Pharyngula

How do we win these battles?

I’m going to back up John Lynch on this one. The Flock of Dodos guy, Randy Olson, has a list of “TEN THINGS EVOLUTIONISTS CAN DO TO IMPROVE COMMUNICATION”, and I have to say I’m not excited about them. While they’re well-intentioned and would be good things to do, it’s too glib and unrealistic. I’ve got a couple of comments over there, but I’ll just repeat one here to summarize my complaint.

I think another twist on this is to point out that maybe one reason you found it so easy to list problems is that you’ve picked the obvious, including some problems that we’re already well aware of. It’s like having a general inspect the army and create lists of shortcomings—they’re too few in number, they don’t have enough ammo, the new recruits are poorly trained—and just declaring “fix those, and we’ll win.” Well, yeah. Finding weaknesses is easy. Declaring that the way to achieve victory is to be flawless in all matters is obvious.

What is more useful and far more difficult is to rattle off a list of strengths (I suspect science might have a few) and explain how those might be exploited in spite of deficiencies elsewhere to achieve that victory.

That’s what we’re looking for now. Telling scientists that they have to be witty and humorous and media-savvy and rich and less intellectual is nice (maybe we should also all have ponies, too, and hey, Very Large Breasts are always a plus), but it doesn’t help. What we need are accurate assessments of what we do have, and what we can capitalize on.

Maybe it’s my own high dork factor talking, but I’m not too receptive to people telling me I need movie star qualities to be able to support science, or that we have to pander to superficial sensibilities to communicate a message. Our strengths are depth, intelligence, evidence, history, the whole damn natural world, and just plain having the best and most powerful explanation for its existence. Don’t tell us to dumb it down and glitz it up—I think people should be smart enough to understand it, and there’s grandeur enough in it that dressing it up in rhinestones is just silly. We need to know how to communicate real science, not Hollywood cartoon science, to people.