to be beneficial, non-scientists need to “trust in science”. Trusting in science can never be “anti-science” because unless people place their faith in the subject, they cannot engage with it. And unless they engage with the results of scientific research, its impact cannot be maximised. After all, science aims to understand the world better, find solutions to pertinent problems, and make it a better place. But on the other hand, if scientists begin to trust science blindly, then the subject will not be able to reach its potential. Scientists need to keep “questioning science” so that old theories can be refuted and replaced with more comprehensive ones. Science thrives when it is driven by curious, probing scientists. It’s a two-way process, and only if both parties play appropriate roles can science continue to be held to superlative standards.