When I have more time later tonight I'll expand on the "Framing" terminology which some of you are undoubtedly starting to hear used in various circles. But I started the thread to discuss the statements we make and how they reinforce or undermine the value of the scientific process and the perception people have of that process.
This editorial in Sky and Telescope points out one of those issues. In a hearing on Capitol Hill last week the quote was used that some in the anti-science crowd have "a predatory relationship with the uncertainty of science", (Dr Rick Piltz, former head of the GAO). This needs to be addressed, in particular statements we in the science community make that cloud the issue continually.
It is common to be repeatedly explaining the difference between a theory and an hypothesis and the general nature of scientific proof vs the casual use of the word. The need to continually repeat this explanation reflects a failure to teach it to the general public. One contribution to that failure is the words we ourselves are using to discuss science.
Another common mistake (in my opinion) we continually make is repeating such things as, “scientific evidence can be found to support both sides”, and, “there will always be political pressure influencing scientific research.” If skeptics and scientists lack confidence in the process you can imagine how confident the general public is. Before you say, "but it's true", think about how you can separate out the distortion of scientific research from the scientific process in your discussion of this "truth".
Instead of repeating and thus reinforcing the false claim science can be found to support both sides of an issue, be it global warming or trial evidence, we must instead use our voice to educate the public about the ways research results are distorted to falsely support conclusions. For example instead of only saying scientists are brought in to support both sides in a trial, add that one side may just be paying someone to claim what a very small minority of the scientists think and that the actual evidence is really overwhelming on one side. Or if the science is equivocal, say so while making it clear this is a specific case and not all cases are equivocal even if two scientific opinions are presented. We need to be making statements that reinforce the reliability of the scientific process.
Clarify what is meant when “proved” is not the conclusion. 'Overwhelming evidence' and 'majority consensus' are terms that can counter predatory attacks on the uncertainty of science. Expose the fact some scientists are presenting minority opinions as if they were supported by more scientists than really hold that opinion. Teach people how to verify what the evidence actually does support when divergent claims are made rather than just giving up with the belief such practices are merely part of life. They are but that doesn't mean complacency is warranted.
These are just a few examples. The issue of confidence in the scientific process is of utmost importance. How we describe science can either reinforce the reliability or the unreliability of the scientific process.