Thinking About Using Science to Make Your Point? Think Again

You may be familiar with these quotes about statistics. It was Mark Twain who said, “Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.”

And even if you don’t know Benjamin Disraeli, you may have heard his comment that, “There are three types of lies – lies, damn lies and statistics.”

If Mark Twain and Benjamin Disraeli were around today, they’d probably be quite interested in reading the 2019 State of Science Index from 3M and may consider including “science” in their comments.

3M’s State of Science Index is a survey that studies perceptions of science around the world. This is the second year for the survey, which drew its conclusions from 14,000 participants in 14 countries.

Some of the topline findings this year were that 35 percent of those who responded to the survey said they are skeptical of science. This is an increase of three percent over 2018.

A little more than 25 percent of global participants said they are suspicions of the role science will play over the next 20 years. In America, the number is higher, closer to 33 percent.

One other key finding was that 45 percent of participants said they only believe in science that fits within their own worldviews or personal beliefs. The study’s authors believe this causes “unconscious skepticism.”

If we are to go with these findings, it would seem that science has joined the list of tools advocates use to advance their agendas, sometimes questionably.

We can speculate on why perceptions of science in general have shifted in this way, but certain things are true from any perspective.

It is now a standard strategy in the communications toolbox for advocacy groups to point to science as the basis for some of their arguments. Quite often, the spokespersons for these campaigns are scientists, selected for their perceived credibility and neutrality on the issue. Apparently, such campaigns could be starting to backfire.

The lesson for communicators for the moment is simply to be aware that when you start pointing to “scientific data,” “scientific research,” or the almost oxymoronic “scientific consensus,” you need to make sure that scientific accuracy comes before all else in order to retain credibility.

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TimOB