“Trust the Science”
Sounds like a good plan. Trust is a shortcut for reliability, for credibility. You wouldn’t trust someone who is constantly giving you bad info. You wouldn’t trust some random unqualified person to re-wire your house or give you dental treatment.
So trust the science.
But being too trusting can leave us susceptible to misinformation and pseudoscience, as researchers recently published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology (I know, I know, How reliable are psychology studies anyway right?)
The study finds interesting, if perhaps not that unsurprising results that show that trusting the science is not enough to guard against misleading or false information.
In the study, the research team recruited people to evaluate some made-up media articles – a new virus created as a bioweapon (sound familiar?) and another on health effects of GMOs.
Before evaluating the (fake) articles, the researchers either put people in a ‘Trust in science’ mindset, by asking them to list 3 examples of how science has benefited humanity, or a ‘critical evaluation mindset’ by asking them to give examples where people needed to ‘think for themselves and not blindly trust what media or other sources tell them’.
They found that those with a higher trust in science were more likely to believe and spread false info that contained scientific references than false info without that veneer of science. Priming people to critically evaluate claims reduces belief in false claims, but reminding people to trust in science does not. The researchers concluded that “trust in science, although desirable in many ways, makes people vulnerable to pseudoscience”.
Trusting the science is not enough.
The researchers suggest that giving people a greater understanding of how the scientific process works (how study designs or peer review work for example) and the motivation to be critical and curious may help give audiences the tools that need to sort reliable information from pseudoscience.