Serendipity

As soon as I had posted my entry on Science in the News, I went off and checked my favorite blogs. I found a comment on an entry that reminded me that I should check out lablit.com. I did and I found this essay on science communication.

At a time when climate change and the future applications of biotechnology are in the papers virtually every day, science communication must become a term we associate with people who provide reliable information about these issues. The public should turn to these people for sound advice about scientific issues instead of looking to self-appointed experts and pressure groups. If science is in crisis and there really is a “march of unreason” (as Dick Taverne of Sense About Science argues), then science communicators must be in the front line, defending science and helping it to reclaim its image as a vital cultural activity and essential force for progress.

This really has become a concern of mine and some of my recent postings represent my first attempts to grapple with it.

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One Response to “Serendipity”

  1. Hear, hear! We need more practicing scientists participating in outreach, and there certainly are, as the authors over at Cosmic Variance write about from time to time. But with all of the pressures of doing research, it’s hard for active scientists to do as thorough a job of communication as society needs. And communicating to the public is a different set of skills from publishing and networking within the science community.

    I agree that we need more than just whipping up excitement through “gee-whiz” type demonstrations. But people also learn to ignore inconvenient truths when they’re reported strictly factually. For the last several years, there’s been an article published around the end of December describing how 200x was the hottest or second-hottest year on record. Then it goes away, and there’s no further discourse about it until we hear about how the North Pole has melted again in the summer. (There are more detailed testimonials in between in the science sections of the paper or in the current affairs-oriented magazines, but those have less of a reach than the daily papers.) It’s published, and then it’s gone.

    Science is often treated as these little factoids, with the occasional in-depth investigation (Elizabeth Kolbert’s three-part piece on global warming in the New Yorker was a great but disturbing example). But factoids don’t constitute a coherent world view, which is what religion offers in spades, predigested and no problem sets necessary.

    I agree that injecting science more into the cultural sphere might help to give it a fighting chance against religion. We need to show that the fruits of empiricism have yielded a world view that’s far better equipped to handle today’s world than arguably any religion.

    (I think I have about three different things I’m trying to say jumbled up in here…let me go chew on this for a while, maybe I’ll blog about it myself at some point….)

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