Scott Siskind has a terrific post pointing out that the phrase "no evidence" is used in two contradictory senses in a way that muddies understanding of science and knowledge.
For example, early in the pandemic you might have read articles with titles like "No evidence for airborne transmission of novel coronavirus" or "no evidence linking Covid to indoor dining." Which did not mean those things were not true, just that nobody had yet done a real study about them. Once people started studying them they were quickly shown to be correct. But
On the other hand, here is a recent headline: No Evidence That 45,000 People Died Of Vaccine-Related Complications. Here’s another: No Evidence Vaccines Cause Miscarriage. I don’t think the scientists and journalists involved in these stories meant to shrug and say that no study has ever been done so we can’t be sure either way. I think they meant to express strong confidence this is false.
You can see the problem. Science communicators are using the same term - “no evidence” - to mean:
This is utterly corrosive to anybody trusting science journalism.
- This thing is super plausible, and honestly very likely true, but we haven’t checked yet, so we can’t be sure.
- We have hard-and-fast evidence that this is false, stop repeating this easily debunked lie.
I agree completely. I think one of the reasons people don't trust science is that science journalism does not explain to what extent things are known and accepted; the results of the latest cutting edge experiment are presented the same way as something like orbital mechanics that we can calculate to five decimal places.
It is not enough to say that studies show something, or that scientists accept something, without at least attempting to convey the strength of the evidence and the degree of the agreement. Unfortunately science journalists are under huge pressure to offer yes-or-no, true-or-false takes on every question, because that is all a big portion of the public will accept. But they could do a lot better.