The Social Feedback Loops That Constrain Climate Science

Self-reinforcing feedback loops in the climate system garner a lot of attention, but less-appreciated social feedback loops affect the generation of climate science itself, with real consequences

If researchers were perfectly dispassionate reasoners with no motivations other than truth-seeking, their published papers could be taken as a direct, objective view into reality. But as I argued not long ago in an essay in The Free Press, that idealized notion of science is a fantasy. Stemming from a frustration that I felt about not being able to take high-impact climate science at face value, I decided to call out what I see as one problem: The highest-profile research is heavily influenced by cultural forces and career incentives that are not necessarily aligned with the dispassionate pursuit of truth.

That essay caused a bit of a firestorm, in part because of the politically charged nature of its main topic: climate science. Climate change is a morally charged topic, and emotions run high. People are often placed into one of two camps: the virtuous good team working to save the planet, and the nefarious bad team delaying action out of some combination of ignorance and greed. In the world of climate research, there are substantial career and social incentives to claim membership on the good team. Specifically, to get your research published in high-impact journals like Science and Nature, it helps enormously not to challenge the predominant narrative that the benefits of limiting global warming to at most 1.5°C — as articulated in the Paris Agreement — far outweigh their costs.

A case in point, and the subject of my essay in The Free Press: my own recent article in Nature. This was my third publication in Nature. I have also published in Nature’s climate-focused journal Nature Climate Change. I have also served as an expert peer reviewer for both journals as well as for Nature Communications and Nature Geoscience. Through these experiences, as well as through various failures to get published in these journals, I have learned that framing research in a way that at least directionally supports the predominant narrative makes the path to a high-impact publication much less treacherous. For example, rather than ask, “What is the magnitude of the influence of climate change on the phenomena I am studying relative to all other influences?” it is more prudent to ask, “How does climate change negatively impact the phenomena I am studying?” In the case of my most recent Nature paper, for instance, I specifically chose to focus narrowly on the influence of climate warming on wildfire, although it is well-known that warming is just one of many important causal factors.

Such framing decisions are not necessarily distorting if they are complemented by other researchers making framing decisions in the opposite direction. But when social and career incentives cause most of the high-profile research to coalesce around a similar emphasis, a distortion emerges in the aggregate. When that happens, scientific narratives can become entrenched and self-reinforcing. And that’s where we are in climate science: A desire to be on the good team, associated with an adherence to the predominant narrative, diverts attention and resources away from direct, practical, on-the-ground measures proven to increase climate resilience, and it sidelines legitimate concerns about restricting energy options for humanity — especially in low-income countries.

Below, I expand on a number of the points I articulated in my The Free Press essay, including an examination of the top fifty climate change articles published in Nature and Science over the past five years.

The desirability of high-impact publications

At bottom, research is a social endeavor. If you do not communicate what you have done to your colleagues, your funders, and the public, you may as well not have done the work at all. The way that research is communicated is by publishing it in academic peer-reviewed journals, but which journals you publish in makes a major difference. While publishing in high-impact venues is far from necessary for a successful career in academic science, it undoubtedly helps. I am not the first to point out that the editors of high-impact journals like Science and Nature act as gatekeepers for high-profile research and thus have an inordinate influence on shaping mainstream scientific narratives.

One reason for this is that high-impact publications get your research a lot of attention. Of the fifty climate change papers that received the most online attention over the past five years, thirty-two (64%) were from Nature and Science (and their sub-journals), with another eleven were from the very prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and The Lancet. Thus, 86% of the fifty papers that received the most attention were from what are considered high-impact journals.

It is not a coincidence that papers published in these journals get the most coverage. These journals have sophisticated public relations apparatuses that disseminate press releases directly to major media outlets well in advance of the paper's publication to facilitate a coordinated media campaign. This makes sense for the journals because, for among other reasons, large publicity around their publications helps them justify a “prestige tax” (multi-million dollar per year subscription fees to universities) and high fees charged directly to the publishing researchers (it currently costs the researcher $870 per figure to publish in Nature and it costs $11,690 to remove the paywall form their paper).

My recent Nature paper was covered by over seventy national and international outlets (prior to my subsequent essay critiquing it). This attention is desirable because it gets the work noticed not only by the public but also by other researchers, who are then more likely to cite it. Citations, more than the raw number of papers you publish, are the main quantitative measure of a researcher's prominence. My previous Nature paper from 2017, has over 4 times the citations of my next most cited paper.

