Science Under Attack: Has the Public Lost Faith in Scientists?
Distributed by Films Media Group, 132 West 31st St., 17th Floor, New York, NY 10001; 800-257-5126
Produced by Emma Jay
Directed by Emma Jay
DVD, color, 52 min.
Sr. High-General Adult
Reviewed by Jim Hobbs, Online Service Coordinator, Monroe Library, Loyola University, New Orleans, LA
Date Entered: 6/28/2012
We face a dazzling array of choices daily, from food and drink to clothing to entertainment, but do we have a choice about scientific fact? Dr. Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society, explores the high level of skepticism currently directed at science. Nurse is a biologist, winner of a Nobel Prize, and an enthusiastic supporter of science. He talks with scientists and skeptics and reaches some conclusions.
Dr. Nurse begins with the widespread disbelief that human action is causing a change in earth's climate. He meets with a climate scientist at NASA to review data collection and modeling, and with a retired scientist who does not believe that increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide is causing climate change.
Nurse delves into the international controversy that followed leaked e-mails from a climate research facility at the University of East Anglia (U.K.). Dr. Phil Jones is the man behind the most-criticized e-mail; Nurse talks with him about the controversy. Nurse surmises that it was a "scandal that never took place" in the light of four separate inquiries that found no wrongdoing. He visits a journalist who criticizes scientists for trying to hide flaws instead of explaining them and of being too eager to reach consensus. There is a brief interview with an individual who denies that the HIV virus causes AIDS, proclaiming proudly that he turned his back on medicine and cured himself. Nurse looks at similarities among climate change and AIDS skeptics and the difficulty of teasing out cause from effect. The final issue is genetically-modified (GM) plants and features an interview with a researcher who is baffled by opposition to his work.
There is a brief interview with an individual who denies that the HIV virus causes AIDS, proclaiming proudly that he turned his back on medicine and cured himself. Nurse looks at similarities among climate change and AIDS skeptics and the difficulty of teasing out cause from effect. The final issue is genetically-modified (GM) plants and features an interview with a researcher who is baffled by opposition to his work.
Lack of faith in science has several causes, says Nurse. Scientists themselves must reach out to the public in the new global communications environment to explain their work. With no peer-review or editing process on the Internet, the most outrageous and indefensible claims are available equally with peer-reviewed publications.
He also finds skeptics at fault for zeroing in on a few facts and being unwilling to consider the bulk of data. Looking for flaws is one part of the scientific process, but it's not based on selective attention to contrary data, but a review of all evidence. Healthy skepticism is not simple denial, and point of view is not as rigorous as peer review.
There is only a small amount of technical material in this program, not enough to interfere with the main issue. Present and future scientists are the most important audience for this program, but the rest of us will do well to be alert and thoughtful about what we see, read and hear around scientific controversies.