Adventures in Ethics and Science

In the aftermath of a pretty enthusiastic pile-on to a claim that Expelled! had a successful first week of release, Chris Mooney calls for “serious introspection about the massive communication crisis we’re facing in the science world”.

You know I’m always up for introspection.

Indeed, regular readers have been very patient with my labored attempts to get clear on the whole “framing” thing. While I’m not prepared to advertise myself as any kind of expert on framing, I finally think I know what questions I’d like to ask of the people with framing expertise to try to sort out the ongoing slug-fest.

A lot of the debate about what to make of the box office for Expelled! so far seems to turn on what counts as “success” — turning a profit, getting on lots of screens, connecting with lots of eyeballs on those screen, delivering a box office gross that compares favorably to other political documentaries, etc. I reckon that for those of us who are not filmmakers or producers, a better question might be what effect the movie is having on whether people believe academia is unfairly excluding intelligent design proponents from its ranks. To the extent that the filmmakers may have prioritized the goal of convincing people that academia is unfair to intelligent design proponents (or that science leads directly to atheism, or than acceptance of evolutionary theory leads directly to Nazism, or what have you) even over profit, do we have any indication of whether they’re succeeding in this goal?

It’s not clear to me how you read the answer to that question off the box office gross.

Rather, we’d probably need to look at something more fine-grained than total tickets sold to even get a reasonable sense of who exactly was on the receiving end of what Expelled! is trying to communicate — whose eyeballs were facing those screens, whether or not they were actually convinced. Here, I’m grateful for Chad’s emphasis that there’s not a monolithic public with which the filmmakers or scientists are trying to communicate. Rather, he notes that the public is “a large heterogeneous collection of people with radically different properties.” Among the differences are the core values that successful communication is supposed to identify (so as to deliver a message that resonates with them) and the relative weight different people give to various core values. So, as Chad puts it:

The aim of “framing” this issue, then, is two-fold: first, to get the message to resonate with that portion of the population whose weighting is already closest to that of the framers themselves…

“But if they’re already inclined that way, what’s the point?” you may be asking. The point is that while they might be more inclined to favor disease cures than embryos [in the case of framing an argument in favor of increased funding for stem cell research], they’re not necessarily interested in science. If you just put out straight, dry stories about the research itself, they’re likely to say “Science is Hard! Kthxbai!” and go on about their business without ever reading enough about the research to care about the funding.

If you come at them through the right frame, though, saying, “Hey! We can cure diseases! (By the way: science!)” you’re more likely to get their attention, and hold it through an explanation of the science. Which is more likely to produce the desired result, namely increasing the number of people who have an active interest in the scientific issue, and will support the policy goals of the framers.

That’s the first goal. The second goal is to shift the weights that relatively uncommitted people put on the different values. That’s the whole goal of the anti-stem-cell groups. They place a much higher weight on the protection of embryos than the curing of diseases, and their argument is based around appeals to the general public to put more weight on that factor. Babies are cute, killing is wrong, therefore killing babies is not an acceptable path to curing diseases.

Let’s shift from the stem cell example back to Expelled! The people with whom the filmmakers’ message is most likely to resonate are the folks who already see science as a threat to religion, evolutionary theory as a blueprint for genocide, and so forth. The movie won’t change this population’s core values, nor even their beliefs, but it may energize them.

Presumably, the filmmakers would also like to persuade some of the “relatively uncommitted people”. I’m guessing that these would be people with no strong views about the relative scientific merits of evolutionary theory and intelligent design, or people with views about fairness that may be significantly stronger than their attachment to either evolutionary theory or intelligent design. The big question (for which, as I’ve noted before, we are still waiting for an answer) is whether the messages delivered in Expelled! are persuasive to this second group.

And, undoubtedly, there’s a significant chunk of the population (including many scientists and science fans) that the filmmakers know they will not persuade with the movie.

It strikes me that the filmmakers will not regard it as a failure of communication if Expelled! doesn’t persuade PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins, most ScienceBlogs readers, or even most working scientists. Their message is not resonating with the core values of these folks. They’d have to take a laser beam to the existing core values of this group, and to implant brand new core values in them, in order to win them as converts.

