Sunday, April 08, 2007

Hey, at least theres a dialogue going on this issue now :P

Some have said that my reaction to the Nisbet/Mooney paper was 'hostile' or 'harsh'. Well folks, if you think its harsh, its because Im kinda ticked off. This 'answer' to the woes of our societies scientific illiteracy is stupid. There, I just said it. Its stupid. "Throw more scientists at the problem." Oh wait, not just scientists, scientists with super special training in the art of communication. (And boobs. And sweet bow staff skills. Wouldnt hurt if they also trained dragons. *rolleyes*)
Look, I went to a liberal arts university-- I took speech/communication classes, I took art appreciation classes, I took philosophy, I took writing courses etc etc etc. Certainly on this blog I have to fight the urge to type in txt spk, and I never use apostrophes appropriately, but outside of a 'How to Communicate Science' course, I would say Im the kind of *scientist* that is supposed to 'cure' this communication problem (complete with boobs, bow staff, and dragon).

And in my current environment, I feel completely ignored. What is making 200 more of me supposed to do? 200 more people to be ignored. Super. I mean are we to believe that I am the only scientist on the planet that already has these super special qualifications? Im the only person being ignored? Thats idiotic! This cadre of Super Communicator Scientists already exists, especially within my internet-video game-Red Bull generation! But we're being ignored, and we have very few outlets by which we can cut our communication teeth, so to speak. Our talents arent being utilized to their full potential. This blog has been a much needed stress-release valve for me.

Suggestions like Science Cafes and speaking at local schools are helpful. I didnt find the N/M article helpful. I kinda took it personally, though Im sure N/M only wanted to help. And Id love to have a post-presentation critique from Chris Mooney! I know I still have a lot to learn about public presentations!
But until I, or others, can slide past the Iron Curtain of ignorance that some desperately want (need) to maintain, I maintain my stance that if N/M really, really believe that our scientific illiteracy problem is a result of few 'good' science communicators, they are incredibly naive, and enabling the perpetrators of the real barriers to productive communication.


Qualario said...

I guess you're hitting on one of the fundamental difficulties of getting any kind of a message out. It's not so much learning how to speak the message once you have the audience, it's *getting the audiences in the first place.* And to take that one step further, it's getting the specific audiences whose minds you want most to change.

For somebody like Chris, getting the audiences isn't so much of an issue any more. I mean, he ain't a rock star, but he's more visible and more likely to get speaking engagements than any of the rest of us. If that's the case, I guess I can understand why he'd naturally skip that first step.

Anonymous said...

How about instead of training scientists in the art of communication, we just a train a whole bunch more Chris Mooneys? If we need people with the skill for delivery, that should be a separate profession in and of itself.

I think the problem here is really more related to infrastructure than anything. Opponents of science have amassed a huge infrastructure of thinks tanks, talking heads and sympathetic media personalities to take up their cause to the public. We should look into establishing such an infrastructure ourselves. Right now, we're just not as well organized as our opposition.

Foxy said...

How about a science reality TV show. I see it as a cross between American Idol and Iron Chef. Bill Nye could host.

However un-entertaining great science may be, on a popular level, I would bet that 'darwinist' science can trump 'creationist' science in terms of entertainment, any time. We've got mosquitos with glowing green eyes that are immune to malaria. They have jars of peanutbutter, full of ... peanutbutter.

But, it's like Tyler said, (I see now why we work so well together), it's all about infrastructure. Even if the bad guys had a science TV show, it's not like they'd let anyone useful on it.

The Factician said...

I think the fundamental problem we're working against here is that most people just don't care. How do you convince someone who doesn't care in 90 seconds or less? (because after that, they've already tuned out, turned the channel, etc)

If they've got the soundbite, "God says you aren't related to a monkey" what's the soundbite that we can give that's just as meaningful? I hate the idea of communication by soundbites, but maybe sometimes we have to do what we hate...

I think most good scientists are fantastic communicators. But perhaps that's not the skill we need. Perhaps we need PR people (gasp!). Or perhaps we just need to revamp our public education system, and hope the problem takes care of itself...

Anonymous said...


Glad to see you in the debate.

