Simon Singh: What shocks me is people who have no expertise championing a view that runs counter to the mainstream scientific consensus. For example, we have a consensus amongst the best medical researchers in the world—the leading authorities and the World Health Organization—that vaccines are a good thing, and that MMR, the triple vaccine, is a really good thing. And yet there are people who are quite willing to challenge that consensus—film stars, celebrities, columnists—all of whom rely solely on the tiny little bit of science that seems to back up their view.
Wired: Yet the celebrities sometimes seem to be winning.
Simon Singh: Part of the problem is that if anybody has a gut reaction about an issue, they can go online and have it backed up. That said, they can also find support for their ideas in the mainstream media—because when the mainstream media gives a so-called balanced view, it’s often misleading. The media thinks that because one side says climate change is real and dangerous, the other view is that it’s not real and not dangerous. That doesn’t reflect the fact that something like 98 percent of climate scientists agree that global warming is real and dangerous. And this happens with everything from genetically modified foods to evolution. But, at the end of the day, all that this misinformation does is slow progress—it doesn’t stop it. Antiscientific and pseudoscientific attitudes will get corrected; it’s just a question of how painful that process is going to be.
Wired: Should scientists do more to get real science out there?
Simon Singh: Scientists aren’t necessarily good communicators, because they aren’t trained to be good communicators. A researcher could be doing really important work on global warming, and then somebody writes a column in a national newspaper that completely undermines what they’re saying. But the scientist doesn’t think the column is important—it’s just some nincompoop writing a column—so they don’t take that writer to task in the way they should. It’s a case of saying, “How do we make a difference?” We certainly don’t make a difference by just moaning over coffee the next day.
h/t Scott Mandia