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Dr. Bjorn Mercer

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Podcast with Dr. Bjorn MercerProgram Director, Communication, Philosophy, Religion, World Languages and the Arts and
Dr. Danny WelschAssociate Dean, School of STEM

Many people believe scientists work to prove theories or facts, but in reality scientists apply the scientific method to disprove or refute things. This lack of scientific literacy often leads people to turn to pseudoscience, which looks like science but instead starts with a claim and seeks to find evidence to support that claim. In this episode, Dr. Bjorn Mercer talks to APU STEM professor Dr. Danny Welsch about pulling back the curtain on the scientific process, understanding how scientific findings makes its way to the public via the media, and why politics often gets mixed up with science.

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Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Hello. My name is Dr. Bjorn Mercer, and today we’re talking to Dr. Daniel Welsch, Associate Dean in the School of STEM, and our conversation today is about scientific literacy. Welcome, Danny.

Dr. Danny Welsch: Thanks, Bjorn, I’m excited to be here.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Throughout of 2021, one of my focuses is literacy and its various guises. And so scientific literacy is extremely important for everyone to have. And so this runs into the first question is what is scientific literacy and why is it important?

Dr. Danny Welsch: Well, scientific literacy actually has a formal definition. According to the National Science Education Standards, it’s simply the knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision-making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity. And basically what that means is understanding what science is, how science gets done, and then how science is used by society.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And that’s a great definition. I really like how it said cultural affairs, and was it economic activity?

Dr. Danny Welsch: Economic productivity, yeah.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Productivity, yeah. And to that, scientific literacy is so important really for the average person. And it doesn’t mean that you have to be a scientist. It doesn’t mean that you have to know everything about every little piece of science out there, but to make good decisions and to understand when it comes to culture and the economy is very important. Can you think of any examples where people might misinterpret science? I don’t want to say a bad cultural decision or a bad economic decision, but one that might be a misstep?

[Podcast: Role of Soil Health in Climate Change]

Dr. Danny Welsch: Sure. Well, our society is unfortunately filled with that. And in the media, that you keep hearing a lot about pseudoscience. And pseudoscience is a really good example where people think that they are making decisions based on science, but they’re really not.

The process of science revolves around the scientific method, where you sort of generate hypothesis and then you test that hypothesis. And one of the things about science and the scientific method is it’s not designed to prove anything, it’s only designed to disprove or to refute. And that is something that scientific literacy helps people understand. Because most of the time, people think that scientists are out there trying to prove things, trying to prove theories or facts, and actually, quite the opposite is true. The process of science is designed to refute or to challenge things that came before.

So pseudoscience looks like science, but it’s not based on the scientific method. In science, scientists start with the evidence, and then the claims are built from the evidence. Pseudoscience turns that on its head. It reverses it. Pseudoscience starts with the claims and then it goes searching for evidence to support those claims, and often that evidence can be a little bit flimsy or completely fraudulent actually, in a lot of cases.

So pseudoscience takes the claims and then finds the evidence. Science, by its very definition and process, is designed to challenge claims, not to seek evidence for them. Pseudoscience seeks confirmation, where science seeks refutation.

And pseudoscience tends to be incompatible with the scientific method. If you are a scientifically literate person, you’re familiar with the scientific method and you can go through that process. And if you are thinking critically about the way pseudoscience is generated and some of the claims that are made, it doesn’t hold up when you start to think about it in terms of the scientific method.

So scientific literacy is really critical to spotting pseudoscience because it depends on a knowledge of the scientific method. You have to understand that method in order to be able to say, “That’s not real science, that’s pseudoscience. It looks like it, but it’s not.” And purveyors of pseudoscience really depend on a lack of scientific literacy. If we had a more scientifically literate population, there would be a lot less pseudoscience out there there.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And that is absolutely wonderful. And I like how you said that the scientific method is about disproving, correct? And not proving. And I think so many people, even in their own scientific literacy from that perspective think, “Well, science is about, well, I’m going to prove this,” and then everything’s good. And that’s a very limited view of the scientific method because, again, as you said, it’s about X-ing things off, and so it’s about disproving and not just confirmation bias or whatever you wanted to say, where I have an idea and I’m going to prove that I’m right, and then the science is going to back it up.