I am hardly alone in acknowledging the value of high-impact publications. Surveys of academics show that early career researchers with high-impact publications are 6 times more likely to be offered a faculty position, and that journal name recognition and journal impact factor are highly valued for making decisions on academic promotion and tenure. Hiring committees will inevitably use journal prestige as a shortcut in evaluation because it is simply very difficult to simultaneously assess the quality of dozens of candidates’ CVs when they work in different subdisciplines.

The allure of high-impact publications means that competition is fierce, and Nature and Science are able to be highly selective and reject about 92% and 94% of submitted research papers, respectively. Thus, researchers are instructed to “sell” their research in the cover letter that they submit with their paper. But of course, the molding of the research so that it is more palatable to these journals will usually start long before the submission of the paper - commencing at the very outset.

How should research be shaped to maximize the chance of publication?

One straightforward strategy for maximizing the chance of publication in a high-impact journal would be to mold the research so that it is in line with the high-level messaging espoused by the leadership of these journals. Leadership at Nature and Science have made it clear that they endorse the political goals of the Paris Agreement — to rapidly transition the world’s energy and agricultural economies so that global warming remains below 1.5°C (or at most 2°C) above preindustrial levels.

For example, Dr. Marcia McNutt, when she was editor-in-chief of Science, implied in the beyond-two-degree Inferno that humanity has sinned against nature and society should sacrifice economic well-being for the sake of remaining below 2°C of warming. Similarly, Magdalena Skipper, the editor-in-chief of Nature, is an outspoken supporter of the Paris Agreement and its temperature limits.

Nature as an institution officially endorsed Joe Biden in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, citing, among other reasons, his policies in support of the Paris Agreement. Facing some pushback on their explicit embrace of politics, Nature subsequently doubled down on their political statements. The current editor-in-chief of Science, Holden Thorpe, has defended the idea of scientific journals endorsing policies and politicians — implying that the authority of science subsumes the entirety of the climate problem all the way through to the amount of power that the government should yield in dictating a solution.

This all sends a clear signal that Science and Nature will be more sympathetic to research that supports these political goals than research that undermines them, but aren't these preferences just based on the science itself?

Is it all science-based policy, or is there also policy-based science?

It is a widespread misconception that the 1.5°C and 2°C global warming limits were first established by climate science and only subsequently incorporated into policies like the Paris Agreement.

In fact, the 2°C limit was first proposed in the late 1970s, long before sophisticated studies of climate impacts had emerged. Its appeal was, essentially, that it was a round number thought to represent the warmest the earth had been in 100,000 years. By 1992, it had become conventional wisdom that humanity should aim to avoid anything more than 2°C of warming; it was officially codified as “dangerous interference with the climate system” by the United Nations in the 2009 Copenhagen Accord. Six years later, the UN Paris Agreement affirmed the 2°C goal while also articulating aspirations for limiting global warming to 1.5°C, in part due to pressure from environmentalists and some diplomats.

Only after the articulation of the 1.5°C limit did the UN solicit a report from its own Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to support it. Despite widespread misrepresentation in the media, this report did not say that global warming becomes catastrophic beyond 1.5°C, and it certainly did not claim that limiting global warming to 1.5°C represented the ideal balancing of all costs and benefits for the entire world. It merely said that the climate change impacts at 1.5°C are less severe than those at 2°C.

In other words, these global warming limits emerged from the collective judgment of elite policy actors and should not be construed as some sort of definitive scientific conclusion. In fact, there is no way for science to definitively specify the optimal rate of decarbonization by objectively weighing all the costs and benefits across different individuals, societies, and species over space and time. Rather than being purely scientific, these temperature limits are fundamentally influenced by a normative premise of environmental philosophy: that impacting the earth is inherently wrong and inevitably self-destructive. Activist researchers know, however, that an argument based on subjective philosophical considerations is weaker than one based on the perceived authority of science. So, many engage in “stealth advocacy” — advocacy based on normative commitments but disguised as the outcome of a purely dispassionate scientific process.

This history indicates that climate change impact science matured in an environment where the philosophical precepts and policy prescriptions had already been established, and it has thus always been easier, from a social or career advancement perspective, to conduct research that more-or-less supports the established philosophy and political goals than it has been to conduct research that undermines them.

