Atul Gawande: 'The public's trust in the scientific community has been decreasing'

In his commencement address at Pasadena-based California Institute of Technology, Atul Gawande, MD, a surgeon and public health researcher, told graduates that scientific thinking is under siege.

Science — which even includes English and history — is a "commitment to a systematic way of thinking, an allegiance to a way of building knowledge and explaining the universe through testing and factual observation," Dr. Gawande said during his address.

Yet this way of thinking is increasingly mistrusted by the public, he said, citing a study by sociologist Gordon Gauchat, PhD. Dr. Gauchat found the public's trust in the scientific community decreased drastically from 1974 to 2010, despite an increase in education, according to Dr. Gawande. The trend is particularly notable among political conservatives with college degrees, who in 1974 had the highest level of trust in science, and in 2010 had the lowest. Science must now compete with pseudoscience — promoted by organizations for their own ends.

How can we put an end to bad science? The answer is in promoting truth-seeking. "Even more than what you think, how you think matters," Dr. Gawande said.

A transcript of the speech is available courtesy of The New Yorker.


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