And it really makes me think of, I’m going to say 19th century, where people would sell tonics, snake oils, different things like these miracle cures that obviously they tried to create some sort of science, but they would just say, “Well, here it is and it helps you. And here’s some good ideas.” And especially back then, a lot of it was just straight up lying, but then they tried to create these things where it looks like medicine, it looks like science.

Dr. Danny Welsch: Yeah. They would even wrap it in the cloak of science by calling it Dr. Watson’s Famous Tonic, that sort of thing. They would use scientific terms and things that made people feel scientifically comfortable about that product.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Yeah. And so here’s the next question, is why is the process of science make people feel uncomfortable? And the reason I say that is because pseudoscience can make people feel comfortable. There’s an easy fix. This person says they can fix it, “Oh, I feel so much better,” but the actual process of science is what I’ll describe as messier. It’s not as neat and scientists might come out with an outcome that they actually don’t like and might be against per se like the funding of their research.

Dr. Danny Welsch: The process of science is inherently uncomfortable because it means that you don’t know and people don’t like not knowing. Science is built on the idea that you don’t know something and that there is uncertainty around what you think you know, and that is a really discomforting situation for a lot of people, especially when you think about the role that science plays in your life.

Medicine is based on science. And if you think that science is more about what you don’t know than what you know and then you extend that to your healthcare, that can make you pretty nervous.

So scientists are largely driven by curiosity, and uncertainty is a big part of that. Uncertainty is uncomfortable, but science is really built on it. Scientists are always asking, “Yes, but what’s next? What don’t we know?”

Scientific theories are really not facts, but they’re constantly under revision. And it can kind of sound like science is a little bit cutthroat, like the goal of a scientist is to prove their colleagues wrong. And in truth, it is, but it’s not out of any sort of competitiveness. Scientists are largely collegial and not really competitive, except in a couple of isolated fields.

My experience with scientists are that we’re a group of people that are seeking answers to questions and we love to work together to get those answers, even if it means telling someone that, “Hey, that experiment you did, I think you did it wrong and you might want to look at this because it really changes the results.” That’s really what science is about. Everything is under revision.

Science is really more about realizing what you don’t know, than proving what you do. There’s this really interesting phenomenon called the “illusion of explanatory depth.” And essentially, it sounds fancy, but it means that people are really bad at understanding how little they know about most things.

An example of that is a bicycle. So if you asked someone how a bicycle works, most people would say, “Yeah, I feel pretty confident I could tell you how a bicycle works,” but then if you ask them some detailed questions or even to draw a bicycle on a piece of paper, surprisingly, those same people wouldn’t be able to do it in a lot of cases. And that is unsettling. People don’t realize how much they don’t know and that creates a really high level of discomfort in a lot of people.

And that extends to scientists. Scientists have to accept that. They have to accept that illusion of explanatory depth. Scientists even have to embrace it. In general, people want answers. They want this cognitive closure around questions. They want someone to say, “This is the answer. This is the fact, this is what you need to do,” but science, by design, really just gives us more questions than answers.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And I really love that response. And I love how you said the illusion of explanatory depth. Is that correct?

Dr. Danny Welsch: Yeah. It’s a pretty amazing phenomenon actually.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: It really is. And that kind of explains everything when it comes to social media and media and what I would describe as bad journalism, because what we know, just like you said, is so little. I mean, even after I got my doctorate and I was so proud of it, because obviously getting a doctorate is a huge milestone, but then you kind of get there and you’re like, “Oh my God, I know nothing.” And then even amongst my peers who have a similar doctorate, I was like on the bottom, and how little I knew was so disconcerting. But then once I accepted that, it really frees you up to be curious versus thinking you know or have the ego to think you know.

And we’ll get to these questions in a second, but one of the things I really wanted to ask is do you have an example where scientific literacy might have been helpful?

Dr. Danny Welsch: Oh my goodness. It’s all over the place. If we look at the political world, in politics, that’s one of the great places where a lack of scientific literacy is really exploited in order to grab headlines or to score political points.

Just as a recent example, so a couple of months ago, President Biden released his climate policy. And when that happened, a British tabloid published a story that suggested that the policy included slashing Americans’ meat consumption drastically, like by 90%. And many conservative news outlets and social media channels really quickly picked up on that and repeated it, and really started to make that a headline, “President Biden is going to cut Americans down to one hamburger a month,” and that sort of thing.

The unfortunate part of it is it simply wasn’t true. They could trace that back to a January 2020 report by the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems. The title of this report was “Implications of Future US Diet Scenarios on Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” So this is really an example where science was co-opted for some other purpose. A political hit needed to be made, so that’s the claim, and the evidence was found, but it was really bad evidence. The evidence was that report to back up that claim.

