Recently I have been thinking a lot about the effects that cognitive globalization, the increasing availability of information effortlessly spread via digital media, has on science.
Logically, the more easily people can access scientific information, the more likely they are to understand it better and even solve some of the scientific puzzles. However, as frequently happens, business steps in taking advantage of media faster than science could ever wish. John Oliver in one of his Last Week Tonight episodes talks about these phenomena in a funny yet enlightening way.
Mass media empowered by digital technologies is a powerful tool in the hands of individuals and companies pursuing different goals; some of the goals might include manipulation of others for reaching certain outcomes, often, in form of sales. Well, guess what’s the most compelling way? Surely, it’s science.
Being the most powerful and fascinating thing science is also really vulnerable; it can be distorted and used to convey biased and falsified messages. The thing here is that people get deceived by these messages incredibly easily. Any meaningless facts accompanied with “statistics” and some scientific vocabulary seem to have potent influence.
The oldest yet the most vivid example is the Nestle’s scandal concerning breast feeding. As early as in the 1970s, “scientific studies” were conducted proving that breast feeding was not beneficial for kids: bottle feeding was considered more useful. A bunch of statistics and experiments where included and the breaking results got the attention of media immediately.
Well, now one can see how ridiculous that sounds, yet, at that time, when it was presented as a reliable report, a lot of young mommies were influenced and the number of babies suffering gut illnesses and malnutrition grew in line with milk companies’ sales. Luckily enough, the studies were questioned by public health specialists and the threatening myth was broken quite soon. However, this was a perfect illustration of the abuse of science and media for commercial purposes.
So what can be done to take advantage of the immense opportunities provided by media without falling victims of business actors and individuals spreading biased messages to sell their products and increase their bottom line?
Just think critically, keep your brain alert, question every single piece of scientific information you find and never take anything for granted…