The first sub-population of people (the science-suspicious) don’t need much convincing at all. They have multiple core values (science is scary, faith is the best way to steer your life and your society, people of faith are under attack by secular society, etc.) with which Expelled! can resonate. So energizing these folks will count as a success for the filmmakers, but perhaps not an impressive achievement.

To win the folks in the middle, my sense is that the filmmakers are counting on the “fairness” frame: whether you prefer evolutionary theory or intelligent design, if both are legitimate scientific approaches to accounting for the natural world, it’s only fair for both to be given a chance to prove themselves in academia. (Note that people who know what makes for a scientific approach might well reject the premise that intelligent design is a legitimate scientific approach, but this doesn’t mean the uncommitted non-scientists in this middle group will make this move.)

Will this framing in terms of fairness persuade the group in the middle? Once we have data beyond gross box office, maybe we’ll be able to judge the persuasive success of Expelled! on this score. In the meantime, it’s worth noting that this middle group is also potentially reachable by scientists. As such, it’s important to consider what strategies scientists might use to persuade them (or to undercut the filmmakers’ attempts to persuade them).

For the record, I more or less identified these different chunks of the public in an earlier discussion about Expelled!:

Arguably, there is a segment of the public who already buys this message [that academia is filled with dogmatic meanies who won’t give Intelligent Design or its proponents a fair break]. They did so before Expelled! was even shot, and they would do so even if Expelled! never came to their local cineplex or church basement. To the extent that these folks have formed an opinion with which they’re comfortable (regardless, in some cases, of additional data that might argue against that opinion), they are not “in play”. Whether PZ kept the Minneapolis incident [in which he was barred from attending a screening of Expelled!, a movie in which he appears] on the down low or purchased full-page ads in every newspaper in the nation, these hearts and minds were already committed to the other side.

As well, there’s a segment of the public that defaults to suspicion of the Intelligent Design advocates — that would be wary of intellectual dishonesty and dirty tricks even if none were immediately evident in a particular case. These folks aren’t really “in play” either, and they’d likely only pay to see Expelled! for the fun of mocking it ruthlessly. Whether PZ piped up about the Minneapolis incident or not, these people would not be won over to the filmmakers’ way of seeing things.

What’s left are the “undecideds” — the folks who have no firm preexisting opinions about Intelligent Design or academia.

If the argumentative strategy of Expelled! is to win over some undecideds by demonstrating that Intelligent Design has been banished from academia unfairly — because the academics with the power to exclude it are afraid of an open debate — then publicizing the Minneapolis incident in which PZ Myers was barred from the screening because those promoting the film were afraid of an open debate undercuts that argumentative strategy pretty well. Known hypocrites have a hard time selling charges of hypocrisy. …

Of the hearts and minds still in play, Team Science has an advantage with the ones that care about intellectual honesty. This means that pointing out the intellectual dishonesty of Team Expelled! is a winning strategy.

As far as the hearts and minds that are still in play that feel no special attachment to intellectual honesty? I’m not sure they were ever ours to win.

Success or failure here comes down to energizing the chunk of the public that’s already on your side and convincing the group in the middle. Let’s not haggle over gross revenues when this is at base a battle for hearts and mind.

How can scientists better energize their base?

How can scientists win over the middle?

How can scientists effectively challenge the frames that might bring folks in the middle over to the other side?

These are questions worth examining. In light of the actual situation on the ground, what should we be doing — right now — and how can we tell if we’re succeeding?

Comments

  1. #1 Anna K.
    April 21, 2008

    “How can scientists win over the middle?

    How can scientists effectively challenge the frames that might bring folks in the middle over to the other side?”

    I’m assuming with this post that the “middle” is made up of moderately religious people . . . Just in various conversations with people (non-scientists) at my church about science and the teaching of evolution, I pick up some confusion about what makes science “science,” and concern that the way evolution is taught, undercuts religion.

    I’ve heard people wonder about what’s wrong with ID — why doesn’t it ‘count’ as science?

    And I’ve also heard people wonder about how to deal with questions from their kids about evolution and God, when the public schools are (rightly) silent on the matter in the biology classroom. (And this is where I think we need PHILOSOPHY classes in public schools . . . dream on, I know.)