So this is pseudoscience because the claim is coming before the evidence. The evidence was sought to fit the claim. So the evidence was this report, and this report really didn’t have anything to do with politics. It was focused on various changes in the US diet and what the resulting impact on greenhouse gas emissions would be with those changes.

So one scenario, scenario number four in the report, talked about what would happen if meat consumption was cut by 90%. And the result, according to this report, is that greenhouse gas emissions from individuals, individual Americans, would be cut by 51% if those same individual Americans reduced their meat consumption by 90%. And that 50% happened to roughly mesh with Biden’s policy goals for greenhouse gas emission reductions. So that’s how this connection was made. But these two things were completely independent, didn’t have anything to do with the other.

The truth is the report had very little to do with politics or policy and Biden’s policy actually had very little to do with agriculture. President Biden’s climate policy was really more focused on energy admissions and vehicle emissions, and didn’t have a whole lot to do with meat consumption or agriculture at all.

So this is an example where media and conservative groups relied on a lack of scientific literacy, as well as a lot of confirmation bias, to craft a narrative and to mesh these two completely independent—they happened to be similar statistics reported in these two things, Biden’s climate policy and this report, but one didn’t have anything to do with the other. And there was a conflation there that was artificial and contrived, and it relied on a lack of scientific literacy amongst the populous.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And I remember when that came out. And I don’t watch cable news, but I watch all of the clips. A fascinating thing to watch where it exploded, the more conservative network picked it up, and then on Sunday, they posted retractions.

And so in none of the commentary did I actually see anybody actually talk about the report. All of these reasons will not make a dent with some people. Now, do you think that’s because their scientific literacy is low or because their political literacy is low and they’re just focused on their dogmatic beliefs?

Dr. Danny Welsch: I honestly think a lot of it is cultural. Our food, our diet is so ingrained into who we are. There’s issues of community and family that are wrapped up in food. It’s a line in the sand for a lot of people. And I honestly think that that’s one reason that my wife still enjoys beef so much, because it’s something that she has always enjoyed. It was an important part of her life when she was growing up and it’s not something that she’s willing to give up.

She is a very scientifically literate, high information voter, to use some of the political terminology, who understands the implication of eating meat, both from an ethical, a climate and a health perspective, but she still chooses to do it sporadically or occasionally because of the cultural trappings that diet has.

When the Michigan report came out, there was a lot of press around “Biden’s coming for your barbecue,” “Biden’s coming for your hamburger,” really trying to tie it to culture, trying to say Biden’s climate policy is going to change your culture. And none of that was true, but the people that had a political agenda knew how to frame it so that it would get traction and it would also get people to be really upset about it.

And when people are really upset about things, they tend to share them on social media. And that is the easiest way to get a message to spread, which is why this really obscure report from the University of Michigan that came out almost 18 months before this controversy erupted all of a sudden got traction.

The people that were doing this, the conservative media and conservative social media, knew that people weren’t going to go to the University of Michigan’s website and read that report and find out for themselves that actually this doesn’t have anything to do with policy. And they knew that they weren’t going to go to Biden’s webpage at the White House and read his climate policy and realize that, “Hey, there’s actually nothing in here about meat consumption.”

We’ve been adapted to get our information from certain sources, and the unfortunate aspect of life is that those sources now can no longer be trusted. Back when we had three sources of news, which was ABC, CBS, and NBC, they were pretty independent and then they all more or less said the exact same thing, which is fair and presented both sides. And that has changed drastically, but people still want to believe that the news presents a fair and unbiased perspective, which nothing could be farther from the truth.

A lot of news does, but it goes back to confirmation bias. You seek out the things that make you feel good about yourself. And if you’re seeking out ideas that reinforce the way you feel, and if you feel that your culture is under attack, then you’re going to seek out sources of news and information that reinforce that. That’s confirmation bias.

And then if you’re really upset about it, you’re going to share that with your friends through social media. And that’s the way these things take off. That is how an obscure 2020 report all of a sudden got a ton of traction and was completely co-opted for political gain and tied to something that it had originally had absolutely nothing to do with.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: For anybody who’s listening to this podcast, I’d really recommend you go to University of Michigan and read that report. It’s actually quite good. And that brings me to the next question is, are mainstream scientists political?

