Exposing distorted truths via anti-science realities

Article By Colleen Tuazon
Illustration by Sabrina Laceda
Published 2020 September 30

We have all experienced sinking into a rabbit hole of consuming content, wherein one scroll on Facebook becomes a mile of feed, or one Youtube video becomes a 3-hour long binge fest. You may have started with a video on life hacks, and ended up on a commentary on UFO sightings and zodiac signs. This attests to the remarkable efficiency of artificial intelligence. Everything is designed in the virtual landscape — the internet — to get you hooked up on these Youtube recommendations and endless scrolling data.

The dilemma arises when social media platforms become merely profit-oriented, and such a system has led to polarization, misinformation, and subliminal propaganda. Flat earthers, anti-vaxxers, mask deniers, and climate change cynics have started seemingly irreversible anti-science movements partly as a result of these money-making algorithms. Attitudes on “research” have become skewed, and “credibility” lies on the number of views and likes. ”I did my research” means watching an enticing (almost brainwashing) video presenting some pseudoscientific claim — that is, a well-organized blabber that does not fit into the scientific method.

Indeed, this fuels our tendency to succumb to the confirmation bias. After all, it is satisfying to see “evidence” stack up to confirm existing beliefs, as it is more convenient to start with a conclusion and work backwards. With such a perspective, it is easier to prove a point right away and dismiss opposing ideas while downplaying the definition of a theory — a revelation (an almost-truth) rigorously proven and tested countless times over the decades by legitimate researchers and scientists.

Nevertheless, these movements are not completely to blame for the spread of misinformation. Being a part of a community, such as the Flat Earthers, the Anti-Vaxxers, and what have you, is in fact an expression of identity. Science denial is beyond being “ignorant” or “uneducated.” It is a manifestation of existential anxiety and a desire for stability and control, coupled with perceived threats to the social and economic status quo [1]. Factual information backed by a scientific consensus as a counter argument would only be taken as a personal attack. Thus, saying, “I’m right, and you’re wrong,” to convince them is pointless.

So, who really let the dogs out? What else but the system — the system that is designed to capitalize on human nature. The virtual landscape is intricately made to record our automatic responses (like or dislike) and use this information to ultimately bound us onto our screens, to trap us into profitable mind frames. From above, we are all hamsters in a big playground of sorts, continuously nudged and lured by whatever is presented to us — that is, the unquestioned circulation of content and information regardless if they are true and in pursuit of the common good or not. Eat the rich, #amiryte?

Demanding accountability from the system compels us to dig deeper into our local context. To defend Science and the Truth, there is a need for interventions from leaders and mainstream media to increase science literacy and promote diversity in research. 

How can we make Science as mainstream as basketball in our culture, when general science coverage is scarce, and when weather and information technology dominate the news [2]? An enriched local science culture is an underestimated weapon against misinformation. How can we make Science approachable, when there is excessive politicization of science news by the media [2]? Remember the Dengvaxia scandal of 2017 and how it was angled as a political issue, portrayed as a story lacking scientific depth. How can we make Science comprehensive, when scientific research has historically been skewed towards medicine and agriculture [2]? Philippine science and technology development is stunted because other fields of science remain to be underappreciated by policymakers. 

As you may have noticed, the “system” encompasses what’s beyond our screens — the hierarchical society that measures the value of Science with a mere yardstick of utility. To completely put an end to anti-science movements, we have yet to deal with the system and not just individuals. The solution is more than just avoiding the rabbit hole of lies. As Science and the Truth continue to be muffled by digital, social, and political noises, effective science communication is necessary. Science, despite being incomprehensible to many, is not just an act of faith, but a social exercise [3]. As such, it should not be a matter of “who knows what” when we believe what experts say regarding vaccines, masks, social distancing, or climate change. And even if Science is out of the picture, as rational and empathic beings, we must all collectively dare to question our choices and beliefs if holding onto them costs the present’s and the next generations’ tomorrow.

References

  1. Bardon A. Humans are hardwired to dismiss facts that don’t fit their worldview [Internet]. Alliance for Science | Cornell University. 2020 [cited 2020Sep21]. Available from: https://allianceforscience.cornell.edu/blog/2020/02/humans-are-hardwired-to-dismiss-facts-that-dont-fit-their-worldview/ 
  2. Navarro K, Mckinnon M. Challenges of communicating science: perspectives from the Philippines. Journal of Science Communication. 2020;19(01).  
  3. Maini, Z. c2018. The Nature and Practice of Science. Ateneo de Manila University.

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