Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Post-Truth and the Rejection of Science

By Leigh Ackland

In an age of "alternative facts", it may not be feasible to expect people to understand the details of scientific studies, but it is crucial that they respect the importance of evidence-based information underpinning scientific analysis.

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We are surrounded by science, more than at any other age in human history. Despite this, in the current political environment, science is often dismissed and scientists are ignored. This is not a situation without precedent. Historically, scientists and their ideas came into conflict with the beliefs of the time, particularly religious beliefs.

The latest threat to science is “post-truth”. The Oxford English Dictionary named “post-truth” as the 2016 “Word of the Year”. Post-truth is a scenario where public opinion is solicited by appealing to people’s emotions and personal beliefs rather than by the presentation of evidence-based facts. There is also “Alternative Facts” where people select the information to promote their case, regardless of whether it is true and even “Fake News”, where items are fabricated to gain attention. Donald Trump has claimed that climate change is a hoax, vaccines trigger autism, and compact fluorescent light bulbs cause cancer - views that are totally contrary to scientific evidence. However, the fact that this has not influenced his standing amongst many Americans is testament to the radical shift in society away from rationality and evidenced-based information.

Given that science has been so successful, the appearance of post-truth seems to be a paradox. There are a number of reasons that could explain the popularity of post-...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.