Although rare, the act of sharing science with the public will embolden certain people who are not amused with the information presented and choose to express their views. When this happens, such as the cases of climate change, evolution and vaccines, resolution may never come. The reason stems not from an argument of evidence vs. evidence. Rather, these are perfect examples of the intrusion of ideology into the debate.
In the political context, such debates are easy to identify using something called Goodwin’s Law. It explains a phenomenon resulting from an argument leaving evidence and heading towards ideology – or, if you wish, gets more heated. Eventually. one side, usually the one losing, will analogize the opposing side to the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, which ruled Germany from 1933-1945. At that point, the argument is effectively over and there will be no winner.
In scientific debate, this link is usually left untouched although there are other ways in which ideology can invade and take over the discussion. Usually, it’s accompanied by a sentence many of us have probably heard:
The utterance of these three words or similar phrases is a means to suggest there is no further argument to be had and then debate has been won. From the numerous debates I’ve experienced over the years, there is only one valid response.
Interestingly, when that happens, the fact chucker can do very little but to realize this isn’t the end and must choose to give up the goose or head down a path of personal attacks. I’ve had an equal share of both and have to admit my skin is quite a bit tougher than it used to be.
Yet, thanks to sciPOP, there exists a third way to approach this unfortunate issue of evidence vs ideology. It involves not engaging in a more heated debate. Instead, the goal is to dispel antagonism through analogy.
One of the key issues with ideology is the base upon which it is built. There may only be a few ways to explain the ‘fact’ because it is limited in its scope. Moreover, many of the facts are cherry-picked in order to maintain a certain mindset. Although this may seem inexcusable, it is actually a very good thing.
At its heart, sciPOP is story re-telling; the base is a compilation of mechanisms, statistics, observations, and future questions from continually asking, “Why?” This set of fundamentals are the tenets to any human interaction, whether science, sports, cooking, auto mechanics, music, or literature. By making the story and re-telling it in another context, the discussion can be shifted to demonstrate its applicability in another realm.
While analogy is an excellent way to drive a debate – and perhaps even win it – the exercise should be done cautiously and conscientiously. Far too often ideologists have used analogy to their benefit by taking an extreme example unlikely to be seen in regular human culture. However, in most cases, the links are ludicrous and lead not only to mockery of the analogy but also dismantling of the debate altogether. Though there may be no winner, they at least can claim they did not lose. It’s a strategy of leaving the door open and making sure it cannot be closed.
This realization brings up a very important point about sciPOP. It is not about winning debates; it’s about increasing the knowledge of the community about the wonders of science. Human behaviour cannot be controlled unless repressed and of all the vocations, science should understand that best. It would quite simply be wrong to make an attempt to force anyone to follow a certain path simply because ‘we told you so.’ Ironically, that approach is no different than ideology.
Instead, use sciPOP to get the audience educated, enriched, engaged and entertained. With each new nugget of information shared, the robustness of the evidence increases. As the number of voices amplifies, the value strengthens. But most of all, as the momentum grows, the mainstream will find validity in what you share and turn to you as a trusted resource.
As this happens, ideology will falter and those championing it will lose the spotlight. The group will find themselves in the minority and will struggle to be heard. Eventually, they will have no other option than to express their discontent and demand to have ‘equal time’ to express their views. As we’ve seen in the most recent case involving creationism and the television show, Cosmos, headlines may get written but that time may never come.
There’s an added bonus. When the evidence becomes so strong, even the strongest opponents may begin to change their tune. Just last week, Jenny McCarthy, hailed as the leader of the anti-vaccine movement, wrote an article stating that she is in fact, not anti-vaccine. If anything, that is a reason for celebration of evidence over ideology.
On that note, one of the reasons for writing this piece is the rise in measles in Canada. We’ve known for decades vaccination is the key to prevention. Yet there are some who conscientiously choose against this route and their actions have helped to bring a resurgence of this infection. Although these individuals may never change their ideology, sciPOP can keep the rest of the public in the know about why this is important and how to stay safe. Yet, sciPOP should not be used to discriminate against these objectors, but instead ensure their message stays in the minority and their actions are met with the best evidence-based measures possible.
If you’ve encountered ideology in your efforts, let us know here. I’m sure you will be shown nothing but respect and support.
(This is the 5th article in the sciPOP series on how to share science in the public)