Alumna Gale Sinatra releases new book | Science Denial: Why It Happens and What to Do About It 

At a time when science denial has become deadly, this is a vital book on how to improve science literacy, understanding, and communication 

tree emerging from lakeSCIENCE DENIAL: Why It Happens and What to Do About It 

Oxford University Press 
July 6, 2021; 9780190944681 

By Gale M. Sinatra and Barbara K. Hofer  

How do we decide whether to accept the human causes of climate change, practice social distancing during a pandemic or decide whether to vaccinate ourselves or our children? The past year has brought home to each and every one of us how critical it is for scientists, policy makers and the media to be good communicators of often complex scientific subjects. It’s also shown why each and every one of us has a responsibility to make informed decisions that are based on facts and evidence, rather than emotions and instincts. Neither of these tasks are easy, but they can save lives. 

SCIENCE DENIAL: Why It Happens and What To Do About It by Gale Sinatra, Stephen H. Crocker Chair and Professor of Education and Psychology at University of Southern California and Barbara Hofer, Professor of Psychology Emerita at Middlebury College, aims to address this issue. As the authors explain, understanding key psychological explanations for science denial and doubt can provide a means for improving scientific literacy at a critically important time when denial has become deadly. 

In SCIENCE DENIAL, Sinatra and Hofer explain both the importance of science education as well as its limitations, show how science communicators may inadvertently contribute to the problem of denial, and explain how the Internet and social media foster misinformation and disinformation. The authors focus on key psychological issues such as social identity and reasoning biases that limit public understanding of science – and describe solutions for individuals, educators, science communicators and policy makers, with each chapter ending with a suggested list of solutions. If you have ever wondered why science denial exists, want to know how to understand your own biases and those of others, and would like to address the problem, this book will provide the insights you are seeking. 

The first section of the book tackles the current landscape of science doubt, denial, and misunderstanding and looks at how we got here. Although science denial has become an increasingly polarized issue in recent years, with Republicans more likely to scoff at, for example, the human causes of climate change and the importance of social distancing and masking to prevent the spread of Covid-19, the authors show that Democrats can also fall prey to science denialism. Examples of more typically “blue” beliefs are skepticism of the safety of genetically modified foods and nuclear energy. In other words, almost all of us need to do better, regardless of what political party we are affiliated with or the level of higher education that we have achieved. 

In the second section of SCIENCE DENIAL, Sinatra and Hofer use their background as psychologists to look at why individuals resist science, by showing how our minds really work, why it is so easy for us to misunderstand scientific claims and how deeply entwined our emotions and social identity are when we try to make rational, science-based decisions. 

Finally, Sinatra and Hofer explain how we can improve public understanding and acceptance of scientific knowledge. They outline actionable steps that can be taken by individuals, educators and policy makers to combat science denial, including such suggestions as: 

  • Cultivate a scientific attitude and an appreciation for the value of science
  • Monitor cognitive biases that confirm what you already think or believe
  • Engage in critical thinking and become more skilled at searching for and evaluating scientific claims and their sources 
  • Become more advanced in algorithmic literacy. Algorithms constrain what you see and hear online and learning how and where they operate can help you counteract any biases you may be developing by simply following Google or your social media feeds 
  • Ask why those who devalue scientific knowledge and expertise do so and look at what they have to gain from persuading you to do so, too. 
  • Know the role of your own emotions and recognize what your “hot button” issues are as well as being aware of those held by close family and friends so you can effectively engage them in conversation
  • Examine the motivations behind your reasoning and be willing to keep an open mind and consider different points of view 
  • Nurture scientific values and vote for those who value science and scientific evidence
  • Listen and engage while seeking to understand others’ concerns and fears. Be aware that many disagreements are not about facts but values and look for common ground while engaging in discussions 

SCIENCE DENIAL provides a new perspective on this important topic and one that shows the psychology behind the embrace of science denial as well as what to do about it. Democracies depend on educated citizens who can make informed decisions for the benefit of their health and wellbeing, as well as their communities, nations, and planet, so it is critical that all of us become better consumers and communicators of scientific information. 

Dr. Gale M. Sinatra is the Stephen H. Crocker Professor of Education and Psychology at the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California. She holds three degrees in Psychology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She directs the Motivated Change Research Lab and has been honored with the Sylvia Scribner Award for influential research from the American Educational Research Association. She resides in Altadena, California. 

Dr. Barbara K. Hofer is a Professor of Psychology Emerita at Middlebury College and is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association. She received her Ph.D. in psychology and education from the University of Michigan and an Ed.M. in human development from Harvard University. She is the recipient of national awards for both research and teaching, from the American Educational Research Association and the American Psychological Association. She lives in Middlebury, Vermont.

SCIENCE DENIAL: Why It Happens and What to Do About It 
by Gale M. Sinatra and Barbara K. Hofer 
Oxford University Press 

July 6, 2021; 208 Pages: $35.00