Forum: Trust Me, I'm a Scientist; May 2011; Scientific American Magazine; by Daniel T. Willingham; 1 Page(s)
A friend of mine has long held that a vaccination his son received as an infant triggered his child’s autism. He clings to this belief despite a string of scientific studies that show no link between autism and vaccines. When the original paper on such a link was recently discredited as a fraud, my friend’s reaction was that it will now be more difficult to persuade people of the dangers of vaccination. He is not alone: nearly half of all Americans believe in the vaccine-autism link or are unsure about it.
The paradox goes deeper. My friend insists that he trusts scientists—and again, in this respect, he is like most Americans. In a 2008 survey by the National Science Foundation, more respondents expressed “a great deal” of confidence in science leaders than in leaders of any other institution except the military. On public policy issues, Americans believe that science leaders are more knowledgeable and impartial than leaders in other sectors of society, such as business or government. Why do people say that they trust scientists in general but part company with them on specific issues?