SCI-ART LAB

Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication

                                                            Interactive Science Series

Q: How can media influence science perception of public?

Krishna: Media can influence a lot. I wrote a few articles on this in the science communication  series. You will find the links to them on the main page of this group Science Simplified. Please read them to get a view.

Q: Can ordinary people too influence science perception of people?

Krishna: Yes! During debates and discussions with people who practice pseudo-science and harmful alternative medicine, I noticed, unable to counter my arguments properly - how they try to  'influence'  the readers, audience and every body around. 

People downplay scientific evidence, exaggerate uncertainty, vilify scientists, ridicule scientific methodology, hide behind front groups, quote blogs and books written by their friends and colleagues which provide only anecdotal stories, and try to bring 'democracy' or 'opinion of majority of people' (which doesn't count in science at all) into debates to influence laymen.

Unable to fight you in the right way, some try to frighten you too. They bring in their friends in large numbers during discussions and make them 'up vote' or 'like' or 'clap' for everything they say -including rubbish! They think they can intimidate you with numbers and raised voices. You wonder when you have provided all the evidence to prove your view point and when they didn't, why people are still supporting them and not you! They make you doubt yourself with this act of theirs! They try to make others think they are right because their followers and friends are 'supporting' them!

I will give an example here. Just a few days back, I had a discussion with an astrologer on a social networking site. He said, there 's no research conducted in India on Astrology. Then I gave him this link and asked him to go through it:  http://www.currentscience.ac.in/Downloads/article_id_096_05_0641_06...

Then without even going through it he said, this is a paper  published by cheap publicity seeking scientists and is faulty because the scientists 'might not have used genuine astrologers like him' ( !). 

Then I told him these highly qualified scientists are world famous and they don't need cheap publicity. They are thorough professionals and very well know how to go about their work. The statistics were provided by Pune University statistics department. And it 's a peer-reviewed paper published in a genuine and reputed journal. Only a close minded person can dismiss it as rubbish.

I gave him a link to my article  which says why Astrology is pseudo-science:  http://kkartlab.in/group/some-science/forum/topics/debate-between-s...

Again he didn't read it.  All that he says is ' You Indian scientists are arrogant. You don't know anything about astrological science!' in a very high pitch voice!  

Yes, we are arrogant because we are exposing the fraudulent practices of these astronomers! We are arrogant because we are bringing facts before people and are educating them in the right way! We are arrogant because we show people the difference between science and pseudo-science. 

Can ordinary people who are watching all this drama or reading it realize who is telling the truth? The astrologer or me? High pitch voices denote authority! Soft voices denote 'meekness' to most people. Some people get influenced by high pitch voices, dramatic expressions, claps, up votes, and likes of his friends and colleagues  if they can't understand emotionless scientific explanations, data and facts, don't have any idea of what scientific evidence is and  don't have a liking for ordinary soft voices of scientists whose numbers denote 'minority'! 

I know all this very well but can't stoop to a different level.  I definitely cannot act. I cannot raise my voice to match the others. I cannot call names. I cannot force this person to read my article. My Emotional Quotient is average. I cannot go beyond a certain stage. I cannot deviate from facts, no matter how much they hurt people and their ego. Period!

But can definitely make people  think. Because I put only facts before them, show scientific and true evidence, make people speechless with my frankness and blunt speech, allow only my intellect to speak and  analyse things thoroughly and neutrally.

I do this because I want science to win peoples' minds, (not their 'hearts').  My ego, or arrogance or emotions or opinions or beliefs have no place in all this.

I am well aware that when peoples' professions and earning are involved ( like astrologers and alternate medical practitioners even if they know they are cheating and hurting people) they would fight back with all their might  using unethical means because they cannot win the fight ethically and it  would be dishonest on my part if I say it doesn't hurt. It hurts like hell but when you go to a war, you must be prepared for injuries and death. I have become immune to all this now.

But my folks are very worried! :) My friends wait with bated breath to hear the news of my win whenever I enter this battlefield.

