The Mad Biologist, like 80% of ScienceBlogs, is mad at Chris Mooney:

Here’s the problem: you keep coming to evolutionary biologists with a problem (the perception of evolutionary biology), and you don’t have a solution. Do you think there’s a single evolutionary biologist who is happy with public opinion regarding evolution and creationism? But you’re not giving us concrete solutions.

Between teaching and research, along with all of service obligations expected of us (including public outreach), we have too much to do. When we are then told that we need to somehow organize a pro-evolution movie production (which we have no idea how to do since we’re scientists, not movie producers), that’s not helpful.

Many of us also don’t have the time, or, frankly the contacts, to engage in the activities you’re suggesting. Just as you don’t have the training and the professional network to conduct science, most scientists have no experience organizing public policy meetings or political campaigns. As I’ve learned from personal experience, political networking, if not a full-time job, is a huge drain on time. I don’t know a single scientist who isn’t overcommitted, and if something doesn’t appear to have a significant payback, we simply can’t devote time to it. And we certainly don’t need meetings or white papers (while I was visiting DC, I mentioned this to a colleague who is a paleontologist–and who does a considerable amount of public outreach–and he was not impressed. He called meetings and white papers “a necessary evil, at best, when they lead to something.”)

Mooney can speak for himself, if he chooses, but this whole rant seems misguided to me, in a way that partakes of a common fallacy. I don’t think that Mooney and Randy Olson and others are saying that scientists need to become movie producers or political organizers, but rather that scientists need to recognize that there are problems in those areas, and do something to address them.

The things that need to be done are not things that can be done by every scientists. But there are people out there who have the specialized skills needed to do those things– hire them.

Very few scientists are going to have the skills needed to be good movie directors or producers. Asking scientists in general to become moviemakers would be foolish in the extreme. What scientists need to do is to support and encourage people who do have the skills.

Very few scientists have the skills and connections needed to be effective political organizers. There are people who do, though, and they work for money. In fact, they’re famous (or infamous) for working for pretty much anybody who will pay them. What scientists need to do is to recognize the need for their services, and make use of them.

I realize that scientific training inculcates this sense that you need to do everything yourself, (though I hadn’t thought it was as bad in the life sciences as in physics), but that’s just not true. You should do the things that you’re good at, and have other people do the stuff that you can’t do.

Look, I watch a lot of movies and television, but I don’t know the first thing about making movies, and I doubt I could learn to do it well. I’ve got a reasonable facility with prose, though. So, I maintain this blog, and am writing a book, and I’ll happily contribute money to other people to make movies, because that’s what I can do that will help.

The basic problem with the Mad Biologist’s post is the same thing you run into with a lot of anti-environmental arguments. You’ll hear people say that it’s totally unrealistic to expect everybody in the country to drive a hybrid car (for example, I can barely wedge myself behind the wheel of Kate’s Prius), and it wouldn’t fix the emissions problem even if we could. So, they claim, there’s just nothing that can be done about environmental issues, and we should all give up.

That line of argument is crap, though– it’s true that we can’t get everyone to drive a Prius, but just because you’re a big guy like me and can’t fit in a hybrid doesn’t mean that there’s nothing you can do, or that it’s ok to do nothing. You can’t do everything, but you can do something.

The key point is, as they say, that first you need to recognize that you have a problem, and need outside help. That’s what Mooney and others are trying to do, and that’s why they keep harping on about it. Too many scientists continue to pretend that there isn’t a problem with communicating science to the public. Too many others pretend that there is a problem, but it’s a problem that can be solved with just a few minor tweaks.

The image problem that science has isn’t a small problem, and it’s not going to be solved by a few individual scientists making minor changes to their personal behavior. It’s going to take a community-wide recognition of the problem, and a concerted effort to improve the state of science communication by encouraging and rewarding those who are good at it.

