Scientific Miscommunication: The Rise of Conspiracy Theories and Distrust in Science 

Sydney Thompson 

Senior Staff Writer

According to the CDC, as of November 10, 2021, 53 percent of the population in North Carolina that is eligible for vaccination is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Experts at the CDC estimate that 70-90 percent of the eligible population need to be vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity against COVID-19. Herd immunity is one of the most important steps to ending the pandemic. 

The path to vaccination is far from over but many strides have been made to convince the American public to get vaccinated. These strides have revealed the amount of distrust the American public holds for the scientific community. 

“Vaccine doubters claim they’re waiting for the shots to be proven safe and effective, “ said Celia Viggo Wexler in her article for NBC. “ We are in a five-alarm fire, and they’re wondering whether the fire extinguishers work.”

Distrust in the scientific community has been on the rise for several years now. The anti-vaccine movement started in 1998 following Andrew Wakefield’s controversial study falsely-linking autism to childhood vaccines. 

According to Saad B Omar in Nature, a prominent scientific publication for biomedical science, Wakefield’s legacy has shaped the modern anti-vaccine movement. 

“The fraudulent work on 12 children promoted a non-existent connection between autism and the MMR vaccine, used against measles, mumps and rubella,” Omar said. “It propelled Wakefield to notoriety and turbocharged the anti-vaccine movement. He remains a headliner on the international vaccine-sceptic circuit as diseases once vanquished return because of falling rates of immunization.”

However vaccinations are not the only scientific topic under fire from skeptics. 

Climate change has also been debated with many skeptical over the validity and extent of the effects of the difference in the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere. Mark Maslin of the University College London went over these origins in November 2019, suggesting that the genuine concerns of those who did not understand climate science were encouraged and strengthened by figures who politically and financially benefited from denying climate change.

The stresses of the pandemic and the reliance on health science has exacerbated these debates and doubts of the validity of the scientific process. There are conspiracy theories and groups of people with specific doubts, like whether or not the earth is flat or if evolution is real.

Why is this such a significant problem in America?

According to Andrew Jewett of the Boston Review, many scientists cite the religious politics in America as a root cause of scientific disbelief and skepticism. 

“One might start with the political influence of theologically conservative Christians in recent decades,” Jewett said. “Today its power is such that Republican leaders routinely speak out against ‘secularism,’ in such varied guises as abortion rights, strict church-state separation, and Darwinism in the schools. Theological conservatives also tend to reject climate science, viewing environmentalism as a dangerous, socialistic religion.”

Some of the problems also come from the confusing and ever-changing nature of modern science. 

To give a very basic example, chocolate is often on the news. Newscasters have presented countless studies on air arguing for and against the consumption of chocolate, citing the newest and latest studies.

The problem is that in the context of modern science, that study presented on the evening or daytime news is just one study on the subject. These studies are presented as the defining factor in determining how nutritious a daily chocolate bar is when they are just one study of many. 

Many studies are needed to draw conclusions in modern-day science. 

There is also the simple fact that the general American public will not understand advanced science in recent studies and walk away with certain misconceptions about the material. They may also have concerns that they feel the scientific community has glossed over like the anti-vaccination faction does with rare side-effects that do sometimes occur. 

Communication to the American public is something that the scientific community must take charge of if they hope to combat the rising distrust in science. While several are working to debunk and combat misinformation, more needs to be done to prevent these misconceptions from taking root in the first place.

Categories: Features

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