    Speaking for myself, I have wondered why many of the popular science writers I’ve read on evolution go on to write about how evolution supports atheism. On the one hand, a scientist is certainly as welcome as anyone to engage in metaphysical speculation; on the other hand, because these statements do come from scientists speaking as expert science educators, I think it plays into the anti-science crowd’s propaganda, that evolution = atheism.

    This is why I think scientists like Ken Miller, Francis Collins and Francisco Ayala do a lot of good to educate religious people who do not have scientific backgrounds, and who might otherwise be swayed by Stein’s arguments.

  2. #2 DrugMonkey
    April 21, 2008

    I think you hit the nail on the head with the observation that the middle hinges on the “fairness” idea. (frame? meme? is there something wrong with “idea” or “concept”?)

    when the BSD Authority/Atheist types get it right they do a great job of pointing out that ID/AntiEvilution ideas in fact get a fair hearing and are found wanting for cause. When they get it wrong, they portray themselves as IvoryTower knowitalls Arrived to Enlighten the unwashed masses. This plays right into the “Expelled” meme.

    Much as we were reminded with the Obama/elitist flap, it is an easy goal to portray the opposite side as pointy headed elite that is dismissive of the common folk.

    How can scientists make the “fairness” concept work for them?

    That seems key to reaching the US “middle” anyway…

  3. #3 Mr_G
    April 21, 2008

    As I commented elsewhere, framing is not a science. That accounts for how badly it is employed by Nisbet and Mooney.

    If we could wake up to this fact, we could easily dismiss the framers as frauds, but for some reason, we accept it as science and are reduced to claiming that they they have done it wrongly. The problem is that is there is no standard for “having done it wrongly”. Tthere is no standard for having done it rightly. Framing is not science. It’s next generation fashionable nonsense.

    For some reason, the politics of which I’ll not explore, non-scientific theories, such as Chomsky’s Universal Grammar, Lakoff’s framing, and various postmodern accounts of knowledge have received blessings from the establishment press. It’s not far removed from the acceptance of postmodernism and science studies and ties in tightly to the credence claimed by Intelligent Designers. But the “new atheists” somehow reject this.

    I have been banned from various sites for questioning Chomsky. Am I Expelled? Yeah, I’d say so. But I’m a certified crank (c.f.Pharyngula) so don’t mind me.

  4. #4 Anne-Marie
    April 21, 2008

    The point you make about the fact that everyone buying a ticket to the movie does not have the same approach to the issue is very important to keep in mind when looking at those numbers. Case in point: today I overheard someone complaining that they were disappointed because saw Ben Stein on the movie poster and thought it was a comedy, they had no idea what it was about beforehand. I’d like to see it because I always like to evaluate things for myself and compare that to the opinions I hear from others, but I refuse to buy a box office ticket…

  5. #5 J-Dog
    April 21, 2008

    Before I get to responding to your question, let me say that your discussion of the movie and it’s purported audience was outstanding. As the old adage says, you can judge how smart someone is by much they agree with you, and we’re pretty darn close. You just express it much better than I could.

    Regarding your questions, please keep in mind that I’m only a layman with kids in school, and me only an undergrad in Anthro years ago.

    How can scientists better energize their base?
    By doing what they always have – teach a love of learning. A kid that loves science is not going to sit still for the Nein Steins of this world ranting on about expelling knuckleheads. The problem is that the recent Administration has been cutting science and school funding – and spending it on Iraq, so we need to get that back on track.

    How can scientists win over the middle?
    The middle will follow if students are exposed to how to do science, and how to appreciate science and what it can do for us.

    How can scientists effectively challenge the frames that might bring folks in the middle over to the other side?
    Honesty is always the best policy, and so a continuation of science and knowledge and the appreciation of both will expand the base. You can call me an optimist, but I just expect that most people have the tools to distinguish between the BS that IDCists put out and reality.