What about the Mad Biologist’s call for “concrete suggestions” from Mooney et al.? To be honest, I find it annoyingly reminiscent of the students in my intro class who complain that I didn’t give them any in-class example problems that were identical to the questions on the exam. But here are some moderately specific suggestions for small things scientists can do to start to improve the state of science communication:

  • If you have colleagues who do public outreach activities, reward them for it. Support their tenure cases, not in a tepid “even though he does this outreach stuff, he’s still a good scientist” way, but strongly: “She has done a fantastic job advancing the cause of science through communication with the general public.” If you’re at a place that does merit reviews, push to have public communication considered as a positive factor for merit raises.
  • Identify and encourage people with a talent for communicating to the general public. That grad student down the hall, the one with the slick animated PowerPoint slides who posts little videos to YouTube when he thinks nobody’s looking? Encourage him to channel that in a useful way– don’t say “You! Get back to work!” say “Hey, have you thought about making science videos?” If you have students who write well, encourage them to write general-audience stuff for school papers or local media.
  • Seek help where you need it. If you find yourself in a position where you need to participate in public politics, get help. There are people who do this for a living– most big universities have schools of communication or some such. If you need to go to the local school board and argue that it’s critically important to teach evolution, get some advice about how to craft your message to reach them most effectively. At the very least, find some brutally honest friends who aren’t scientists, and rehearse your presentation on them.
  • When all else fails, send money. Pick an organization that works to promote science, and give them cash. Everybody likes cash. Support the NCSE, give money to the outreach efforts of your professional society, contribute to the campaigns of pro-science candidates. Tell all your friends to do the same.

None of those steps will fix the problem overnight, but then no individual action is going to change everything all of a sudden. Change will come only through a huge collection of small steps, with everybody in the community moving in the same direction, and doing what they do best to help out.

Comments

  1. #1 Josh
    April 30, 2008

    I agree that there does have to be a sea change in how the community views this issue. The typical view seems to be (I held this for quite some time myself), “If people just weren’t so fucking stupid and stubborn, they would listen to us.” The proper view is probably more like, “If we weren’t so fucking boring and unintelligible, people would listen to us.”

  2. #2 kate
    April 30, 2008

    your first two suggestions are the most realistic, concrete suggestions that i’ve heard throughout this entire argument. THANK YOU.

    the level of change that we’re all debating over here is undoubtedly systemic, and something of that scope can only stem from community-wide receptivity. collectively, scientists need a change in attitude and approach to communication and outreach issues. as a fellow scientist, i agree that we are all overcommitted; however, we all have time and a bit of energy to lend support to those efforting to forge scientist/communicator roles. that’s achievable.

    all this to say:
    thanks for the refreshing post :)

  3. #3 ponderingfool
    April 30, 2008

    Too many scientists continue to pretend that there isn’t a problem with communicating science to the public. Too many others pretend that there is a problem, but it’s a problem that can be solved with just a few minor tweaks.
    **********************************************************
    Are those statements actually true? I know many scientists who know there is a communication problem and that it requires significant changes to overcome. Do they do anything about it? No. As the later part of your post alludes the rewards in the system just are not there to get enough scientists motivated to do something. It doesn’t get them tenure. It doesn’t help get the grant today (maybe the grant money in 10-20 years but if you don’t have the money today then it really doesn’t matter) nor the publications to keep those grants.

    Really what needs to be done is to put pressure on the top tier research universities to change and get their collective butts in gear. They are the ones who set the tone with regards to tenure. They have the resources. In theory they get non-profit status partially because they serve the public good (i.e. educate). Little efforts here and there are helpful but unless you direct some of those efforts to larger change not much will be accomplished.

    I would add to your list, sticking up for scientists who take part in activities not related to science & science outreach as well (i.e. volunteering, taking part in their children activities, etc.). It wouldn’t hurt for people to see scientists are people too.

  4. #4 mlf
    April 30, 2008

    I agree with the Mad Biologist about most of this. But regardless, I think your short list is a really nice one. In fact, I think it would behoove one of you SB’s to create a page dedicated to ways to enhance communication efforts, starting with the simplest, most common sense steps, to as ponderingfool submits, putting pressure on the guys upstairs. Another bullet for the bottom of that list may be to push for positions like the one Dawkins has, that is completely dedicated towards communication with the public.

