by Kristin Houser on June 29, 2017

The Public Doesn’t Trust Science. It’s 2017. We Need to Fix This.

Living in a Post-Truth World

In this post-truth world plagued by fake news and alternative facts, a massive divide has emerged between the science community and much of society, and the problem isn’t limited to just one issue, either.

Despite scientists telling them otherwise, a significant number of people still believe genetically modified foods are unsafe to eat, others are worried that vaccines do more harm than good, and an alarming number of people aren’t convinced that climate change is a man-made phenomenon.

[Still Writing] Expert: The Public Doesn’t Trust Science. Here’s How We Could Change That.

“The public is nervous. They worry, ‘Are scientists trustworthy? Can industry be trusted?’,” Arthur Caplan, Founding Director of the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University, explains to Futurism.

Thankfully, Caplan believes the scientific community has the power to regain the public’s trust.

Communication Is Key

According to Caplan, rebuilding trust starts with better communication. Scientists can spend years or even decades dedicated to one field of study, and their work can be extremely complicated. Not every research project lends itself to snappy headlines and easily digestible results, so the science community needs to focus on finding people the public can trust to explain its work instead of relying on the press to act as the middleman.

“We have to have more scientists learn how to communicate better,” asserts Caplan. “We don’t have many good spokesmen. Out of hundreds of thousands of scientists, we have roughly six that can communicate.”

Having more charismatic, trustworthy science ambassadors like Neil deGrasse Tyson and Michio Kaku who can explain scientific facts and breakthroughs in a relatable way is especially important when it comes to areas of science in which ethics are a concern. Caplan cites gene editing as one such example.

“Many people don’t understand what the technology is all about,” he explains. “They fear it’s going to be used by bad people to do bad things, and they don’t really understand the upside or the benefits.” The public needs to see that scientists aren’t egomaniacs trying to “play God” with genetics, but regular people who see ways the technology could save lives.

The Next Generation

By focusing first on building better lines of communication, the science community has a chance to regain the public’s trust, and the implications of that would be extraordinary.

For example, addressing the issue of climate change would be much easier if an additional 37 percent of the public believed it was primarily caused by man (bringing the rate in line with that of the science community in the Pew Research survey). If politicians wanted to be re-elected, they’d be forced to write legislation addressing the issue, and an additional third of the population would be more likely to make changes on an individual level to address the problem, such as transitioning to electric cars.

Even more important than regaining the public’s trust, however, might be building it from the ground up with future generations, particularly in regards to controversial areas of study. Today’s youth may not have the established biases of older generations, and currently, the science community does little to connect with them.

“We need some serious ethical and science-related discussion related to [these topics] in high school. After all, it’s the next generation that will answer many of these issues, and most of them don’t get any discussion of these topics even though they’re keenly interested in all of them,” says Caplan. “We neglect high school, and if you produce an illiterate population with respect to science, you suffer the consequences.”

This interview has been slightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Taken from Lisa Quast, Contributor

You attended the party of a long-time friend and ran into a lot of people from high school that you hadn’t seen in years. During chit-chat over appetizers and drinks, you could feel the friendly competition heating up.

While comparing career accomplishments, you were shocked to learn that the kid from school with the genius IQ, the one all the teachers thought would be spectacularly successful, had struggled with his career. How could this be, you wondered. This was the person everyone thought would invent something that would change the world.

It turns out that intelligence might not be the best indicator of future success. According to psychologist Angela Duckworth, the secret to outstanding achievement isn’t talent. Instead, it’s a special blend of persistence and passion that she calls “grit.”

Duckworth has spent years studying people, trying to understand what it is that makes high achievers so successful. And what she found surprised even her. It wasn’t SAT scores. It wasn’t IQ scores. It wasn’t even a degree from a top-ranking business school that turned out to be the best predictor of success. “It was this combination of passion and perseverance that made high achievers special,” Duckworth said. “In a word, they had grit.”

Being gritty, according to Duckworth, is the ability to persevere. It’s about being unusually resilient and hardworking, so much so that you’re willing to continue on in the face of difficulties, obstacles and even failures. It’s about being constantly driven to improve.

In addition to perseverance, being gritty is also about being passionate about something. For the highly successful, Duckworth found that the journey was just as important as the end result. “Even if some of the things they had to do were boring, or frustrating, or even painful, they wouldn’t dream of giving up. Their passion was enduring.”

What her research demonstrated is that it wasn’t natural talent that made the biggest difference in who was highly successful and who wasn’t – it was more about effort than IQ. Duckworth even came up with two equations she uses to explain this concept:

• Talent x effort = skill

• Skill x effort = achievement

“Talent is how quickly your skills improve when you invest effort. Achievement is what happens when you take your acquired skills and use them,” Duckworth explained.

As you can see from the equations, effort counts twice. That’s why IQ and SAT scores aren’t a good indicator of someone’s future success. It’s because those scores are missing the most important part of the equation – the person’s effort level or what Duckworth calls their “grittiness” factor (their level of persistence and passion).

What does that mean for you? It means that it’s OK if you aren’t the smartest person in the room or the smartest person in the job. It means the effort you expend toward your goals (perseverance) and your dedication throughout your career journey (passion) are what matter more than how you scored on your SAT or an IQ test.

Why? Because grit will always trump talent. Or as Duckworth notes, “Our potential is one thing. What we do with it is quite another.”

Lisa Quast is the author of Secrets of a Hiring Manager Turned Career Coach: A Foolproof Guide to Getting the Job You Want. Every Time.