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When science becomes a matter of opinion, not evidence

When science becomes a matter of opinion, not evidence

The Covid-19 pandemic has raised some issues, previously limited to the scientific field (such as measures to be adopted to reduce virus contagion and the effectiveness of vaccines), which are also becoming part of everyday conversations. Obviously this is a good thing, it means that people generally want to discuss issues beyond their immediate reality.

However, in an ideologically polarized country like Brazil, where science education has never been implemented (a situation that tends to deteriorate with the new high school) and posts in WhatsApp groups create parallel universes, certain topics studied by science have left the field of “evidence” and passed into the realm of “opinion”. “.

Unlike other forms of knowledge—religious knowledge, for example, supported by dogmas, i.e., indisputable facts—scientific knowledge is based on hypotheses that, when tested empirically, can be refuted or confirmed, and thus constitute a theory. This new knowledge is not considered ‘ready and finished’. As soon as another theory emerges that better explains reality, the precedent becomes obsolete and is ignored.

In times of “social media experts”, this (complex) process becomes much simpler. One of the topics considers social distancing and the use of masks and alcohol gels to be harmless practices to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, not because he used a specialized bibliography or conducted a study based on strict methodology. This is the least that matters. He doesn’t approve of social distancing just because it’s his “opinion”. Similarly, a person may feel that vaccines are ineffective and cause autism, call for so-called “early treatment” against Covid-19, and feel that face-to-face classes should have returned at the height of the epidemic; “This is my opinion”.

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In recent days, those same people, who previously opposed social distancing (from an opinion perspective, of course), have come to vehemently advocate the cancellation of next year’s Carnival festivities. The reason is not the lack of consensus among experts on this issue or the fear of transmission of a new strain of the novel coronavirus among the population. Again, it’s about “opinion”: “I don’t like carnival, so there shouldn’t be such a party.”

The intention here is not to want to censor other people’s opinions (I’m not a fan of the infamous “cancellation culture”), but to give opinions about music, football or shirt color. Science moves with evidence, not opinions. If you disagree with something, it is necessary to suggest a more reasonable theory, and not guesswork.

Before someone would accuse me of being a positive (or a similar title), I don’t see science as a neutral and humble activity and scientists as superior human beings. However, as physician and researcher at the Federal University of Ceará, Ligia Kerr, said: “Science is not infallible, but it is the most important strategy today (to fight the Covid-19 pandemic).”

Whereas at other times, it took years of studies and peer recognition to express oneself about a topic and be heard by a broad audience, today Internet access is sufficient. Human ignorance was not at all widespread. Unfortunately, these are the side effects of virtual freedom of expression.

This text does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Gazzetta.