  5. #5 natural cynic
    April 30, 2008

    One thing that needs to be emphasized is the encouragement of media savvy scientists. Carl Sagan was the object of some sniping in the scientific community because of his popular works which reduced his scientific output. He was in a position to do this because of his academic position and reputation. The same is true for Dawkins. These people need to be encouraged to the greatest extent and not have their works questioned as not helping to advance the scientific frontier. They do far more good in popularizing science, and thus, increasing the willingness to fund it. Another part of this semi-negative attitude towards popularizers may be jealousy about fame and the monetary rewards that result.

  6. #6 Chad Orzel
    April 30, 2008

    ponderingfool: I know many scientists who know there is a communication problem and that it requires significant changes to overcome. Do they do anything about it? No. As the later part of your post alludes the rewards in the system just are not there to get enough scientists motivated to do something. It doesn’t get them tenure. It doesn’t help get the grant today (maybe the grant money in 10-20 years but if you don’t have the money today then it really doesn’t matter) nor the publications to keep those grants.

    I think it depends on where you look as to which problem you think dominates. I see a lot of people on the Internet who seem to think that either the only problem with science communication is that the general public are too stupid to listen, or that the problem is that too many people like Chris Mooney and Matt Nisbet are trying to give advice, and that scientists can fix everything themselves if they just do what they’re already doing, only louder.

    But yes, there are also a lot of people who recognize that more needs to be done, but aren’t willing to do anything about it.

    Really what needs to be done is to put pressure on the top tier research universities to change and get their collective butts in gear. They are the ones who set the tone with regards to tenure. They have the resources. In theory they get non-profit status partially because they serve the public good (i.e. educate). Little efforts here and there are helpful but unless you direct some of those efforts to larger change not much will be accomplished.

    It’s not just the top-tier places, though– it’s everywhere. And while the top-tier places may “set the tone,” they’re also the hardest to change, because they are the top-tier places. They can deny junior faculty tenure because they don’t like the color of their shirts, and they’ll still have two hundred applications for every open job. Waiting for them togive in to pressure will mean waiting a long time.

    Lots of the people reading this are academic scientists, and in a very real sense, we are the scientific community, at least at our own institutions. There’s not much we can do to change the culture at Harvard (save for those few readers who are at Harvard (Hi, Dave)), but we can work to change the culture where we are.

    natural cynic: One thing that needs to be emphasized is the encouragement of media savvy scientists. Carl Sagan was the object of some sniping in the scientific community because of his popular works which reduced his scientific output. He was in a position to do this because of his academic position and reputation. The same is true for Dawkins.

    That’s another symptom of the same problem. Because public outreach isn’t rewarded with tenure or promotion, it’s seen as “not serious,” or, worse, “not science,” and people who do it are looked down upon.

    These people need to be encouraged to the greatest extent and not have their works questioned as not helping to advance the scientific frontier. They do far more good in popularizing science, and thus, increasing the willingness to fund it. Another part of this semi-negative attitude towards popularizers may be jealousy about fame and the monetary rewards that result.

    The money, at least, is almost certainly not as impressive as people think it is… Daniel “Lemony Snicket” Handler had a great essay a while ago about the gulf between the expectations and reality of being a best-selling author.

  7. #7 Laelaps
    April 30, 2008

    There definitely need to be improvements on both sides of the science communication divide; scientists need to become more involved (even if it’s primarily to collaborate) and those already in the media need to stop churning out low-quality pieces about how Tyrannosaurus evolved into chickens. Right now there’s a lot of arguing back and forth about who’s to blame, but like you suggest Chad, there is definitely a need for more collaboration.

    Putting things in a historical perspective, though, this debate is nothing new. (Read Lightman’s Victorian Popularizers of Science and O’Connor’s The Earth on Show for some decent reviews.) People have been arguing about “who speaks for science” for over 150 years, and there has always been some amount of animosity towards people who are popularizers. Indeed, popularization is often considered to be synonymous with “vulgarization,” and I don’t see that problem going away. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t push to change this, but professional scientists have long assumed that either 1) any attempt of popularization is going to get it wrong, 2) any person who tries to popularize science is “debasing themselves for the patronage of the vulgar”, or 3) the public is just too dumb to “get it.” I don’t think any of these propositions are true, but they still seem to be hanging around.

