I recently had the misfortune of having a conversation with people who were climate change "sceptics". After supplying them with some lengthy reading material I realised something. They didn't even make the effort to read it. This is revealing when we think about misinformation. Misinformation would not be so effective if it wasn't so easy to digest. It requires no mental effort on the part of the recipient of the information, but it disguises itself as knowledge.
Numerical data and anomalous scientific data seems to be the easiest misinformation to spread. In order to defend intelligent design, the proponents of the "theory" tried to cast doubt onto evolution by pointing out things like the eye and the flagellum . The biggest problem with these naysayers was their lack of expertise in evolutionary biology. Good biologists had no trouble evaporating those two tiny drops that were spat at the sea of evidence supporting the origin of species by evolution.
Climate science suffers even more under numerical data. Despite global warming some places on earth have become colder. Climate scientists don't see this as an anomaly, but uneducated "climate sceptics" do (Please be assured that I don't refer to all climate change sceptics. There are people who have raised legitimate concerns, although they are gradually being satisfied and their reservations being laid to rest). The climate is a system, and the temperature is a variable. Climate change will result in a net increase in temperature averaged across the globe, but certainly wont cause it to be warmer everywhere all the time. The purpose of this post is certainly not to engage in a debate about climate change. I am merely using climate change as an illustration.
It's easy to take a piece of information like increased ice coverage in the arctic and use that as both a weapon against people who have done their homework, or to convince people who tend to take information at face value. Science is complex, you can't take one number, or one factoid and irrefute entire established scientific theories or principles. If you wanted to disprove climate change or evolution, the undertaking on your part would be nothing short of a global scientific effort to review all the current understanding. This has happened before. Before the 20th century science was not as cultured and refined as it is now. Many established scientific ideas like the aether, protoplasm and uegenics had to be challenged. They were the order of the day.
But there is a difference now. We have moved to liberal, ethical, secular and more importantly, methodologically sound science in the past century. This has no small part to play in the massive advances that came during the last 100 years.
The Copenhagen interpretation was an early example of science clashing with science and coming to the right answers in the end. The conclusions that already exist have been fought over at length by specialists in their fields. For a lay person to challenge modern science today is ludicrous. That is why we can't take conspiracy theorists or even the media serious when they claim to uncover gaps or flaws in science.
I think there is a solution to all of this. And that is to stop these misinformation diseases at their sources. People who start these ridicoulous conspiracy theories are not fueled by genuine concern or the need to understand and improve science. They are on a mission to destroy it!
I think that we should try to build some immunity to the ongoing attacks on science being carried out. The best way to do that is by educating people. The reason why so many in the USA question evolution is because evolution has been abused in the biology classroom. Teaching some climate change science in school could be a good start too. Teaching students how the scientific method works would probably work best.
Science is not a free for all. There are considerable barriers you need to cross to understand modern science. You need to understand much much more to refute it. Simply by watching some documentaries and reading popular science I have come to understand that science is a wonderful thing. It is by far the most exciting thing in the world. We have so much to learn, but people who spread unscientific lies are holding society back. We have to move on and if we don't overhaul the way we as a society treats science, most people will stay far behind understanding, and the backlashes will just get more extreme with time.