Dr. Danny Welsch: That’s a great question and it’s something that I’ve thought about a lot. It’s important to separate the science from the scientists. I’d like to say that science is completely apolitical and exists in a sterile environment, but it’s not true. And if you think about the role that science plays and the reason that science exists, science really exists to create an informed policy.

Scientists are generally apolitical, but the science is used in situations that ultimately end up being political. If the science-based policy goes against your beliefs, it’s actually pretty easy to attack the scientists. It’s easier than attacking the science. But in my experience, scientists are almost exclusively driven by curiosity, not by ideology.

Now, that’s not to say that scientists don’t have opinions. Most do, and often those opinions are very strong. But the science that they produce is largely done independent of their opinions, and the scientific method requires this.

In fact, it exists to ensure that scientists do science independent of their own personal biases or ideology. So if you’re following the scientific method rigorously, it really ensures that the process of science, the science that results from the scientific method is apolitical.

So a really good example of this is the scientists that helped to create the nuclear weapons in the 1940s, the American scientists. In the 1950s, they came out against nuclear weapons completely and were really pushing for non-proliferation.

Albert Einstein is often associated with this. While his E=MC2 equation explains a lot about how energy is released in an atomic explosion and it formed the basis for nuclear science, he didn’t have a whole lot to do with the invention of nuclear weapons. He would have wanted to, but the federal government considered him to be too much of a security risk at the time. He was kind of kept away from that.

But a lot of the scientists that were part of the Manhattan Project in the ’40s came out against the bomb’s creation and later advocated for non-proliferation. They started this thing called the Pugwash movement, and were actually given the Nobel Peace Prize for it in 1995.

So this is an example where a group of scientists followed the science, followed the curiosity, to ultimately create something that was hugely destructive. And it wasn’t a big surprise. They knew what they were doing, but they were able to separate their personal beliefs from the science. They produced the science, they did their job, but then they advocated for careful use of that science later. So they were able to separate those two. The scientists were the advocates and the science is what produced the thing they were actually advocating against.

So are scientists political? Scientists themselves generally are not, mainstream scientists that are following the rigorous scientific method. But the science that they produce often is very political, because if we don’t use science to inform policy, we end up with bad policy.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And I could see that because most scientists, of course, like you said, are curious, and so they’re really going towards discovering and using the scientific method to X out things that they can disprove. But, as you said, the science will then be used by a variety of people for their own purposes, unfortunately, and fortunately, of course. How does the science get to the public?

Dr. Danny Welsch: Well, a lot of science actually gets to the public after a long time and a lot of work. In general, most science is done, what you would call behind the scenes. People don’t see the uncertainty that exists in the early ideas. They don’t see the hundreds of theories, formulas, and methodologies that just get thrown out early in the process. Quite honestly, 99% of science is really boring and wouldn’t be interesting to anyone but the scientists doing the work.

The public largely gets their science from the news, but once it’s been vetted. And that vetting process is where other scientists take a look at the work and become convinced that the uncertainty in it is low enough that they can start to talk about it publicly and use it for policy decisions.

That vetting process is largely through peer review and publication. Within science, that’s where the vetting process works. So a scientist might work for years on a project. When I was actively doing science, I would work for a really, really long time to end up with a couple of papers. I had a professor in college who used to say that scientists are just writers who do a lot more work on the front end, which is completely true, because if you’re a scientist who’s looking at the cure for cancer, you can discover the cure for cancer, but if you can’t tell people about it through publication, it doesn’t really matter.

So scientists do a lot of work and then write about it. Before that writing is actually published, it’s sent out to other scientists who read it, who think critically about it, who check the techniques, the data, the methodology, and who make suggestions. And then that science is sort of redone with those suggestions in mind. Sometimes that process takes years and there’s a couple of iterations of that process.

But eventually, when that science is published in a journal, it’s considered vetted, it’s considered to be as little uncertainty as possible to be used in its intended way, and then the news often picks it up. There’s still uncertainty within the science at this point, but it’s been reduced, but that uncertainty is often lost in the translation from the scientific literature to the public press. It’s presented as fact at that point.

So while science is often presented to the public as fact, to the scientific community, there’s still some uncertainty there and likely someone is still working to refute that work, to try and answer the additional questions that that work has asked.