Q;Which countries produce scientific research that is less likely to be influenced by corporate goals (funding bias) or ideological pressures?
Krishna : You don’t find such an ideal place in this world and this is a fact! ( Unless you are very determined, strong and can fund your own work)

Q: Why don't you present TV programmes or make videos like others do to make science popular in this part of the world?

Krishna: I got invitations from some TV people and even producers of Times Now ( when they were presenting 'The Power Of Shoonya" a science based programme) to present  Science episodes on TV and to participate in discussions and debates.

But I prefer my network here and my ordinary articles because people cannot see me and my 'unemotional facial expressions' :) while reading my write-ups. I cannot raise my voice to be heard more effectively on TV. I cannot make dramatic gestures while thinking critically. They distract my thought process. Questions and things people say don't get registered on my mind immediately as it will be 'somewhere else' most of the time and therefore my reactions and answers will be slow. 

I 'live in a different world' most of the time. Live action doesn't suit my Nature! This is true for most of the people who work in labs!

I do attend press conferences and meetings organized by science bodies, give lectures and answer questions too. 

However, people, including my colleagues, invite me very often to take on who they call 'learned idiots' who support pseudo science because they say they themselves cannot do that. I oblige them most of the time because when I enter a battle field to defend science, I never lose! And I get a high whenever science wins!

Q: In what way 'outside people' try to influence the world of scientific research?

Krishna: Scientific research depends on funds like hell. Therefore 'fund-provider influence' is an  evil scientific research is unable to fight off. Union of Concerned scientists (US) listed these methods of abuse...

Corrupting the Science. Corporations suppress research, intimidate scientists, manipulate study designs, ghostwrite scientific articles, and selectively publish results that suit their interests.

Shaping Public Perception. Private interests downplay evidence, exaggerate uncertainty, vilify scientists, hide behind front groups, and feed the media slanted news stories.

Restricting Agency Effectiveness.Companies attack the science behind agency policy, hinder the regulatory process, corrupt advisory panels, exploit the "revolving door" between corporate and government employment, censor scientists, and withhold information from the public.

Influencing politicians. By spending billions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions, corporate interests gain undue access to political leaders, encouraging them to challenge scientific consensus, delay action on critical problems, and shape the use of science in policy making.

Exploiting Judicial Pathways. Corporate interests have expanded their influence on the judicial system, used the courts to undermine science, and exploited judicial processes to bully and silence scientists.

And a call went out recently for academic institutions, scientific bodies, the media and judiciary to join hands to fight this menace of interference. 

Q: What are the adverse effects of digital comunication on science perception?

Krishna: While there are some clear benefits of digital communication, the global risk of massive digital misinformation sits at the centre of a constellation of technological and geopolitical risks. One of those geopolitical risks is a massive disease outbreak as a consequence of intentional or inadvertent false information driving panic and refusal of the very interventions that could contain or prevent the spread of disease.

"Anti-vax" sentiment and negative response against scientific evidence threatens public health around the world, from measles outbreaks in the US and across Europe, prompting stricter vaccination laws, to persisting polio in Pakistan and Afghanistan. If this trend continues, 2018 could see a devastating resurgence of deadly diseases previously on the brink of eradication, warn experts.

These are disruptions that set back, rather than advance, scientific progress. Examples range from the 2017 WhatsApp and Facebook anti-vaccination campaigns in South India, which sparked fear and refusal of the measles rubella vaccine - some linked to now debunked autism anxieties around the MMR vaccine nearly 20 years ago in the UK - to similar social-media-propagated false rumours provoking vaccine refusals, measles outbreaks and diphtheria deaths in Malaysia. As a result of declining immunisation levels, between 2016-2017 Europe experienced 35 deaths due to measles, a disease that was nearly wiped out. All of those deaths were preventable.

Lives were saved earlier because of peoples' trust in science. Now that trust is waning slowly  because of digital media's bad influence,  misinformation spreading like wildfire in no time, irresponsible media people who fail to project the right picture, scientists' inability to counter this menace because of lack of time ( they cannot stop their work that need their urgent attention). 

In the future, when we face the next major infectious disease outbreak, it will be a test of how well we use - or abuse - the technologies and knowledge we've gained since the onset of scientific era. We are doing our best to tackle this problem.  

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