The resulting literature canon

The consequence of this is that in addition to there being science-based policy, there is also plenty of policy-based science. This became clear to me in 2018, when a paper published in Nature, “Large potential reduction in economic damages under UN mitigation targets”, received credulous press coverage, inspiring headlines likeLimiting temperature increase to 1.5 Celsius could result in $30 trillion of savings for global economy, study shows.” The study, in fact, did not show that. Despite what was implied by the title and the headlines, the study did not offer a cost-benefit analysis of the Paris Agreement’s limits but rather a benefit-only analysis, ignoring the well-known costs of forcibly decarbonizing the global economy.

Nature has published articles that analyze the costs of decarbonization in isolation, but those studies are framed very differently. The costs are framed as an obstacle that can be overcome. A fair literature that was disinterested in the way the results come out would allow the equivalent cost-only analysis framed in the same way to be published: a paper with the title “Large potential damage to world economy under UN mitigation targets". But I consider it vanishingly unlikely that a title like that could see the light of day, not because it is factually wrong but because it’s too offensive to the sensibilities of most of the research community.

While I knew that such a hypothetical cost-only analysis would not be publishable, I thought perhaps Nature would be interested in publishing a more complete cost-benefit analysis. So, later in 2018, I submitted a paper to Nature titled “Net Economic Impact of UN Global Warming Mitigation Targets” that placed the calculated benefits described by the aforementioned paper in the context of mainstream estimates of the costs of decarbonization. Our study showed that when costs were considered alongside benefits, the conclusion of the benefit-only analysis was overturned: the Paris Agreement targets would impose net harm on the world economy through 2100.

Our paper did not make it to the peer review stage. It was desk rejected for being, supposedly, of insufficient interest and an insufficient advance (a subsequent version was later published in PLOS ONE). I find these reasons for the desk rejection unconvincing. A cost-benefit analysis that overturns the conclusion of a previous benefit-only analysis of the predominant global climate policy should be among the most interesting and consequential results in climate research. A much more likely explanation: It was the finding of the study, rather than the topic, that was unwelcome.

The recurring inquiry of “How does climate change negatively impact the phenomena I am studying?” is evident throughout the high-impact literature. Another example would be "The burden of heat-related mortality attributable to recent human-induced climate change" published in Nature Climate Change, which looked exclusively at the influence of climate change on heat-related mortality but ignored its influence on cold-related mortality. Their abstract concludes with the following:

“Our findings support the urgent need for more ambitious mitigation and adaptation strategies to minimize the public health impacts of climate change.”

But a reciprocal study looking at only changes in cold-related mortality would, of course, find that mortality is being reduced by warming. Would it be possible for researchers to publish a study that concluded with the statement,

“Our findings undermine calls for more ambitious mitigation strategies as they might slow the reduction in cold-related deaths”?

Common sense would say no, again, not because the statement is strictly false but because such a statement would be too transgressive to the predominant narrative.

An additional experience that informed my view of the preferences of these journals was my discovery of a major flaw in the climate impacts literature that could be traced back to a commentary paper that was published in Nature. The flaw leads to substantial exaggerations of the influence of climate change on extreme weather impacts. Yet this methodology has proliferated, been incorporated into major IPCC reports, and it undergirds some of the most attention-grabbing headlines assigning deaths and dollars to climate change. Since all this originated in the commentary pages of Nature, I pitched their commentary editor (with a referral from another Nature editor) on publishing my work highlighting the flaw in the original paper. Unlike my successful submissions to Nature, which were in line with the predominant narrative, this time, I received no interest. Eventually, my work was published in the lower-impact journal Climatic Change where it will undoubtedly have less of an influence.

In addition to focusing narrowly on only the side of the ledger that supports the Paris Agreement, studies often take neutral or good news and frame it as bad news. An example of this is found in the study Climate impacts on global agriculture emerge earlier in new generation of climate and crop models published in Nature Food. The title signals bad news, so one might be surprised to learn that the study showed that in the most up-to-date crop models, projected warming and enhanced CO2 levels increase global wheat, rice, and perhaps soybean yields while only decreasing corn yields. The title and abstract could have been designed to highlight those results, but instead, the take-home, concluding sentence of the abstract emphasizes some of the worst news from the study:

“...these results suggest that major breadbasket regions will face distinct anthropogenic climatic risks sooner than previously anticipated.”

