How to Talk to Coronavirus Skeptics

Isaac Chotiner interviews Naomi Oreskes

The New Yorker

Naomi Oreskes, a professor of the history of science at Harvard, has focused much of her career on examining distrust of science in the United States.


I recently spoke with Oreskes by phone. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed the Trump Administration’s slow response to the pandemic, the Republican Party’s antiscientific propaganda, and strategies for convincing Americans that the threat of the coronavirus is real.


When you see the way people have responded to the new coronavirus, both in government and average people, do you think the response reflects what you’ve studied regarding the distrust of science?

There’s been a lot of loose talk about distrust in science. The reality is that, if we look at careful public-opinion polls, what we see is that most people do trust science on most things, and most people trust experts on most things. People trust their dentists. People trust their car mechanics. In general, people use experts all the time, and most of us don’t spend a lot of time second-guessing experts on most issues. There are some definite exceptions to that. If we have reason to believe that people are dishonest or incompetent, then we may be skeptical. But, when it comes to science, the big exception has to do with what I’ve written about, which is implicatory denial. That is to say, we reject scientific findings because we don’t like their implications.

Read the rest of the article on The New Yorker