So that is generally how science gets to the public. Scientists spend 99% of the time with it. When they get it to a point where the uncertainty is minimized, that’s that remaining 1%, it gets published, it gets picked up by the news, and then people start to talk about it.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And I could see how, when people start to talk about it, especially when it’s on the news and then other outlets pick it up, and then you look at the science report and then the studies or the sample size is only say a few dozen, that’s really not that many people.

Now, before I go to the next question, is there a proper sample size that could make findings more applicable to the larger population or does it just depend on what they’re studying?

Dr. Danny Welsch: So this is where we can turn to a common tool of scientists, which is statistics. And there’s a whole book about how to lie with statistics. So a lot of people think statistics is some hocus pocus and have some big questions about statistics, but the art of statistics can really help us determine a sample size.

And statistics is interesting. Because it’s a tool for science, the way statistics is crafted, it isn’t designed to prove anything. It’s only designed to disprove. If anyone’s taken a statistics class, you know you have your not hypothesis, and the not hypothesis isn’t designed to prove anything. It’s designed to disprove your hypothesis. So that is the way statistics works, which is why statistics is a very common tool of scientists.

Now, getting back to your population size question or your sample size question, there are statistical tests or statistical equations that you can use to determine how many samples you need in order to represent your population at a certain confidence interval.

So you can actually say, “All right, well, how many people do I need to test in order to be 95% sure that people with blue eyes are left-handed in a population of 9 million?” that sort of thing. There’s some pretty simple statistical techniques that can tell you how many people you actually have to sample.

Scientists generally don’t make things up. We turn to rigorous analytical tools which have been developed to help us design experiments so that they represent the real world in as faithful a way as possible.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And I love that you said rigorous scientific tool because of course the world went through and is still going through COVID. And so, what happens when the public sees science happen without understanding the process?

And I think when it comes to COVID, we saw a lot of science happening. We saw a lot of governmental policies trying to respond to the best science possible, but then a lot of people then perceived what was going on based on their own biases or their limited understanding or just their scientific literacy.

Dr. Danny Welsch: Yeah. The COVID situation was fascinating for a number of reasons, but it clearly demonstrated the need for scientific literacy.

So COVID was an emergency. Scientists needed to provide policymakers with answers immediately. Basically what happened is when the public sees science happen, they see all the uncertainty and they see all the discarded ideas. In short, they see the very things that make people uncomfortable with the scientific method.

Masks are a great example. Very early in the pandemic, we knew very little about the virus. We didn’t know much about how it spread. We didn’t know if it behaved like a particle or if it behaved like an aerosol. We really didn’t even know much about the size of it.

So when policymakers came to us and asked scientists about masks, the scientists provided the best guidance they had based on the information that they had at the time, which was very little. As we got more information, that guidance changed and evolved.

Now, to the public, that often looked like the scientists had made a mistake, or worse, had simply lied for political reasons, but that wasn’t the case at all. Really, this brings our whole discussion together. Because it was an emergency, the scientists were called on to make recommendations with incomplete information.

Scientists did the best they could, but people saw the uncertainty and the refutation that’s a natural part of the scientific method, but that made people uncomfortable. And that happened because they didn’t understand what they were seeing. They just thought that the scientists were unsure. And the scientists were unsure, but they were constantly learning more information and reducing the uncertainty.

But that lack of scientific literacy made people uncomfortable. They didn’t realize that they were seeing out in the open a normal part of science that’s normally kind of hidden behind the curtains a little bit. So to the public, it really looked like the scientists were incompetent. And unfortunately, politicians and conservative media took advantage of that.

Dr. Fauci was the face of the government’s response to the COVID crisis for a long time, and continues to be through the Biden administration. He initially came out and said we really shouldn’t wear masks, and then he flipped that advice as he learned more and as other scientists were contributing to his knowledge, and it turns out that masks are one of the most effective tools to battle the pandemic.

So he is now being beat up in the press quite a bit, and even some of his emails were released through a Freedom of Information Act. If you look at his emails as a scientist, you can see the evolution of thought based on additional information.

But if your intentions are a little bit more maleficent, you look at those emails as someone who is simply changing their mind for political reasons. And that is unfortunately the narrative that a lot of the media is running with.

But I think Dr. Fauci did the best that he could, and the unfortunate situation is that the public was seeing something that they didn’t completely understand. And the reason they didn’t completely understand it is because of a lack of scientific literacy.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And this leads us to the next question, which I seem to remember a report that the flu was a non-issue in 2020. Now, moving forward, from a scientific perspective, during flu season, can we just wear masks and then will flu’s impact be greatly reduced?