    These are questions worth examining. In light of the actual situation on the ground, what should we be doing — right now — and how can we tell if we’re succeeding?
    I think we are succeeding – and that’s why the IDCists and religionists are so up in arms recently. It is my understanding that according to recent polls and trends, church attendance is down, and more people admitting to atheism is up, so that is good for science, not so good for IDCists. The more IDCists and creationists scream the better it is. In “MY Framing World”, if the DI or their “fellow travelers” defecate a movie like Expelled once a year, it means we’re doing great! Frame it in porcelain, and flush it away.

  6. #6 Mr_G
    April 21, 2008

    Gosh, I could have sworn that I posted something about how framing is not science, but I guess not. Unless it was censored. But that couldn’t be.

  7. #7 Mr_G
    April 21, 2008

    Apologies, my comment must have been stuck in moderation.

  8. #8 Janet D. Stemwedel
    April 21, 2008

    No problem, Mr_G.

    I’m one of very few ScienceBloggers who mods all her comments (mostly so I won’t miss out on good discussion). The downside is that occasionally I’m called away from my computer and can’t approve comments right away.

    Thanks for your patience with my weird way of doing things.

  9. #9 Sam C
    April 21, 2008

    OK, the framers do seem to be standing inside the flaps of the science tent and pissing inwards, which is why the scientists are getting miffed. That’s not to say that there isn’t a communication problem, only that the framers don’t have the answers. They’ve shown that they’re failures as communicators in what should be a friendly environment.

    What’s key to the communication issue is some recognition that ultimately this has little do with science and its methods. There are two main reasons. Firstly, creationism is a political power play (Lenny Flank will tell you that), it’s not an argument about strata and radioactive decay. Secondly, we don’t make most judgements based on reason, we make use our emotional circuits (even for non-emotional things, like “do I want a cup of tea?”). Even in science, we guess emotionally then back it up with reason, logic, experiment, etc.

    Folk won’t accept arguments or judgements from people they don’t emotionally trust (at least a little bit). So Myers blew up at the Pope making a sensible statement about caring for the environment simply because it was the Pope (boo! hiss!) even though the message was pretty OK.

    Someone has blogged recently praising David Attenborough’s marvellous progs. That’s one seriously good route forward. Lots of stuff showing people doing lovely things with lovely animals creating trust while they say scientifically correct things. Help people marvel in the wonderful diversity of nature (so much better than the tired nihilism of the bible, yuk) without being afraid to bring in the evolutionary bits as necessary in terms of relatedness, adaptedness and descent.

    And more stuff showing scientists, technologists, engineers doing things that make life better and increase knowledge so they’re more trusted than the ranting loonies on the “give us your money” god-shit channels.

    One thing that misses though is that it is important not to humor creationists and denialists. Scientists or rationalists engaging with them need to have the courage to use their evil techniques back at them, perhaps along the lines of “that’s completely untrue, you don’t know what you’re talking about”, or Myers’s line about “your ignorance is not an argument”.

  10. #10 Abel Pharmboy
    April 21, 2008

    Yeah Mr_G, she moderates my comments too and I tried to get her to go to the HS prom with me.

    But then again, maybe that’s why she moderates my comments.

    Very nice post, Janet. I think we are too prematurely and generally evaluating what is “a success” and who are “the public.” As opposed to how one might have it, both are far more complex than often portrayed.

  11. #11 Chris C. Mooney
    April 21, 2008

    Janet,
    Thanks for this post. You are indeed asking the right questions in my opinion. As you know, some of us have thought out answers to many of them, but alas, I’ve grown dubious that ScienceBlogs is really a place where we can have that dialogue.

  12. #12 Janet D. Stemwedel
    April 21, 2008

    Given that Abel didn’t know me in high school, take his comment with a grain of salt.

    Chris, let’s try to have the dialogue here. This blog is not as high-traffic as some of those where attempts at dialogue have gone off the rails, and I’m happy to exercise a more active role in moderating comments to keep us focused on the task rather than on invective.

  13. #13 S. Rivlin
    April 21, 2008

    It could be that, overtime, Expelled! will on it own energize the scientific community enough to produce a documentary entitled “Intelligent Design: If W Believe In It, It’s No Brainer”.

