Science and Trust: What’s Rational?

A 1930s-era poster produced in the UK by the Eugenics Society

A 1930s-era poster produced in the UK by the Eugenics Society

The disenfranchised among us have a history of distrusting science.

Some scientists just don’t get it: how can you overlook evolution? Climate change? Diabetes?

Native Americans—and African-Americans and Hispanics—can point to specific examples when the mantle of science caused harm.

Forced sterilization.

Syphilis treated with placebos.

Babies stolen.

My perspective is one of rationality.

But not the way you think.

Scientists don’t own the corner on rational thought. Some reactions of the disenfranchised stem from real evidence of abuse.

Distrust of science is actually a rational reaction to abuse that began centuries ago and continues to linger.

Is it any wonder that some African Americans distrust researchers when they learn that health care workers in Alabama treated World War II veterans for syphilis using placebo “drugs” rather than antibiotics?

Can you blame distrust of scientists who sterilized American Indian women without their knowledge (as recently as the 1970s) in Albuquerque, Oklahoma City and Phoenix?

How about the campaign in the 1910s designed to “Save the Babies” in the name of “scientific motherhood” by removing children from Indian homes?

Between a quarter and a third of all American Indian children had been placed in institutions, foster families or adopted out, according to Inside, a publication at California State University, Chico.

So, it’s not really a question of the disenfranchised not believing in science. Rather, it’s a lack of trust in scientists bolstered by evidence of violence and injury in the name of science.

Blog #4 for Native American Heritage Month


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in american indian, authenticity, framing, Indian, journalism, Native Science, science, science communication, Uncategorized, writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Science and Trust: What’s Rational?

  1. Tony Van Witsen says:

    “Rationality works much slower than most people tend to think, and, even then, fallibly.”
    Imre Lakatos (MBT 23)


  2. No, he was a real Hungarian philosopher, but he would have loved the irony.


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