Science, beliefs and scientists

2014/05/06 Galarraga Aiestaran, Ana - Elhuyar Zientzia

The British Ministry of Health has recently announced the impact of a vaccination campaign. In fact, there it is very widespread that vaccines increase the risk of autism and many reject childhood vaccination. Faced with this situation, the Ministry of Health carried out an informative campaign that now analyzes the impact of the campaign. The result is that they have achieved the opposite of what they wanted, that is, after receiving information, vaccines are more convinced that they are bad. Thus, the British Ministry of Health has come to the conclusion that reporting is counterproductive and should change the strategy.

Although at first it seems strange that the campaign has this result, some scientists have long realized that it is a common practice. Psychologists and neuroscientists have explained that when we receive new information, we tend to maintain the beliefs we had. Furthermore, if the new information overflows what we think, we tend to reason, but in that reasoning we are able to interpret the information according to our prejudices or convictions. That is, we use the new information to reinforce our perception. Exactly as with the vaccination campaign. And the same happens with other topics such as climate change, evolution, or the end of the world.

Using the imagery through magnetic resonance, neuroscientists have shown that, by reason, emotions necessarily influence and, in addition, appear before being aware. Although with little margin, millisecond, before conscious thought our emotions appear in favor or against people, things and ideas. According to scientists, this brain mechanism has been very beneficial for the survival of our species, since it has allowed us to react quickly to enemies or unforeseen.

So we are. We rely on reasoning, but before reason emotions affect us. It's fine. What happens to scientists? The same thing will happen to them, because they are people. Knowing this, do you take steps to eliminate the consequences of beliefs and beliefs in research?

Well, according to articles and opinions published in scientific journals and blogs, the issue does not seem to be totally diluted. For example, in an article published in 2012 in the journal Nature, Daniel Sarewitz, director of the Science and Policy Consortium of the University of Arizona, denounces the existence of errors in the control of effects. In his opinion, the problem is that currently positive results are sought and if the result is contrary to what is expected it is hidden or withdrawn.

According to Sarewitz, this trend jeopardizes the value of research and represents a loss of credibility in society. For this reason, although it recognizes that there is no simple solution, it claims to be sought.

Sarewitz's speech collected opinions both in favor and against, and the scientific community continues to discuss this issue. At least, most agree that ensuring the correction of results is key to maintaining the credibility of science in society.


Published in the newspaper Berria.