Public trust in science is vital. But how do we ensure trust without imposing authority? An Editorial in the September issue of Nature Physics (5, 613; 2009) asks “where does evidence stop and trust in authority begin? Televisions, computers and other technological wonders are proof enough to convince most people of the validity of the physical principles on which they are based. But what of global warming, evolution and other issues in which science and politics or beliefs collide? Whom is the public to believe?”
Pointing out problems such as the media’s tendency to provide “balance” – equal time to fringe or wrong science, which can inaccurately distort perceptions; the lack of scientificially trained journalists and programme-makers; and the inherent uncertainty of science, the Editorial suggests that more and better general scientific education is not enough. At some level, trust in scientific expert opinion is inevitable, coupled with “a better awareness of the importance of science to politics, policy and collective prosperity, coupled with healthy, informed scepticism of the claims of scientists and non-scientists alike.”
Also in the September issue of Nature Physics (5, 613; 2009): Don’t overdo it. ‘Fun’ science may grab summer headlines, but only the real thing has a lasting effect.