One of the things we're dealing with here goes back to the philosophy of Scottish Common Sense or Scottish Realism. On the positive side this philosophy encourages ordinary people to involve themselves in public debate. The philosophy influenced America's founding fathers and played an important role in establishing our democratic traditions.

On the negative side it implied that one could take ideas and writings at face value and that intellectual background was unimportant. In the late 18th century there was in fact very little intellectual background in either science or the Bible. Concepts like the periodic table and thermodynamics didn't appear until the next century. Understanding of Biblical history and the vagaries of language likewise developed in the 19th century.

Richard Hofstadter's "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life" is a classic read on the subject. David Brown's recent biography of Hofstadter is a good place to begin. A disturbing conclusion is that a significant portion of society is committed to superficiality.

Greg Laden said...

A science reality TV show (with boobs) is, of course, the only worthwhile idea we've seen so far in this entire discussion across the internet. It may be wrong but it will work.

But getting back to the boring stuff: I largely agree with ERV's reaction, but I also have a critique of the "frame" frame itself. I think that the "old" approach to frame analysis is a very beautiful baby thrown out with the bathwater. See:

ERV said...

john-- I really thought pointing out his non-invitations to OK would get Chris to see why I think this article is ridiculous... But I still dont think he gets why Im so frustrated and so annoyed.

Tyler-- Ah, a whole bunch of Chris Mooneys would just be ignored in OK too! Bleh at least Chris has a book to get his 'message' into areas he himself couldnt venture.

Foxy-- Dude, my current project is playing Don King of the HIV world, pitting glowing, radioactive viruses against one another in a steel cage death match. One survives... only to be thrown into the ring again against a new opponent.
There is no Creationist on the planet that can compete with that. :P

Factician-- You know, I cant honestly say I care if people care. I would like them to care, of course, but I dont care how my car works as long as it works. I expect most people have the same view of evolution (or at least they would, if they were shown how evolution directly effects them, and it works), and evolution is a hellovalot harder than changing the oil in your car (which I cant do).
*shrug* Maybe a viable solution would be PR. (voice over) EVOLUTION! (flash of discoveries aided by and impossible without evolution) It just works.

Les-- AH! Hey! hehehehe All of my adventures down here are a result of Les saying "Hey theres this creationist speaking in OK thats going to come to NE-- check him out for us!" LOL! That event opened a WHOLE new can of worms for me!
You know, Id even be fine with superficial, if they trusted scientists to do their job. But, only having a superficial understanding of a topic, insisting that superficial 'knowledge' is deep, and interfering with people who do understand the topic... that still annoys me...

Greg-- Thank you for posting that link! I read your post earlier and meant to link it here, and hadnt gotten to it yet :)
Seriously, if someone wants to do a TV show, gets the producer/station/etc stuff worked out, and they just need a host, I am SO game.

Anonymous said...

Tyler-- Ah, a whole bunch of Chris Mooneys would just be ignored in OK too! Bleh at least Chris has a book to get his 'message' into areas he himself couldnt venture.

Actually, I would argue that Chris' books are far more important than individual public speaking engagements. In general, mass communication is a good model for getting messages out there. But like I said in my above post, we don't have the sort of massive infrastructure for propagation of our ideas that opponents of science have.

What we would need for such a thing is pretty much on the shelf. We have plenty of plausible private donors (Bill + Melinda Gates, Ted Turner, Ben and Jerry's, etc.) plenty of public institutionalization (The NSF, NASA, the AAAS, the NAS, etc.), among other things. What it needs is the kind of thorough structural organization that you see in the right-wing commentary circuit. You have groups like the CEI, Cato, Heritage, and the AEI essentially in ideological cooperation with radio talk shows, cable news and other sympathetic media personalities.

ERV said...

Tyler-- Actually, I would argue that Chris' books are far more important than individual public speaking engagements.
Oh I know. And blogs are better than books :P Its all a numbers game, and books/blogs are an easy way for people in restrictive communities to interact with outside opinions without their sheep peers knowing. You can read 'The God Delusion' at the library without mom knowing. You can read Pharyngula at school.
However, it seems The Frame is about public appearances and PR.