These examples are representative of the major threads that emerge in aggregate in the top 50 climate change articles published in Nature and Science over the past 5 years as ranked by Google Scholar.

The human imperative of stabilizing global climate change at 1.5°C,” the article ranked first overall, is emblematic. It is policy-based science in the sense that it is explicitly framed to make as strong a case as possible for adhering to the 1.5°C Paris Agreement limit. Other articles take a similar tone of advocacy. An especially strident example is “Harnessing the potential of nature-based solutions for mitigating and adapting to climate change,” which concludes thus:

“Achieving net-zero carbon emissions and transitioning to a nature-positive economy will also require systemic change in the way we behave as societies, shifting to a dominant worldview that is based on valuing quality of life and human well-being rather than material wealth — and connection with nature rather than its conquest. Signals such as the rise of climate and nature grassroots activism indicate that this shift is taking place.”

Whether or not one agrees with the framing of pitting human well-being against material wealth and “a connection” with nature against its conquest, it is clear that these framings are loaded with subjective human values. Further, cheerleading for changes in the dominant worldview via grassroots activism makes clear where the sympathies of the researcher lie. The irony of this activism, however, is that when research becomes overtly normative, it is inherently less objective, which then undermines the very scientific authority it is attempting to leverage.

Most articles in the top 50 database don’t assume the same tone of advocacy as the above two examples, but the vast majority support the predominant narrative at least directionally. In my estimation, almost three-fourths either explicitly or implicitly encourage more rapid greenhouse gas emissions reductions — typically by asking, “How does climate change negatively impact the phenomena I am studying?”. Over half use pessimistic or monitory messaging rather than taking a more neutral tone, and over half of the studies use an ominous or headline-style title. Vanishingly few adopt an optimistic tone, embracing the ubiquitous increases in human resilience to climate that we’ve seen historically. Remarkably, none focus on the risks of overly restrictive energy policies. These patterns send signals to researchers who aspire to publish in these journals, soliciting more of the same and completing the social feedback loop.

Something particularly striking about the database is just how few of the articles, less than ten percent, are clean examples of the scientific method where the results of a falsifiable hypothesis test are reported (like the double-blind, randomized controlled experiments of medicine). There is a practical reason for this, of course. There is no copy of the earth to conduct century-scale, global-scale experiments on. However, the perceived authority of science is largely derived from falsifiable hypothesis tests specifically because these tests make claims relatively immune from human bias/preference.

However, what we tend to see in high-profile climate change impacts research is more akin to persuasive arguments supported by quantitative analysis, and thus, their claims do not deserve the same kind of reverence as more readily testable claims. In this realm, conclusions are only loosely constrained by pure reason or empirical data, and there is a great deal of leeway, creativity, and subjectivity that goes into the presentation of the story.

Furthermore, much of the methodology is advertised as being novel and specifically developed for their analysis. Even if we were to assume that there is no intentional screening of methodologies to get desired results (very unlikely), there would still be a major survivorship bias at play where only the research groups that happened to use certain methodologies that resulted in compelling answers would survive the gauntlet of obstacles in their way to arrive at the finish line of a Science or Nature publication.

There are, of course, exceptions to the patterns I highlight above. Sometimes, Science and Nature do publish papers that go explicitly against the predominant narrative. But these are exceptions that prove the rule: stepping out of line can invite more trouble than it is worth.

Consider the paper “The Global Tree Restoration Potential,” published in Science. It received the 4th most attention in the past 5 years according to the online attention catalog but is not in the top 50 of Google Scholar’s most relevant list (based to a large degree on citations) because most of the attention it got was negative. Why? It had the temerity to emphasize planting trees over greenhouse gas emissions reductions as a primary climate change mitigation strategy. This was seen by wide swaths of the environmental community as setting back crucial climate action, and it provoked an intense backlash.

Science responded to the controversy by allowing three technical comments — mini-rebuttals from other researchers — to be appended to the paper. The original paper’s claim that “tree restoration is the most effective solution to climate change to date” was amended with a statement that deemed the original paper to be “incorrect,” even though “most effective” includes subjective considerations on how difficult a solution would be to implement and is thus not able to be deemed strictly “incorrect.” In a sign of the pressure they faced, the authors officially added that they “did not mean that tree restoration is more important than reducing greenhouse gas emissions or should replace it."

