In her article, Is the March for Science Bad for Scientists?, Emily Atkin made a point that is both dangerous and foolhardy:
If scientists are defensive in the first place, perhaps it’s because of conservative rhetoric portraying them as partisan hacks. That’s not likely to change. Regardless of whether there are anti-Trump signs at the march, outlets like Fox News and Breitbart will likely characterize it as further proof that scientists are hopelessly biased and untrustworthy. Their viewers might buy it, but most Americans do not. Public trust of scientists is high: 76 percent of Americans have “at least a fair amount of confidence” in scientists, the highest level of trust in any profession behind doctors and members of the military.
What Atkin doesn’t seem to realize is that the March for Science has the potential, depending on it’s success in terms of publicity, to change this. I explained this before, so let me simply summarize:
- Yes, it is true that 76 percent of Americans have “at least a fair amount of confidence” in scientists, the highest level of trust in any profession behind doctors and members of the military.
- I would argue this trust exists because most Americans view scientists as being non-partisan. That explains why they cluster with doctors and the military.
- Point 2 is also supported by the data – almost 65% of Americans don’t think of scientists as being politically liberal or conservative.
- Yet the perceptions of most Americans are false – 55% of scientists are liberal and 9% are conservative. The skew is even more extreme with party affiliations. 81% of scientists are Democrats or lean Democrat, yet only 12% are Republican or lean Republican.
Atkin seems to think that 76% trust figure is a fixed number and can be used by the March for Science partisans to leverage their politicized agenda. In reality, the 76% trust number is likely tied to faulty information about the skewed political leanings of the scientific community. If the March for Science is a publicity success, that faulty information is vulnerable to correction and thus we might expect the 76% number to dwindle over time.