thunderstorm-3440450_1920 2.jpg

Trust is a big word. When you trust someone, you don't question what they say or do, right? You know that they're reliable, dependable, and correct. And it should be very, very hard to give your trust to someone else - they have to earn and deserve it.  And when someone breaks that trust, say by guiding you down a wrong path or not taking your best interests to heart, it creates a difficult, sometimes impossible, barrier to overcome.

And we assign trust to more than people. We can assign trust to institutions or organizations. We can assign trust to certain principles or ideas. We can assign trust to viewpoints and ways of life. That trust too is very hard won and very easily lost.

On the surface it should be easy to trust the scientific method. It's an approach with millennia-old roots in various philosophical schools, so it certainly has the right pedigree. And starting about four centuries ago some thinkers began thinking about how to think in earnest and (over a very long time) came up with some pretty awesome principles, especially when it comes to questions on the nature of nature.

Let the evidence lead the way. Try to be impartial. Have your peers check your work. Make only falsifiable claims. Allow knowledge to be updated and refined. Double-check your work. 

You know, science.

It should be easy to trust science. It's simple, direct, powerful, and has delivered amazing results decade after decade.

So why don't many people trust science?

Part of it is the communication of science. Headlines that make science look schizophrenic instead of focused and determined. Junk websites and videos that take topics that sound like science but just make things up. Politicians and industry leaders that abuse scientists for their own gains. Poor science itself done by shady scientists.

If you're completely unaware of how science operates - tedious, backbreaking mental labor undertaken by generations of dedicated professionals - it's easy to assume that the scientific method is feckless, indecisive, inadequate to address the challenges of the modern world, steeped in ridiculous incomprehensible jargon, and performed by out-of-touch ivory tower intellectuals.

So what to do about it?

One approach is to keep insisting on the value of science and the applicability of science in our everyday lives, showing example after example of science done right. That approach will certainly work...on some people.

Another, more radial and perhaps dangerous approach, is to instead build trust in you. Humans naturally relate to other humans. We have an easier time trusting individuals than lofty high-minded ideals. We talk to people, communicate with people, build relationships with people. Those relationships build the foundation of trust.

Think about it: if you trust someone, and they say something that you disagree with, do you immediately discard what they say? Or do you internalize it and consider it deeply, weighing it against your own beliefs? You may not end up changing your mind, but you've at least listened.

Building trust in science is best done through individual one-on-one relationships. When someone trusts you, they'll consider what you say, even if they disagree with it. So the first step in getting someone to trust science is to become a trustworthy person.

1 Comment