  14. #14 omar ali
    April 21, 2008

    I think that, among other things, we need to publicize that fact that as a category, there is nothing about evolution which makes it necessary to subject it to some special level of criticism. Most detailed scientific theories are now too obtuse for the average layperson (or even the average scienctist from another field) to grasp IN DETAIL. In fact, all the sciences are now at a point that the details are too complicated for most non-specialists, but that does not prevent us from believing that “superconductivity is a quantum phenomenon on a classical scale” or any other startling and (in its details) extemely complicated physical phenomenon. Evolution is only controversial because some religious nuts find it hard to swallow. Otherwise, it is mainstream science and laymen should feel reasonably comfortable with taking it “on faith”, just as they take other scienctific facts “on faith”. Faith in this case being the common sense notion that the scientific community is a large, self-monitoring, intensely competitive and “reality oriented” community and if scientists all seem to agree on some broad theory, then the rest of us can pretty much go along until critiques from within the sciences cause a change…This is NOT an argument for isolating science from “the masses”. Its just pointing out that increased scientific literacy is GREAT, but why should it be especially needed in this field? Quantum mechanics is far more distant from the world of the ancient semitic religious texts than evolution is, why pick on evolution? Eventually, the point is NOT to discourage lay investigation or curiosity, but to focus some attention on WHY this has become controversial and not the existence of millions of other galaxies in a sky with no seven heavens and no possibility of the earth being created before the sun and so on…its great that so many people want to know the details, but there is no special reason why THESE details should be on everyone’s fingertips, just as there is no particular reason why the mathematical treatment of the wave function should be on every person’s fingertips..

  15. #15 Jams
    April 21, 2008

    I think the problem stems from a rejection of meritocracy. The authority of Universities, Governments, and Courts remain largely unrecognized by the “undecided”. They’re both dissatisfied with the results, and disenchanted by the often glaring inequities that determine the playing field.

    They need to be reminded that unlike many institutions, Universities have actually earned their reputations, and certainly evolution has earned its reputation.

    I think, to accomplish this, the argument needs to be relocated outside authoritative institutions and into a realm that is trusted. The sports arena.

    I would suggest a throwdown.

    Dawkins and friends (for example) will show up to an auditorium on a specific date and entertain ALL comers. If anyone can produce evidence that dispels the Theory of Evolution, or can provide a coherant alternative theory to the Theory of Evolution (including ID) they will win $1,000,000,000USD. Send out press releases.

    You just need moderators, a venue, $1,000,000,000 USD, and television stations hungry for controversy. The event could be called: “Win Richard Dawkins’ Money”.

  16. #16 Steve Bloom
    April 21, 2008

    Mr_G, not to get into a long debate on this point, but framing is (or if properly done can be) scientific. I think it’s hard to call it unscientific without broadly doing the same for psychology and sociology. Consider the example of market research (which is not really distinguishable from framing IMHO). It’s certainly possible to do it in an unscientific, seat-of-the-pants manner, but the accepted approach is otherwise.

  17. #17 Pete M.
    April 21, 2008

    Steve, I have to speak up about your analogy between framing on the one hand and psychology and sociology on the other. A rigorous, careful activity is not necessarily a scientific study. Carefully studying a novel, for example, can be rigorous and involve carefully reasoned theory, but is not a scientific pursuit.

    Further, there is a distinction to be made regarding the goals of framing and market research vs. the goals of scientific activity. Framing is not about advancing human knowledge, it’s about effectively convincing people to vote a certain way. Market research is no more a science either. Some forms of market research can resemble scientific activity. However, psychology and sociology not only have well developed scientific methodologies involving repeated experimental testing of hypotheses, but have as their goals developing our understanding of humans’ social relations and mental and cognitive processes, respectively. The point is to figure out what the causal mechanism at work actually are; the point of market research is just to find effective ways to get people to buy your product, just like framing. These are vastly different ends: one is an attempt to get at truth, the other attempts only to influence behavior (and in the case of framing attempts to do so without actually lying).

  18. #18 Mr_G
    April 21, 2008

    Mr_G, not to get into a long debate on this point, but framing is (or if properly done can be) scientific. I think it’s hard to call it unscientific without broadly doing the same for psychology and sociology.

