The Matt and Chris Show!

I spent the day in Washington D.C. yesterday. My SciBlings Matthew Nisbet and Chris Mooney were speaking at the annual meeting of the AIBS (that’s the American Institute of Biological Sciences). The subject: How to communicate science effectively.

They make a number of persuasive points, and I certainly agree with their basic thesis. Scientists definitely need to be savvier in dealing with the media than they historically have been. But I’m still a little suspicious of some of their suggestions about evolution specifically. A bit too much “Lay off the religion!” for my taste.

It was nice having a chance to talk to them in person, however. If they’re coming anywhere near you, I recommend going to some effort to see the presentation.

And, as an added bouns, Tara Smith of Aetiology was there! Had a chance to chat with her for a few minutes. So that’s three science bloggers I’ve actually met in person! Just 60+ to go…


  1. #1 David D.G.
    May 15, 2007

    The subject: How to cummincate science effectively.

    Well, this is just right off the top of my head, but I’d say that correct spelling might be a good place to start.

    (Sorry, I just can’t help myself sometimes!)

    ~David D.G.

  2. #2 Jason Rosenhouse
    May 15, 2007

    Proofreading is for wusses.

  3. #3 SLC
    May 15, 2007

    Firefox has a spell check.

  4. #4 Anthony
    May 15, 2007

    Little red dotted lines in Firefox’s spellchecker are for wusses.

  5. #5 Blake Stacey
    May 15, 2007


    No, little red lines are for Communists.

    (Or is that Republicans? Sweet lady Isis, but the past few years have been rough on the chromopolitical spectrum!)

    Actually, I think the “F-word” is somewhat relevant to what might happen with the Discovery Institute’s next book, in which ID will not be mentioned and evolution will simply be misrepresented. My suspicion is that the fr*ming discussion did not quite sink in.

    MarkCC said about this,

    The next big battle over textbooks is going to come down to a debate over bad science versus good science.

    I’d like to quote my reply:

    Why would anyone choose bad science over good?

    Well, a classic reason is ideology (think Lysenko). And in modern America, ideologies — particularly the authoritarian kind — have strong religious components. Whatever the specific words in the book are, people will adopt it for religious reasons. Whether or not good science conflicts with religion in general — and we can argue that till doomsday — specific findings of science certainly do conflict with certain doctrinaire faith-based beliefs; otherwise, we wouldn’t be here arguing about the problem.

    The next round won’t just be “good science versus bad,” it’ll be “good science versus bad science propped up to support the agenda of a particular religion.” I don’t know if a damn-the-torpedoes attack on religious culture in general does more good than harm on this specific short-term issue; that’s ultimately an empirical, falsifiable statement which cannot be conclusively decided by philosophy alone. What I can say with some confidence is that we’re going to see bad science promoted for the same reasons that we’ve seen non-science advocated.

    I hate to bring up the F-word, but wasn’t the whole point of that convoluted affair that people outside science don’t judge science to be good or bad the same way that scientists do? We insiders care about the evidence, first and foremost, but others have their own fr*me: to them, the notions of “morally acceptable” and “factually correct” are mingled, if not completely blended. Suddenly, despite all our brave talk about fr*ming, it’s all about demarcating good science from bad?

    And, of course, while we’re busy making sure the Discovery Institute really is re-engineering itself into obsolescence, Answers in Genesis is still out there, arrogant light-years deeper into self-satisfied ignorance.

    I’ve noticed that intellectuals, whether professional or amateur, tend to focus on the words we see printed on the page. Does the book mention X? No? Well, then, it’s not about X, even though the author may spend a lot of time thinking about X, and he wants to sell the book to other people interested in X.

    This way of thinking can get you in a perplexing situation. For example, between alpha and omega the Bible goes through a whole lot of violence, misogyny, slavery, genocide and what-have-you. This has caused many people — both religious and not — to ask, “You want that to be your foundation of morality? You have to have a moral standard just to pick out the decent parts from the rest!” Other people, somehow, see the whole book as “a message of love,” and interpret every verse they find in that context. They’re not faithful to the book, but rather to the invisible force field emanating from it — a force field against which the phasers of reason are useless.

    No matter what the words in the book are, the invisible force field surrounding them is the same, and it’s that force field to which the creationists are faithful. Changing the text is just putting old vinegar in new bottles (the wine went sour about a hundred fifty years ago). You can get the Biblical fundamentalism out of the book, but you can’t get it out of the school board or the basketball coaches they’ve got teaching biology.

  6. #6 Chris Mooney
    May 15, 2007

    Thanks for coming to the talk (and sitting patiently through it all!!!). We may disagree on some aspects of communicating evolution/religion. But at least you’ll now agree that we do have a range of constructive suggestions for how to move forward in improving science communication, no?

  7. #7 Tommy Paquette
    May 16, 2007

    As far as laying off the religion… well I think it is the inevitable result that when the religious keep on attacking evolution and science in general, that scientists will fight back and go after the problem at the root source.

  8. #8 Jason Rosenhouse
    May 17, 2007


    Yes, you’re public presentation did fill in a lot of the details that were inevitably left out of your Science and WaPo pieces. On the other hand, I stand by most of my criticisms from my previous posts. Specifically, I’m not convinced that the public’s lack of support for evolution is really the result of poor framing (as opposed to an accurate assessment of the religious implications of evolution), and I don’t think having people like Dawkins or Harris move to the background would really change things for the better.

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