  8. #8 Scott Coulter
    April 30, 2008

    Chad,
    Just catching up on the last couple weeks’ worth of your posts, so I didn’t comment on the first “science movie festival” post because it was already a bit old; however since the topic seems to be an ongoing one, I’ll put in my two cents here.

    Which is: don’t you folks ever watch PBS? When’s the last time you watched any episode of Nature or Nova or any other nature/science related program and it wasn’t pro-science and pro-evolution? I’ve been finding lately that all those shows pound the table for evolution at every possible excuse to do so, even when it’s only barely relevant in the context. They don’t ever seem to describe any aspect of a creature’s interaction with its environment without carefully pointing out that it “evolved this ability over millions of years.” It’s a dang broken record, if you ask me.

    I’m thoroughly mystified that you think there’s a great need for pro-science/pro-evolution film making.

    –sdc

  9. #9 ponderingfool
    April 30, 2008

    Lots of the people reading this are academic scientists, and in a very real sense, we are the scientific community, at least at our own institutions. There’s not much we can do to change the culture at Harvard (save for those few readers who are at Harvard (Hi, Dave)), but we can work to change the culture where we are.
    ********************************************************
    Not disagreeing it is challenging but it has to be done. Pressure has to be applied from the outside. Too many wonderfully talented science communicators leave these top tier schools so disgruntled they turn their backs on science. It is a waste of much needed talent. It is a brain drain. There are things academic scientists at undergraduate oriented institutions can do to help change this by encouraging students applying to graduate school to look more at top tier schools that do a better job in areas you mention. Reward those top tier schools by encouraging talented students to attend those institutions. Once in graduate schools, advise your former students to find good labs that allow the options you discuss while also being stellar scientists. A good fit is more than just a lab that does exciting science. Too many starting graduate students do not get that message and end up joining labs that are not good fits, leading to them being disgruntled with science.

    The culture the top schools permeates itself through academia by the nature of the fact they train a good number of the faculty at other schools. It becomes a selection bias.

    Scientists should act locally. It is usually what time permits them to do. I think though people like Mooney should direct more of their efforts at these institutions getting them to change and use their resources.

  10. #10 Anna K.
    April 30, 2008

    sdc, I agree with you about the ubiquity of the PBS message, but I think the problem is that the message that needs to get out is more than ‘See, here’s evolution at work.’

    Unfortunately evolution has been hijacked by religious and anti-religious activists, which means that pro-science and pro-evolution messages also need to address the political and metaphysical baggage which stands in the way of people being receptive to the science. And that, PBS does not do; except for the occasional Bill Moyers special.

  11. #11 Eric Lund
    April 30, 2008

    @natural cynic:

    NSF and NASA do allow proposals to include an “education and public outreach” (EPO) component, and NASA satellite proposals are required to include one. So the mechanism is in place to promote the kind of EPO activities that Sagan was so good at. However, I’m not aware of any follow-up research to determine whether these efforts are effective. Another problem, of course, is that where EPO is optional, every dollar in your EPO budget is a dollar that isn’t in your science budget (because often your proposal needs to meet a target cost).

  12. #12 William
    April 30, 2008

    sdc,

    Last time I checked there were lots of dramas and cop shows on television. Should film festivals stop accepting dramas and crime thrillers?

    The predictability of current science television is actually a good argument for a science movie fest. Science popularization needs some new ideas and new voices.

  13. #13 Penny
    April 30, 2008

    Scientists probably can’t make movies on the whole, but movie / tv producers could hire scientists to advise them on content. The problem is that would have to come from the movie producers themselves and I don’t think they’re very motivated.

  14. #14 Kate Nepveu
    April 30, 2008

    Penny:

    Spider-man 2 listed a scientific consultant in its credits.

    Spider-man 2.

    So yeah, motivation is a problem–even if they hire them, that’s no guarantee they’ll listen.

  15. #15 Jim Thomerson
    April 30, 2008

    I watched part of a program on TV about the science in Spiderman 2. Got the impression the physics was pretty solid.