    Oh, let’s get into a debate. I’ll call it unscientific and do the same for psychology and sociology. Why do you think I call out Chomsky?

  19. #19 jeebus
    April 22, 2008

    “but alas, I’ve grown dubious that ScienceBlogs is really a place where we can have that dialogue.”

    It’s funny how he can’t even explain his ideas to scientists, but thinks he knows better than anyone how to educate the general public about science.

  20. #20 PhysioProf
    April 22, 2008

    I’m one of very few ScienceBloggers who mods all her comments (mostly so I won’t miss out on good discussion).

    SG!

  21. #21 Abel Pharmboy
    April 22, 2008

    Last night while waiting for my take-out, I overhead a prof from a local U discussing her undergrad class on evolution. Always the eavesdropper and lacking in social graces, I butted in to ask her impression of the Expelled! kerfuffle. She told me that she sent her students to the movie as an assignment to bring the issues of ID and academic freedom back to the classroom. So, that’ll account for another 25 paying moviegoers.

  22. #22 Donalbain
    April 22, 2008

    OK.. a few points from the blog’s visiting genius.

    Firstly, people seem to be forgetting what I would think is a really rather basic point; there are a number of different criteria for success and the film will have succeeded in some areas and failed in some. For some of the investors, the money will have been a big matter. For some of them, if it even made one person think that Richard Dawkins is a Nazi then that will have been a success. And there is obviously a spectrum in between.

    Secondly, on the framing issue, I am still at a loss as to what the correct way to “frame” this film is. It is all very well to have a dialogue, but currently that is not what is happening. We have some people saying “Don’t do that!” and some other people doing that, and we have another group who are asking what we SHOULD be doing. The problem seems to me that nobody has been able to come up with a single, simple take home message that can be used to counter the simple take home message of Expelled that tells its victims that evolutionary biologists are all Nazis. As always, the defence in this debate start on the back foot, because we have to deal in facts. We can’t just shout “Are not!” and expect people to believe us, because then it becomes a case oftheir word against ours, and after all we are Nazis so why should they believe us; you would EXPECT a Nazi to lie, wouldn’t you? (cf: Obama is a Muslim, and that is why he says he isnt one.)

    So, I would suggest that people in this thread should, if they possibly can, try to come up with a simple message that we can use to counter this movie. Note that it is only the claim, the take home message, that needs to be simple, the evidence and the argument to support that message can be a little more complex.

    I know that I haven’t suggested a take home message myself, and that lays me open to the criticism that I gave to others further up in this message, but I will work on it. I promise. I isn’t a philsophising dude, so thinking makes my brain hurt.

    ps Note that it is only a message to counter THIS movie that needs to be sweet and simple. The overall thrust of science education (formal and informal) should continue to be the process mainly of inculcating a love of learning and a pure fascination with how the world works. When you can convince people that finding out the answers to unanswered questions is quite possibly the most fun thing ever, then a roadblock like “Goddidit” becomes something they won’t like, let alone believe.

  23. #23 Bill Habr
    April 22, 2008

    To paraphrase something or the other “We all use framing every day”.

    Whether it is friend to friend, parent to child, teacher to student or anyone to anyone we frame our conversations. It is easy for me to say intelligent design is not science or that global warming is happening but how does one persuade others? Simple, by arranging (that is, frame) your argument to persuade them. Those whose minds are closed will not respond to reason or science.

  24. #24 Screechy Monkey
    April 22, 2008

    Presumably, the filmmakers would also like to persuade some of the “relatively uncommitted people”. I’m guessing that these would be people with no strong views about the relative scientific merits of evolutionary theory and intelligent design, or people with views about fairness that may be significantly stronger than their attachment to either evolutionary theory or intelligent design. The big question (for which, as I’ve noted before, we are still waiting for an answer) is whether the messages delivered in Expelled! are persuasive to this second group.

    I would suggest that the generally negative reviews of Expelled are encouraging evidence that the movie’s message is not making a lot of headway with the uncommitted. (I’m not including reviews by publications like Scientific American, but the mainstream movie reviews, most of which I assume are written by people with no particular familiarity with the evolution issue.)

