Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Evidence Is “Not Like It Used to Be”

By Guy Nolch

Donald Trump’s hair is a metaphor for how people misuse evidence to fit their worldview.

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This month could see the election of a US President who complains that “hairspray’s not like it used to be” since it no longer contains ozone-depleting chemicals, and then argues that the hairspray he applies in his apparently airtight apartment couldn’t possibly disperse as far as the upper atmosphere to affect the ozone layer. Donald Trump must never have wondered why Trump Tower’s rarified air has never run out of oxygen, although hypoxia could explain his intellectual erraticism.

We expect our leaders to make decisions based on evidence rather than self-interest and dogma, but that isn’t always the case. For instance, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change committed nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as early as 1992, yet it wasn’t until the Paris Agreement was signed last year that they stopped arguing that the evidence for anthropogenic climate change wasn’t settled.

But what about you and I? How much science does the average citizen need? Do we need to know a set list of scientific facts? An understanding of broad scientific principles? Or a basic understanding of how to distinguish evidence from nonsense? And will society fail if a proportion of the population has only a weak grasp of this knowledge?

When Toss Gascoigne of The Australian National University (p.31) asked the science communication fraternity these...

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