An alternative narrative that embraces the full story

One of the most consequential aspects of the common framings of the most high-profile papers is their tendency to focus narrowly on a negative impact of climate change - a side effect of our current energy and agricultural systems - rather than a holistic assessment of the costs and benefits of these systems and their alternatives. The latter is the level of analysis that is actually necessary to comprehensively evaluate global warming limits like those articulated Paris Agreement.

When it comes to assessing the net effect of current energy and agricultural systems, the inordinate focus on the negative has sidelined the fact that almost all climate-sensitive aspects of global human society have been trending in a positive direction over the past 50 years despite ~1.3°C of warming: Crop yields and calories available per person have increased; death rates from malnutrition and famines have decreased; the share of the population with access to safe drinking water has increased; the rates of climate-influenced diseases like malaria and diarrheal disease have decreased; death rates from natural disasters have decreased; death rates from non-optimal temperatures (hot and cold) have decreased; and the fraction of people in extreme poverty has plummeted.

Neglecting to emphasize these positive trends results in a dearth of high-profile studies on the reasons for success — making it more difficult to foster more of the same. Undoubtedly, though, a necessity for these triumphs was humanity’s long-term explosion in energy use. This matters because 3 billion people are still in extreme energy poverty, and thus, humanity still requires much more energy. But to adhere to the Paris Agreement limit of 1.5°C, the sources of energy that have been the most effective historically and are arguably still the most effective today, must be rapidly eliminated. Specifically, climate concerns threaten to restrict energy growth in low-income countries via policies like bans on international finance for any fossil fuel infrastructure. This is counterproductive because, in addition to the obvious benefits of energy poverty alleviation in all aspects of life, energy use is also associated with increased resilience to climate and climate change: the average mortality from extreme weather disasters as well as economic damage as a fraction of GDP, is much lower for high-income, high-energy-use societies than for low-income, low-energy-use societies. To put the extremity of the 1.5°C limit in perspective, coal power plants must be phased out at an average rate of about 240 plants per year, every year between now and 2030, to be on pace for the target. Overall, we would need to see a rate of greenhouse gas emissions reductions equivalent to what was experienced due to the COVID lockdowns and associated economic recession (about 5 percent) but compounded year after year until emissions go negative in the latter part of the century. The costs, in monetary terms, are calculated to be something close to five to ten percent of global GDP (or $5-10 trillion) annually over the next several decades.

Even in high-income countries like the US, many families at the lower end of the income distribution are forced to endure harmful indoor temperatures or even sacrifice medicine or food in order to pay for energy costs. Thus, any policy that restricts energy options, by definition, makes the human provision of energy more difficult and has the strong potential to harm human well-being.

But papers that highlight and study increasing human resilience to climate while acknowledging that these trends have been driven by economic and technological development undergirded by fossil-fueled industrialization are largely absent in Science and Nature. There is not a single paper in the top fifty database that adopts a cautionary or pessimistic tone towards overly restrictive energy policy. Instead, we find papers that isolate only the harmful effects of fossil-fueled industrialization, like Comprehensive evidence implies a higher social cost of CO2 published in Nature.

Overall, The aggregate output of the high-profile scientific literature, with its emphasis on negative climate impacts, and a lack of emphasis on climate resilience and the risks of overly stringent energy restrictions, leaves out a major portion of the full story. Climate change is a major concern, particularly because it will not stop until global human-caused CO2 emissions reach net zero, and we are very far away from that. But adhering to the 1.5°C limit entails the full-scale rapid reorganization of the world's energy and agricultural economies, which comes with major risks, and thus it should not be sold under false pretenses. This is happening anyway because of good-team bad-team social dynamics, and professional incentives; these policy goals do not spring inexorably from the underlying data.

The social feedback loop that skews public understanding

But the social forces are as they are, and in the current environment, savvy researchers should have a clear sense that some paths to a high-impact publication, and overall career success are much more direct than others. Those paths can be informed by listening directly to the leadership of the journals, by reading the journals consistently, or by observing what happens to papers that go against the mainstream narrative after publication. This knowledge of the publishing landscape is what indirectly solicits papers in support of the predominant narrative and completes the self-reinforcing feedback loop that results in hegemony.

I used this knowledge to my advantage when I framed what would become my Nature paper on climate warming’s influence on wildfires. After my paper was published but before I published my critique, I was greeted with fawning positive attention. I was showered with congratulations by my colleagues, and I did over a dozen friendly interviews with various media outlets. I was even sent a solicitation to have my paper printed on a coffee mug as a kind of trophy.

