2021 IAS Lecture on Public Policy
During the Covid-19 pandemic, public debates about the validity of scientific findings and the value of science have intensified, as some Americans have actively resisted and even denied the legitimacy of scientific guidance about how to address the disease. What are the social and psychological drivers of public skepticism about science? How can skeptics be convinced otherwise? How do we evaluate the role of facts, of political affinity, and of personal identity in the rejection of scientific advice? According to Naomi Oreskes, Henry Charles Lea Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University, most people who reject science won’t be persuaded with more technical facts. They deny scientific findings because they do not like the implications of their veracity—what Oreskes terms “implicatory denial.” However, addressing those perceived implications—and answering the concerns or fear involved—can help us to make progress.