Portrayal of science and scientists in media and film has for generations misrepresented what we do and who we are. Caricatures of the lone mad scientist toiling in the laboratory might capture our passion, but miss an essential point – that science is a social endeavor that can benefit society.
But are there four different kinds of science? A recent book suggests that there can be science four ways.
“Lab Coats in Hollywood – Science, Scientists, and Cinema” by David A. Kirby (MIT Press, March 2011) suggests that there is science “four ways”:
• “public science” – the kind of science that the majority of the public is likely to know;
• “Expert science” involves facts that, if disregarded, only provoke irate letters from people like readers of Science;
• “Folk science” is science that people think is true but isn’t;
• Lastly, “unsettled science” covers the vast area where science is either silent or has not reached consensus.
How best selling authors or film and television directors navigate these four “kinds” of science while maintaining a compelling story line has a profound impact on how science and scientists are perceived by their audience. Kirby’s thesis is essentially that communicating the cultural meaning of science trumps that of absolute scientific accuracy – essentially what I maintain – that communicating the value of what we do is of utmost importance.
I note that much of the science blogosphere focuses on battling “folk science.” I would rather focus my energies on exploring and articulating “unsettled science” as it unfolds.