Learning the truth through science

President Trump’s comments on climate change are a stark reminder why we all need to understand science at some level


Is fracking dangerous? You might say yes because you have heard others say so, but do you even know what it is?

Are genetically modified foods harmful to eat? Is climate change a threat to our future or is it all just a hoax promoted by the Chinese?

US president Donald Trump has expressed his belief that climate change is fake but almost all the research conducted by scientists from all around the world provides evidence to show that our planet is heating up and the cause is human activity.

Many would claim they know very little about science issues and may feel they don’t need to know, but president Trump’s comments are a stark reminder why we all need to understand science at some level.

His scepticism on the climate issue – and others including doubts about the benefits of vaccines – certainly has allowed many thousands of people to dismiss climate change as a falsehood whether they have the facts or not. But people must become informed about the issue and try and understand what the science is saying.

Confidence in vaccines has been undermined by unsubstantiated claims that they are harmful, yet vaccines save lives. There is plenty of reputable evidence showing vaccines are safe, and knowing that should help people understand the truth about vaccine safety.

Here are more reasons why people should try to understand as much as they can about science and where modern research is going.

1. Knowing what is dangerous and what is safe

Even a little bit of scientific understanding can help you know what is worth being afraid of on the basis of facts. Climate change is dangerous, but genetically modified foods are not. Understanding the issues will help you make your mind up and expose the false claims that build up.

2. Be a sceptic and don’t accept the obvious answer

Eating fresh veg is definitely good for you but it will not cure cancer or restore lost vision. As with things financial, if a claim sounds too good to be true it probably is. Answers based on fact must carry more weight than claims arising from testimonials and just because it sounds logical doesn’t mean it is.

3. Science has already changed our lives

We readily accept scientific advances in communications, entertainment and medicine but for some reason seem arbitrarily to reject others. People seem to trust the scientists on some issues and not on others, despite not having grounds for doubt. Be open to the argument that is based on hard information.

4. Science is a cultural activity

Science is a human cultural activity in the same way as pursuit of the arts, and ranks as one of humanity’s greatest achievements. And in the same way that you don’t have to be a musician to appreciate good music, you can appreciate what is being accomplished in the sciences without being a scientist yourself. You don’t have to be an astronomer to like looking at the stars and planets.

5. Science and technology run the world

Modern society could not run without the science and technology that built it. But that doesn’t mean you should just accept things as they are. Personal transport is a given but science and technology must be used to help move us away from fossil fuel use. And they must also develop ways to reduce the pollution that other scientists have shown can damage our lungs.

6. Deciding what is appropriate in medical treatment

Scientists now have a method to go in and rebuild a person’s genetic blueprint by adding or deleting genes. This is fine if the goal is to cure a disease like cystic fibrosis but what if it is used to give a child blue eyes or enhance height? An informed public must be in place to exert influence on ethical issues and in order to do this people need at least some grasp of the science.

7. Understanding science makes you optimistic

The advance of science has delivered lots of good things, a longer lifespan, better health throughout our lifetimes and better ways to treat dangerous diseases. Watching the progress being made by scientific endeavour, with new challenges being met and overcome, makes you realise that there is much more to follow. Who knows where we will be 20 years from now.

8. Creativity is king

Science and technology demand exceptional creativity, in the same way that the arts require creativity. Both are a source of new thinking, fresh ideas and novel ways of doing things. If you understand a bit of what is going on, you too can participate in this creative activity by asking simple questions. Why can’t we speed up the switch from fossil fuels? How can technology be used to improve my child’s education? Is there a way to reduce deaths on our roads through the use of new technologies?

9. Protecting against misuse of science

Scientific advance continually throws up fresh questions about ethics and the controls placed on this advance. Often things are left to politicians in the hope that legislative controls might be introduced, but what if they are ignored? People need to understand and debate issues of importance and to do this they need to be informed.

10. Protecting against fake science

Many people make use of medicines and treatments that make claims without any facts to back them up. Some are harmless, but these can quickly become dangerous if taken to extremes. Pressure groups will push to keep them in use for financial reasons, but people need to be able to ask the right questions to expose phoney treatments. Understanding a bit of the science can help.

The aim of this page since it began in 1998 has been to help people understand the wonderful work being done by scientists as they seek to understand the world around them. It has sought to build bridges between researchers and the public, letting the scientists tell their stories in a way that anyone can understand.

Hopefully this has been accomplished to some degree over the years. It has been a pleasure to serve you, and thanks for reading.