Today in internalising misogyny for a nice fat paycheque, Professor Averil Macdonald has declared that women are more opposed to fracking than men because we just don’t understand the science behind it. Hoping to make the statement a little less misogynistic, and remembering she sits on a committee to encourage women into STEM, she adds that it’s probably due to women having less of an education in science.
First of all, let me say this: what Professor Macdonald is saying is thoroughly unsubstantiated. She cites research from the University of Nottingham into public support for fracking which does show a gender difference, although the ongoing programme of research also shows a steady decline in public support for the technique (presumably because it’s fucking terrible for the environment and we ought to stop relying on fossil fuels). Where Professor Macdonald has got it into her head that it’s to do with persuasion by scientific facts, I do not know: the Nottingham research was a descriptive survey rather than an experiment into methods of persuasion. There’s no evidence to show that gender differences in support for fracking are down to men being more swayed by scientific arguments. What’s being reported is simply Professor Macdonald’s personal feelings–and given she’s the chair of an oil company, a sceptical mind ought to consider why she may have that opinion.
However, I’m all for thought experiments, so let’s pretend that Professor Macdonald was citing some robust research showing that men are more receptive to scientific arguments in favour of fracking than women, and that the causative factor here is their better science education.
Here, I would suggest that men are more likely to be influenced by whatever the hell is dressed up as scientific fact purely because of higher levels of science education. You see, a science education doesn’t necessarily teach you very useful skills. In fact, it teaches you to be uncritical regarding science. It teaches you to produce whatever your funders want to hear, and not to particularly question who’s funding what. It teaches you that shaky evidence is evidence, and therefore it’s good and build on that and continue going in the direction you’re going in, no matter how actually incorrect it is. It teaches you to appeal to authority. It teaches you not to be reflexive, to be convinced that you are being objective.
I should know. I had a science education, to a pretty high level. And I was once the sort of person to swallow with a bit of “scientific evidence” as fact.
So, Professor Macdonald is wrong. And even if she’s right, she’s still wrong.