Today I asked Randy Olson, the documentarian behind the wonderful Flock of Dodos, what he thought of the recent article by Matt Nisbet and myself in Science. I did this because along with my conversations with Matt, watching Olson’s Flock of Dodos was one of the catalytic events that got me obsessed with the science communication problem. I’m now posting in full Randy’s reaction to our piece:
Nisbet and Mooney are taking on the odious job of being the messengers of the new era for the world of science with their excellent essay in Science this week. I’m afraid they will be greeted with plenty of resistance, but the times are achanging.
This past December I endured a day of clunky talks by scientists at AGU in a special symposium mislabeled as, “Communicating Science Broadly.” Not one, but several of the scientists spoke openly and proudly of “the inertia” of science communication — saying it is a correct and necessary part of the science world. They said that the
slowness of science communication is simply a handicap that must be endured — a price that must be paid for accuracy.
Well … today there are a lot of people with anti-science agendas who are enjoying taking advantage of the ease with which the lumbering giant of the science establishment can be out-communicated.
And its not just the science world. Newsweek had a major article in February about how the U.S. military is experiencing the same problem in Iraq — losing out in the “info-wars” because their style of communication is so slow, out-dated and … suffering from inertia.
So what’s the science world going to do about it? Get mad at people like Nisbet and Mooney who shed light on this dilemma? Or maybe come to the realization that there is a price to be paid for complete and absolute precision (or at least the appearance of it).
I know this is heresy — the authors have the audacity to chide some readers for, “sticking safely to the facts,” but its also the truth of today’s world. Cold and ugly.
And what are you going to tell me — that scientists have an obligation to be 100% truthful? These guys aren’t the first ones to agonize over this dilemma. Go read Medawar’s papers from the sixties (“Is the Scientific Paper a Fraud?”). He was troubled by it, but it’s the sad truth — scientists are forced to live in a world of humans, not robots.
Meanwhile, another welcoming reaction comes from Dietram Scheufele over at Nanopublic:
People’s views on emerging technologies are heavily influences by the interpretive schema they use when trying to make sense of these issues. As a result, an ideal public debate should offer a wide variety of frames, i.e., of ways to integrate complex scientific issues into what we already know. This is what framing is all about: offering different analogies, comparisons, and interpretations. And ultimately citizens will make up their own mind.
Framing is not about pushing simplistic and potentially one-sided frames, but it is about making sure that people are exposed to all sides of the debate and to all possible ways of making sense of these issues.