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What does it mean to “trust science”?

6 episodes
  • 1
    Truth: why science doesn’t care about your opinion
  • 2
    Mistrust of science represents our discomfort with democracy
  • 3
    How to make the future more rational
  • 4
    The curious case of the reproducibility crisis
  • 5
    “The cacophony of ‘science experts’ has done a lot of harm”
  • 6
    How to filter good doubt from bad
Épisode 1/6
Yves Laszlo, Provost at Institut Polytechnique de Paris and Scientific editor-in-chief of Polytechnique Insights
On June 23rd, 2021
5 mins reading time

Yves Lazlo
Yves Laszlo
Provost at Institut Polytechnique de Paris and Scientific editor-in-chief of Polytechnique Insights

Key takeaways

  • The recent rise in mistrust of science questions scientific facts and risks hindering its progress.
  • It is characterised by a tendency to favour individual opinions, which are by definition subjective, rather than to the facts, which are objective.
  • However, the universality of facts, and consequently the reproducibility of experimental results, should help to reduce scepticism about science as an enterprise that aims to reach the truth.
  • Contrary to mistrust, doubt within the scientific community is beneficial to science because it allows us to refine knowledge by challenging that which we consider to be ‘true’.
Épisode 2/6
Agnès Vernet, Science journalist
On June 23rd, 2021
3 mins reading time

Luc Rouban
Luc Rouban
CNRS Research director at Cevipof

Key takeaways

  • 81% of French people trust science, according to the Political Trust Barometer published in May 2021.
  • However, this figure drops to 68% when it comes to scientific experts advising the government, and to 42% for the government alone.
  • According to Luc Rouban (Sciences Po), distrust of science is mainly due to citizens’ distrust of political institutions.
  • This mistrust is particularly prevalent among voters of populist parties. 66% of the voters of the Rassemblement National surveyed, for example, believe that “common sense is often more useful than scientific knowledge”.
Épisode 3/6
El Mahdi El Mhamdi, Assistant professor at École Polytechnique and Research scientist at Google
On June 23rd, 2021
5 mins reading time

El Mahdi El Mhamdi
El Mahdi El Mhamdi
Assistant professor at École Polytechnique and Research scientist at Google

Key takeaways

  • There are two types of logical reasoning: deduction and induction. Deduction used to infer knowledge based on a known ‘rule’, but to first define the ‘rule’ requires the use of inductive reasoning – which is less well understood.
  • In the past, deduction has played an essential role for society, for example in the formation of democracy, which relies on the ability of citizens to make informed and considered decisions.
  • Today, however, the power of automated deduction in our daily lives poses a threat to this capacity, for example through the spread of 'fake news'.
  • With the recent development of automated induction, we must try to preserve our rational autonomy through the education of future generations about the use of logic and the scientific method in general.
Épisode 4/6
Valentin Weber, PhD student in cognitive science at ENS-PSL
On June 23rd, 2021
4 mins reading time

Valentin Weber
Valentin Weber
PhD student in cognitive science at ENS-PSL

Key takeaways

  • Social sciences, but also biomedical research and other scientific disciplines are currently experiencing a “reproducibility crisis”.
  • One third of the results of social science studies cannot be replicated and are therefore potentially erroneous – reproducibility being an essential determinant of the scientific nature of the work.
  • This crisis is due, in particular, to the need to provide innovative and significant results in order to be published in prestigious scientific journals.
  • One solution could thus be “registered reports”, which guarantee the publication of the study solely on the basis of its initial hypotheses, even before its final results are known.
Épisode 5/6
Clément Boulle, Executive director of Polytechnique Insights
On June 23rd, 2021
4 mins reading time

mathias girel
Mathias Girel
Philosopher, Lecturer at ENS-PSL and Director of CAPHES

Key takeaways

  • Contrary to what one might think, scientists don’t necessarily fit into the elitist image that we may have of them and therefore is not responsible for the mistrust.
  • Rather suspicion around science is in more likely fuelled by other perceptions of science, reinforced by the health crisis.
  • Scientists' role in the implementation of measures to combat the coronavirus has exacerbated the criticism directed at it as an institution, by consolidating science with a political function.
  • There is also confusion in the media created by “science experts” giving their opinion on issues that do not necessarily fall within their field of expertise, which undermines the credibility of the scientific community and its image.
Épisode 6/6
Agnès Vernet, Science journalist
On June 23rd, 2021
3 mins reading time

Jean-Gabriel Ganascia
Jean-Gabriel Ganascia
Professor of computer science at Sorbonne University and Philosopher

Key takeaways

  • Doubt is an essential element of science, and in the scientific community, the absence of consensus is the norm.
  • But in the face of this inherent mistrust in scientists, society is currently crossed by another form of doubt: a general skepticism questioning the results of science.
  • Nevertheless, doubt must be part of the scientific process. For Jean-Gabriel Ganascia, it is therefore essential to give science, and particularly the scientific method, a central place in education.

Contributors

Yves Lazlo
Yves Laszlo
Provost at Institut Polytechnique de Paris and Scientific editor-in-chief of Polytechnique Insights

With a PhD in mathematics from the University of Paris-Sud, Yves Laszlo is a world-renowned specialist in algebraic geometry. After a career at the CNRS and Pierre and Marie Curie University (UPMC), he became an associate professor at École polytechnique in 2004, in the Laurent-Schwartz Mathematics Centre (CMLS), which he headed from 2006 to 2010. He then became a professor at the University of Paris-Sud, before going on to launch and head the Jacques-Hadamard Mathematics Foundation and its LabEx LMH, which brings together mathematicians from the Plateau de Saclay. From 2012 and 2019, he was deputy director for Sciences at École normale supérieure de Paris.

Agnès Vernet
Agnès Vernet
Science journalist

After her initial studies in molecular biology, Agnès Vernet trained as a science journalist at ESJ-Lille. For the past 14 years, she has been writing for various media, scientific magazines, professional titles and general press, in France and Switzerland. Since 1st February 2021, she is the elected President of the French association of science journalists (AJSPI).

El Mahdi El Mhamdi
El Mahdi El Mhamdi
Assistant professor at École Polytechnique and Research scientist at Google

El Mahdi El Mhamdi’s research is motivated by the understanding of robust information processing in nature, machines and society, with a focal line of research on the mathematics of collective information processing and distributed learning. He is the co-author of the upcoming book “The Fabulous Endeavor: Robustly Beneficial Information” on the scientific and social challenges of large-scale information processing, already available in French under “Le Fabuleux Chantier” (EDP Sciences, November 2019)

Valentin Weber
Valentin Weber
PhD student in cognitive science at ENS-PSL

Valentin Weber holds a degree in psychology and is currently preparing his PhD in cognitive sciences at ENS-PSL. His research interests lie at the intersection of philosophy, neuroscience, and psychology and his current work focuses on iconic memory and other issues in the philosophy of cognitive science. Previously, he has studied psychological methods and has worked on psychometric models.

Clément Boulle
Clément Boulle
Executive director of Polytechnique Insights

Clément Boulle is a journalist and entrepreneur. A graduate of École supérieure de journalisme (ESJ) in Lille, he holds an executive MBA from INSEAD. Before joining Polytechnique Insights, he spent six years developing digital marketing company Local Media, an online advertising agency for local advertisers, which he then sold. Early on in his career, he was a journalist and editor-in-chief in the La Dépêche du Midi media group. He also worked for the French Red Cross as a consultant, helping design and develop a social innovation incubator.