Before I start, let me say that I have no personal animus towards Chris Mooney: my limited interactions with him have been civil, and I agree with him on many things. But this beating up the victim has to stop. Sure, I agree with Mooney that many scientists need to learn how to communicate with the public better (although Randy Olsen really needs to stop setting up straw men to knock down). But many scientists do communicate with the public, in one form or another, to the extent they are able to do so.
If a reporter contacts me, I always try to make time to speak with, usually to the detriment of getting things done that pay my salary (more about that in a bit). Many scientists do this: the problem isn’t an unwillingness to communicate (or an inability to do so), but that nobody contacts us. Professional societies and advocacy groups could do much more to help scientists reach the public.
Which brings me to what I think a major, and mostly unmentioned source of the failure in Swifthack: professional environmental groups.
Where were they?
They, as have the pro-choice organizations in the healthcare debate (i.e., Stupak-Mills), have gone completely AWOL. I bring them up because most scientists are already too busy–and some of that busy includes public outreach. But as Abel Pharmboy points out, there are no incentives for outreach–for many of us, outreach is not our job, nor does it accomplish what needs to be done to pay the rent.
As someone who has worked at a non-profit whose mission included public outreach and education, it’s a full time job*. Rapid response to industry propaganda is not something you can do well (or at all) part-time, or as a hobby. Yet the organizations that chop down dozens of trees annually to send me solicitations asking me to help them protect the environment and stop global warming have been completely absent (they’re certainly not being quoted in news stories). Where are the counter-ads? Where are their professionally-trained (one hopes) spokesmen going on television and radio?
To blame some junior faculty member who is trying to survive in an academic research and teaching system for these failures is absurd. And many, if not most, of these overworked faculty would be willing to talk to the media, but they need help forming the contacts and good message points from professionals–and
they we aren’t getting that.
Believe it or not, Mooney and I share the same goals. But he needs to stop lecturing scientists, and start asking them what we need to do this the right way.
Stop blaming the victim.
*Having seen what works, and more important, what doesn’t work, if you are serious about how to build advocacy organizations, contact me (email in sidebar).
**Most non-profits are cash-strapped. In reality, their primary mission is to keep the doors open. Too many focus on this, and not communication (which usually is a money sink, not source).