Improve your science information diet

Fast carbohydrates food

To stay healthy you need to eat right and exercise. Those who don’t can end up obese and sick.

To stay informed about science you need to read “right” and exercise your critical faculties. Those who don’t often end up intellectually flabby and sick.

Science denialists — be they COVID denialists, vaccine denialists or climate denialists — are intellectually flabby and sick.

Science denialists — be they COVID denialists, vaccine denialists or climate denialists — are intellectually flabby and sick.

Why? Because they subsist on a steady diet of scientific “junk food,” a diet that is exceedingly satisfying but very unhealthy.

How can they get back into shape?

The first step is to get people to improve their information diet. If you’re eating nothing but candy or toxic food you are going to get sick. If you can improve your … diet to include things that you like but also other things that might be challenging to you then you are going to have a much better understanding of life…

Right wing media creator Matthew Sheffield is talking about political information, but the same principle applies to science information.

For denialists, the science content they love best — Facebook, websites, YouTube — is intellectual junk food. Who wouldn’t adore a steady diet of fatty, sugary, salty processed snacks? But imagine that was all you ate. You would have trouble maintaining a healthy weight and might have difficulty fending off chronic illnesses like adult onset diabetes or heart disease.

To stay healthy, you need to eat a balanced diet that includes foods like fiber and vegetables you may not like. Those foods are healthy food. To stay intellectually healthy you need to read a balanced diet of sources including scientific sources that offer scientific information about COVID, vaccines or global warming that you may not like. Those sources are healthy sources.

Imagine what would happen if you decided that vegetables and fiber were “fake foods” and junk food was the only real food. Do you think believing — even believing fervently — that a diet of only junk food was healthy for you would keep you at a healthy weight? Do you think proclaiming loudly to yourself and other junk food lovers that you are the only ones who see past the lies of dieticians and public health officials would keep you from getting the chronic diseases associated with overweight and obesity? No and no.

Why? Because there is a reality independent of what you think. In reality a steady diet of junk food is not healthy no matter who might tell you it is and no matter how fervently you might insist that junk food is the only “real” food.

Science is like that, too. There is a scientific reality independent of what you think. In reality COVID is a widespread, deadly disease. In reality vaccines are safe and effective. In reality anthropogenic climate change is happening. And if you made a good faith effort to read and understand the scientific consensus you’d know that.

We can take the analogy to a healthy diet even further. Diet — even the healthiest diet — can only do so much. Exercise is also needed. Science information, even the best information for laypeople, tells you what to think. Exercising your mind teaches you how to think.

Instead of simply reading mainstream sources that tell you that COVID is both real and deadly, read books and articles on the scientific method so you can understand how scientists know what they know. Instead of simply dipping in to websites that tell you that vaccines are safe and effective, learn some basic statistics so you will understand how to interpret the existing data. Instead of watching YouTube videos that declare that anthropogenic climate change is happening, watch YouTube videos that detail the climate history of the past 100,000 years so you can understand why what is happening today differs so dramatically from all that has gone before.

How can you stay physically healthy? Eat a balanced diet that includes foods you may not like and exercise regularly. Neither guarantees that you will be healthy, but both together give you the best chance of remaining healthy.

How can you stay intellectually healthy in regard to science. Read a balanced diet of sources including those you don’t like. Exercise regularly by increasing your store of knowledge about basic science, statistics and public health. Neither guarantees that what you learn from scientists and public health officials will always be correct, but together they give you the best chance of becoming truly knowledgeable.