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The Mistrust of Science: False Belief in Pseudoscience

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 In the article “The Mistrust of Science”, Atul Gawande writes to inform readers of the dangers of believing and trusting in pseudoscience, as opposed to proven scientific facts and arguments. Throughout his piece Gawande uses personal anecdotes, fact-based evidence, and historical evidence to argue why real scientific evidence and theories should be trusted within today’s society.

To support his argument, Gawande uses personal anecdotes to make personal connections on how one may have false beliefs compared to the facts of the world. In the second paragraph of his essay, Gawande talks about how his thoughts on how the world works turned out very incorrect when he had first gone to college. He explains how he had an open mind to “replace” his ideas with theirs and confronted his parents on everything they were wrong about. (Gawande 23). Using this experience, Gawande explains to the readers how he hadn’t really experienced scientific thinking until he first left to go to college and how it can tend to be a new, strange concept. One that requires more thinking and reasoning. “As a student, this seemed to me more than a way of thinking. It was a way of being—a weird way of being… Ultimately, you hope to observe the world with an open mind, gathering facts and testing your predictions and expectations against them.” (Gawande 23). By stating this, Gawande tries to make a personal connection with the reader in terms of being a student and being completely new to scientific thinking. He explains that adopting this way of thinking is somewhat bizarre and can even seem to contradict itself at first. Such as having to keep an open mind on the world but requiring one to use their expectations and predictions to judge against it. Gawande uses these ideas to explain how using a scientific mindset dedicated to learning may help people in using their minds to think for themselves. With this knowledge on observing the world through that mindset, more people would be able to avoid the brainwashing powers of pseudoscience.

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While personal beliefs and anecdotes are important in essays like Gawande’s, they alone are not enough for informing audiences on the argument of trusting scientific evidence over pseudoscience. To strengthen his argument, Gawande also includes fact-based evidence to support his thoughts. He uses these examples to show how scientific data has become less trusted by the general public, and how pseudoscience and even scare people into believing incorrect data. Gawande brings up how many people still believe that childhood vaccines cause autism, despite there being no scientific evidence supporting this claim. (Gawande 23). To back up this idea he states “Some twenty-five years ago, a statistical analysis suggested a possible association between autism and thimerosal…The analysis turned out to be flawed, but fears took hold. Scientists then carried out hundreds of studies, and found no link. Still, fears persisted. Countries removed the preservative but experienced no reduction in autism¬—yet fears grew.” (Gawande 24). Using the argument on vaccines shows exactly how one false scientific journal can cause widespread panic and push society towards believing in pseudoscience. Despite there being plenty of evidence that correlation does not equal causation and that there are no links between vaccines and autism, this shows that there are many who refuse to use a scientific mindset on how they view this information. Gawande continues to further explain his point by explaining how pseudoscientists create their claims. “They argue that the scientific consensus emerges from a conspiracy to suppress dissenting views. They produce fake experts, who have views contrary to established knowledge but do not actually have a credible scientific track record. They cherry-pick the data and papers that challenge the dominant view as a means of discrediting an entire field. They deploy false analogies and other logical fallacies. And they set impossible expectations of research.” (Gawande 25). By stating this, Gawande explains how pseudoscientists typically organize their claims. This shows the readers how to avoid a fake report versus a true scientific report, so that they won’t fall into the trap of relying on pseudoscience for their beliefs.

In addition to the fact-based evidence, Gawande chose to also use historical facts to back up his beliefs that scientific methods and thinking are far better for society than pseudoscience is. Near the beginning of his essay he brings up how the orientation of science has been beneficial such as allowing us to be able to explain why the universe works the way it does, or even the fact that the human lifespan has increased significantly. (Gawande 23). Proof of scientific methods creating advancements in the world can be seen everywhere. Whether it be the electronics used to contact others across the world, or even just the antibiotics available today to fight infections that could wipe out an entire nation not even a hundred years ago. This proves Gawande’s opinion on scientific facts being far more accurate and trustworthy than pseudoscience would be. He goes on to mention U.S. survey data studied by Gorgon Gauchet from 1974 to 2010 has shown that people are trusting science less and less as education increases. (Gawande 24). Why would people stop trusting science? Well with the social medias and internet, it is rather easy for one to find a few quotes, bend the meaning, slap them onto a paper, and call it a scientific report. Many people won’t check to see if it shows characteristics of pseudoscience and choose to rely on it, causing a distrust in real science.  

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