On Science and Propaganda

On Science and Propaganda

Green Bay Packers star quarterback Aaron Rodgers made headlines (and waves) a couple of weeks ago when he said, in an interview on the Pat McAfee show, “if science can’t be questioned, it’s not science. It’s propaganda.”He is exactly right, of course. I made much the same point in this space over a year ago. But it’s always welcome when someone of Rodgers’s stature, and with his platform, is willing to speak out.At the same time, this is hardly a shocking revelation. Science and propaganda have a long and sordid relationship. In some ways, propaganda is baked into the science pie, so to speak.To explain what I mean, let me start by using a somewhat less pejorative term: public relations. For scientific discoveries to be useful, to have any impact on people’s lives, they must be communicated effectively. After all, what is the point of researchers learning that, say, too much salt can raise your blood pressure if the people who need that information, those prone to hypertension, aren’t made aware of it?That’s where “science communication” comes in. Essentially, if those researchers want to save lives based on their discoveries, they need a good PR campaign. Not only do they have to get the word out, but they must do it in such a way that people are receptive to it—not put off by it—and ultimately persuaded to change their habits. Thus the original discovery, “the science,” though clearly indispensable, is just the first step. From that point on, it’s all about communicating.In my graduate-level science and technical writing courses, we were taught the prevail …

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