In these times of disinformation, it’s a refrain we hear often. Typically accompanied by a view we are urged to take on as accurate and true.
But this is the antithesis of science. No reputable scientist will ask you to trust what they say. More appropriately, they will urge the opposite: challenge me, look for flaws, find out where I have gone wrong. In short: do science.
Any journalist, government, or corporate figure requesting you trust a given science paper they are presenting, or the view of a particular scientist or group, is ignoring that the opposite of this is the foundation of what makes science function. If they are doing this unknowingly, they are incompetent. If they are doing it knowingly, they themselves are not to be trusted. Either way, they are not worthy of your attention, let alone trust.
This does not necessarily invalidate the claims of the science they may be promoting. Anyone asking you to “trust the science” undermines only their authority on the matter.
An enormous amount of science is produced constantly, some of which is an investment that must be recouped by powerful groups using it to lobby for their interests. Some science is done well, some done badly. Some is biased, some impartial. Some ticks all the right boxes: it’s independent, done well, impartial, and yet still manages to arrive at what ultimately turns out to be a wrong conclusion. How can a reputable source of information be certain that a particular scientific view they are promoting is the unequivocal truth at the heart of any given matter? Even if it were accurately representative of present situation, how can they be sure this won’t change as new information from further study arrives? Where is the caution? The disclaimer? Where is the reality?
Given this unavoidable context, expanding the request “trust the science”, reveals what else is being said: “Trust only the science I’m telling you to trust.”
Reducing this exposes the real plea: “Trust what I tell you.”
It’s something that sounds less like journalism, less like science, less like impartially-delivered objective information intended to empower or inform you, and more like the indoctrinations of a cult.
Becoming informed is hard. It takes time and effort. It requires the rejection of self-appointed authority figures who demand you trust their claim of being infallibly informed in your place. If you want to be informed, you need to become informed.
This being the case, those who refuse to be complacent in such matters are doing work that you aren’t. When they disagree with a statement that is demonstrably urging your complacency, they are looking out for you.
A request to “trust the science”, that is — to ingest only a particular view that someone is compelling you to, and reject all others — is actually to deny the validity of the process of science itself, ultimately stating: “Distrust science”. Bundled as it is with “trust what I tell you”, the request is exposed for what it is: an oxymoronic appeal to complacency.
Conversely, science appeals to us to be non-complacent. To look into all sides of an argument. To examine — perhaps, in particular — views that those vying for our trust desperately don’t want us to see. Simply: to become informed.
Science asks us to trust that.
It may not be perfect, but it’s significantly better than blind faith. And anyone asking for your blind faith — and calling that science — is either an idiot or a charlatan.
Follow them at your peril.