  25. #25 Penny
    April 22, 2008

    I’m going to try to contribute something to Janet’s last few questions. I think a lot of people have the sense that this needs to begin with the education of children. For the sake of argument, let’s assume we’re talking about children educated in secular schools. They’re hopefully given the facts of science, but they’re not given them in such a way that they relate to questions that humans need answers to. All that ‘why am I here and what should I do about it’ stuff… Obviously, if they did, the schools would not be so secular. They would be promoting a science-based worldview. And contrary to the beliefs of creationists they don’t really do that. They dish out raw data. I think that’s partly why science seems empty and meaningless to a lot of people. The fact that they don’t understand it is irrelevant. They don’t understand theology either.

    I think if science is going to win the ‘culture war’ it has to be in a position to provide people with a world view, and a morally inspired one at that. That’s difficult for science because it concentrates on facts, whereas a world view has to do with people’s attitudes and experiences and feelings. It’s hard to get further from science. But good popularizers of science do succeed. People like David Attenborough and Carl Sagan appeal to ideas of truth, courage, wonder and compassion. They make you feel that the world they’re describing is worth living in for its own sake. They inspire young people so that for example my daughter wants to be David Attenborough when she grows up, just as I did at her age. He doesn’t do this with scientific facts (she’s 6, she believes what people tell her). He does it with charismatic appeal and heroic adventure (!) She absorbs the facts because she admires the person. She also learns basic science at her parent’s knees. It’s not cold and meaningless to her because it’s what Mum and Dad believe and live by.

    Well, to cut a long story short, I think what we need is a lot more David Attenboroughs and Carl Sagans and an approach that aims for the family rather than just the schools.

  26. #26 Jerzy
    April 22, 2008

    Bha… simple! Make wonderful fantasy – style film about children travelling in time and meeting cavemen and indricotherium and dinosaurs…

    Evolution is really one of the nicest topic around – as David A. shown in several different series.

    Thanks for some commenters realising that so-called educated American elite is pretty hard-headed too, only about different topics. Disliking conservation message because Pope told it…

  27. #27 Jerzy
    April 22, 2008

    “It could be that, overtime, Expelled! will on it own energize the scientific community”

    Its time to everybody to realize that scientific community will NOT make effective science popularization in spare time. Postdocs are running rat race to get published papers. They will make poor educators or dont do it at all. Time that universities, if they feel they need it, got proper PR division.

    When universities changed into impact factor-oriented competitive research, they lost the likes of David Attenborough – people with broad overview, thinking about philosophical matters and having time to educate and inspire the public. Came the factory of narrow specialists obsessed with impact factors. Apparently, only now scientific community realizes that generalist scientists are needed.

  28. #28 Hank Roberts
    April 22, 2008

    This is good:
    http://www.salon.com/mwt/mind_reader/2008/02/29/certainty/

    “… modern biology is pointing in a different direction. It is telling us that despite how certainty feels, it is neither a conscious choice nor even a thought process. Certainty and similar states of “knowing what we know” arise out of primary brain mechanisms that, like love or anger, function independently of rationality or reason. Feeling correct or certain isn’t a deliberate conclusion or conscious choice. It is a mental sensation that happens to us. …

  29. #29 Matthew L.
    April 24, 2008

    This is somewhat off topic, but one of the lower-key controversies about Expelled has been some apparent copyright violations. I’m wondering if some of their apparent indifference to copyright law might stem from the idea that they could easily spin an infringement lawsuit against the film into a “establishment trying to shut us down” story—which is the point of the film in the first place.

    To a certain extent, the producers of Expelled don’t even have to get anyone to watch the film to accomplish some of their goals, they just need to get their message of “academic oppression” to people who might listen. Creating extra controversy in their favor might help with this.

    Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

  30. #30 Peter
    May 1, 2008

    ‘J-Dog’ (April 21st, 4:11 PM) said: ‘As the old adage says, you can judge how smart someone is by (how) much they agree with you, and we’re pretty darn close.’
    So, you are basically saying that a person is only intelligent to the extent that they agree with prevailing opinion and the current paradigm. Have I read this correctly? Taken it out of its proper context? If I have interpreted this correctly, are you actually serious about this claim?

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