dirks1_ Stephanie KeithGetty Images_vaccineprotest Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Why “Following the Science” Is Easier Said Than Done

Maintaining trust in science requires sound communication. Scientists and their public advocates must be more open about the uncertainties inherent to their enterprise, and more willing to draw clear distinctions between what is and is not considered settled knowledge.

NEW YORK – In recent years, and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, attacks on science and scientists have been escalating to an alarming degree. Health officials and the broader scientific community have pleaded with policymakers and the public to “follow the science.” Yet such slogans fall flat with those who have little regard for scientific authority, not least because science proponents have been using the same blanket term as those who attack it.

When we encapsulate all of science within a single word, we implicitly equate it with truth. In fact, many fields of science are still undergoing constant revision. The importance of this distinction became all too clear during the early stages of the pandemic, when health authorities were charged with providing guidance to the public before all the details about the virus were known.

Science has always come under attack. From Galileo’s demonstration that the Earth is not at the center of the universe to Darwin’s argument that human beings descended from earlier apes, scientists were long seen as a threat to religious authority and its own claims of true knowledge.