This all changed after I published my essay critiquing high-profile journals for being overly focused on negative climate impacts and emissions restrictions. Since my message undermined the idea that science journals are pristine arbiters of truth, unaffected by human social influences, it was threatening to many public-facing climate scientists and climate journalists, who exploit the perceived authority of science to disguise their normative advocacy on climate policy. The blowback on blogs and especially on Twitter was fierce, and often ad hominem.

The juxtaposition between celebratory coffee mugs and personal attacks is telling. Researchers are socially rewarded for supporting the predominant narrative and ostracized for undermining it. In particular, the negative reaction to my critique made it clear to onlooking colleagues that being perceived as being on the bad team will invite excommunication from large swaths of the professional climate science community. I received many messages of emphatic support, but these communications were mostly private, either via email or in person. My sympathetic colleagues knew that voicing public support might only invite waves of criticism their way.

This dichotomy of public condemnation but private support is evidence of self-censorship in academia, where surveys have indicated that 34 percent of professors report having been pressured by peers to avoid controversial research, and 91 percent report being at least “somewhat likely” to self-censor in academic publications, meetings, presentations, or on social media. These numbers represent a major problem if we want academic scientists to be oriented as much as possible towards truth-seeking, and they result in an outward appearance of consensus that is neither representative of the underlying empirical evidence nor even of the opinions of the people producing the research.

When a predominant scientific narrative emerges organically from truly open scientific debate, the public can trust it. However, when a narrative is heavily influenced by morally infused social feedback loops within the knowledge production system, it is much less likely to convey the full story.

Breaking the social feedback loop and making more room for the full story

Breaking this social feedback loop will likely require top-down structural changes at journals as well as bottom-up cultural changes.

A more honest and holistic picture of the state of the climate change problem, for instance, would emerge if high-profile journals incorporated sturdier guardrails against self-reinforcing research themes. This would fall under the umbrella of more “institutionalized disconfirmation” of the predominant narrative. Part of this could mean accepting papers based on research questions and proposed methodology before the results are known. This would induce more neutral research questions and reduce the impulse to adjust research questions and methods to increase the likelihood of a high-profile publication. It would also combat the “file drawer effect” (whereby only the flashiest results survive to publication and subsequent promotion in the media). Other reforms could include the separation of the research groups that design studies from those who conduct studies or the commissioning of multiple research groups to investigate the same question. Journals could also reimagine the peer reviewer system and publish a full “devil’s advocate” rebuttal alongside each paper they publish.

At least two suggestions from a recent perspective on scientific censorship deserve serious consideration in this context. One is the publishing of peer-reviews and editorial decision letters for rejected manuscripts. It is becoming more common for journals to publish peer-reviews for accepted manuscripts, but transparency about rejections would increase accountability, encourage fairness, and allow for biases in publishing to be studied more openly. Toward similar ends, journals should embrace audits of their publishing practices, allowing auditors to test whether methodologies are scrutinized differently depending on the results. Ideally, the main measure of journal prestige could move from measures of “impact” (citation frequency) towards measures of scientific neutrality and trustworthiness.

When dealing with climate science, journal editors must be more open to papers that transgress the predominant narrative in support of the Paris Agreement. They have commissioned special issues and penned op-eds in support of the narrative, so why not op-eds and special issues that explicitly welcome research on successful increases in resilience to climate (in order to foster more of it) and the risks of overly restrictive energy policy? Signals like this from journal leadership would loosen the grip of the good-team bad-team dynamic and foster a more honest and complete scientific literature that would ultimately be more useful for society.

Journalists who cover climate must also understand that researchers face motivations beyond objective truth-seeking. Thus, they should see it as their role to be a filter between the scientists and the public rather than their role being one of uncritically promoting and disseminating the research.

It has become common to lament the public crisis of trust in science, experts, and institutions, but much of the decline in trust is deserving. When the public senses that researchers and academic journals are attempting to leverage their scientific authority to advance particular political goals, it ironically undermines that very authority. But we need researchers and academic journals to help inform (but not dictate) critical societal decisions. Scientific institutions just must earn back the public’s trust by demonstrating intellectual humility, a disinterest in how results come out, and by showing that they are open to a wide diversity of opinion and vigorous debate on contested topics.