Dr. Danny Welsch: Yeah, theoretically. The two things that we did to prevent COVID were social distancing and wearing masks, and those are two things that have been proven to prevent transmission of flu. Unfortunately, at least social distancing makes a lot of economic activity very difficult, which is one of the reasons why a lot of state governments really wanted to pull back on some of the regulations as quickly as possible.

Masks don’t impact economic activity at all. That was purely political. If we really wanted to have an impact on flu, we could do some of the same things that we did for COVID. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s culturally within our grasp to do that because now a lot of that is political. And honestly, flu is not COVID, despite some of the claims early on that COVID was just like getting a bad flu.

Flu is deadly to a lot of people, but not nearly as deadly as COVID. While we definitely could prevent transmission of influenza using the same techniques as we used for COVID, I’m not entirely sure that that’s going to happen.

Now, I have been reading some things lately that masks may be a part of our lives during certain times of year and in certain types of settings for the foreseeable future, largely because COVID is not expected to ever go completely away. Between a relatively large population that’s refusing immunization and mutations of the virus, it’s become endemic and it’s expected that like the annual flu, there will be annual outbreaks of COVID.

Now, unlike the annual flu, a lot more people can die from COVID. So there may be situations where masks and social distancing just become part of the norm, maybe in winter in schools, as an example. Because you don’t want kids to get sick and that’s a situation where you’re going to cram a lot of people together in a building. We’ll have to see what that looks like going forward, but I don’t think we’re going to be completely rid of COVID.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: It definitely seems that way. And as a parent of young kids, not having to deal or worry about the flu was also pretty great.

Dr. Danny Welsch: Yeah, it was nice. I mean, nobody in my house was sick all winter.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Exactly. Exactly. And it was bad. And so from the scientific literacy perspective, how can we fix this? Is it just education or is it more of just an expectation of how scientific literacy is important for good, healthy cultural norms?

Dr. Danny Welsch: I think it’s two things. I think we need to rebuild the standing of scientists. Scientists got really beat up over the last couple of years. The reason for that goes back to what I said earlier, it’s much easier to attack the scientists than it is to attack the science. So in a lot of media circles and on social media, scientists became demonized, when scientists really aren’t the enemy at all.

So I think we need to rebuild the standing of scientists and rebuild trust in science as a process, and we also need education. We need people to understand scientific literacy. We need people to understand that when there’s an emergency and they see science happen, when the curtain gets pulled back, it’s not scary. It looks scary, it might make you uncomfortable, but what’s happening is a natural process. It’s designed to do exactly what it’s doing. There’s uncertainty and we’re doing the best that we can.

That can only happen through education. And unfortunately, scientific education in this country has taken a hit. There’s a tremendous emphasis on reading and math. And in order to make room for that, the emphasis has come off of science, it’s come off of social studies, and it’s come off of the arts. And I think maybe COVID has reinforced the need for science.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Hopefully the lessons we’ve learned from COVID will stick. Hopefully, and I say this without any sarcasm or irony, but hopefully our politicians will hopefully learn the correct lessons to implement better policies moving forward.

And I say that with pure optimism because we can only hope that as a country and as a world, we move forward for the better. And as humans, that’s what we’re supposed to do. And so absolutely wonderful conversation today, Danny. Any final words?

Dr. Danny Welsch: I hope you’re right. I hope that this is a turning point for our nation, and I think it could go one of two ways. I think we can realize that science is important, scientific literacy is important, that scientists play a critical role in policymaking.

The alternative to that is we’ve just witnessed a playbook on how to basically turn almost any crisis into political gains if you’re willing to do it. We saw a lot of lines being crossed in COVID. We saw public health being pushed aside for the benefit of politics. And I think that that’s really dangerous.

And my sincere hope is that that is not the direction we go, that people realize that when we crossed those lines, that was a one-time thing. We shouldn’t do that again because it was dangerous, and that people put their faith back in science.

Let scientists do their jobs, understand that scientists are working for the best interest of society and not for any of their own personal political ideologies, and just encourage scientific literacy and the study of science through schools so that we don’t end up in a situation like we’re now trying to claw our way out of.Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Thank you for an absolutely wonderful conversation about scientific literacy and everything we talked about. And today, of course, we were speaking with Dr. Danny Welsch about scientific literacy. And my name is Dr. Bjorn Mercer, and thank