Here’s what to ask people who don’t trust the science

Roderick Graham
13 min readSep 8

During the height of the pandemic, a particular line of argumentation developed in American society. Many commentators and thought leaders began savagely critiquing the scientists who were advising the public on COVID-19. Anthony Fauci was the main focus of this vitriol. But Fauci and Covid were just one, if the most talked about, element of what has become something of a cottage industry railing against people with scientific expertise. The phrases — uttered ironically or in air quotes — “trust the experts” and “trust the science” became the titles of countless YouTube videos and op-ed pieces.

As an example, consider this video:

I teach a class at my university entitled “Social Science Research Methods.” The class introduces students to the process of doing research as a social scientist. Social science includes disciplines like sociology, psychology, economics, education, and anthropology. It turns out the first week’s lecture in that class speaks to the societal debates around trusting “the science.” My students, most barely cracking 20 years old, are given the tools necessary to be more powerful evaluators of not only “the science”, but also the alternative ways of acquiring knowledge in society.

What follows is a write-up of that lecture in a readable format.

Changing the conversation

It all starts with a simple question that can be asked of a person who is skeptical of what science tells us about COVID-19. This question can also be asked of people skeptical of “the science” around topics such as gender fluidity, obesity, climate change, and systemic racism.

The question is: If you don’t get your knowledge from science, where do you get your knowledge from?

Assuming that the person rejecting knowledge from science has a perspective of their own, you can inquire how they got it.

As an example, if a person rejects the idea that gender is fluid and instead believes there are only two genders, then how did they gain that knowledge? Or consider the person who thinks the claim that the COVID-19 vaccine protects people from illness is bunk and…

Roderick Graham

Gadfly | Professor of Sociology at Old Dominion University | I post about social science, culture, and progressive politics | Views are my own