NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 2, 2010

Science journalist Chris Mooney, the author of "Unscientific America: Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future," urges scientists and policymakers to start listening to the public's views on controversial science issues when drafting policies.  Rather than focusing on the public's lack of science education, Mooney argues that both politics and mistrust towards perceived industry-backed science seem to drive public fears. 

Mooney's piece coincides with the concerns expressed by author, consultant and Harvard University instructor David Ropeik, who attributes people's fears over controversial science issues to their perception that man made risks are scarier than natural ones: 

  • Ropeik presents the example of herbal supplements, which a recent Congressional study found to contain trace levels of pesticides and heavy metals such as mercury.
  • The public, however, has largely ignored these findings, while Ropeik says an uproar would result if the same contaminants were discovered in a pharmaceutical. 

"This illustrates the difficulty we experience when trying to fight irrational fears with facts and evidence, which is all that we as scientists and medical experts have," says American Council on Science and Health's Dr. Gilbert Ross. 

Source: "Dispatch: Listen Up," American Council on Science and Health, June 29, 2010; Chris Mooney, "If scientists want to educate the public, they should start by listening," Washington Post, June 27, 2010; and David Ropeik, "It's Not Just About Oil In the Ocean. It's How it Got There," Psychology Today, May 31, 2010. 

For ACSH text:  

For Mooney text:  

For Ropeik text: 


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