  16. #16 Kate Nepveu
    April 30, 2008

    As far as I am aware, water does not stop nuclear reactions.

  17. #17 CCPhysicist
    May 1, 2008

    In physics, we address Aristotelian thinking by attacking it directly … showing how a Newtonian theory can explain nature better than Aristotle can. There are many places where we take an historical approach, such as working out the Bohr model and showing how experiment proved that Bohr was wrong about orbits, or how Newton was wrong about Galilean relativity because experiment contradicts him.

    Why don’t biologists make a serious effort to include the history of biology? They could show how observations contradicted the earliest creationist theories to explain evolution (including the one that resembles ID), right down to Darwin. Darwin was not a Darwinist until after he had found so many contradictions to the last creation theory of evolution that he had to find a better starting point.

    OK, I know why they don’t do it in K-12, but they could teach it in college so at least biologists would know why each creation-based theory was rejected over a century ago, back when creation scientists were still scientists.

  18. #18 lylebot
    May 1, 2008

    But there are people out there who have the specialized skills needed to do those things– hire them.

    With what money? Those people aren’t cheap (like grad students and postdocs).

  19. #19 Paul Schofield
    May 1, 2008

    CCPhysicist;

    While I’m not sure about biology, that approach definitely works well in the popular sphere.

    One of the better pop-physics books I have read that took such an approach was Big Bang by Simon Singh. While the top review on that Amazon page slams it for not going in depth into the current state of play in cosmology, I think that is one of its strengths.

    While books by Greene or Rees can discuss current dilemmas or issues in the early history of the universe, if you want to know how we came to that position, Singh is the best. He goes through a solid history of science and thinking on the big bang, and gives each alternative theory a fair review – in the light of the understanding of the time.

    For example, when it comes to the Steady State vs Big Bang debate, he reviews each of the points of both the theories and compares them to the experiments of the day, finding both wanting, but BB moreso than SS. He then writes about several major discoveries (particularly the discovery of the CMB) and does the same analysis, finding BB coming out on top (albeit with several unresolved points).

    Prior to this he does address the matters of evolution, deep (geological) time and the theological issues with both, but this obviously isn’t the main focus of the book. Even so, it is better than anything else I have found.

    The closest I have found to a similar analysis of evolution would be in Dawkins (probably Blind Watchmaker), where he addresses the issue of the argument from design. However, I haven’t yet found a book that addresses individual models of creation in a similar way.

    Whether such an analysis would be possible while still being accessible to those who follow such a religion, I don’t know. I know a lot of otherwise perfectly rational and open to debate religious people refuse to address arguments proposing naturalistic origins to religion, but I don’t see how you could argue about the origins and rational of models of creation without doing so. That would close an entire target market to your book before even starting to address their arguments.

  20. #20 Harry Abernathy
    May 1, 2008

    Great post, Chad. Does your department look favorably upon your blog as a forum for getting information to a more general public? I remember Janet saying she included her blog in her tenure dossier; she finds out soon (I think) whether she will be getting tenure.

    I don’t accept the Mad Biologist’s argument of not having enough time. It’s not a question of time; it’s a question of priority. It’s similar to personal health. People say they don’t have the time to eat right and work out, but after a heart attack, all of a sudden, they find the time. If communicating research to the public was a real priority (and not just given lip service), then more scientists would take time to do it. Filling out paperwork is not “science”, but it comes with the job, so we still do it.

    I just wonder what will be the professional equivalent of a heart attack that will spur the scientific community to get its act together.

  21. #21 Coriolis
    May 1, 2008

    I am only a graduate student in physics but I have to say I rather disagree with alot of this post. Most graduate students I know are into science because they like physics, and they like research – not because they want to make movies or do other PR activities. As Chad himself points out, scientists are not actually good at everything (even if physicists would disagree ;)). If there is a need to communicate science to the public and to make science more important in the minds of those running this country, then there should be positions for people to do that, either in academia or some government agencies. I don’t really see the need to promote this behavior in people who are dedicated scientists however – our job is to be researchers and to some degree teachers, not PR experts. In terms of PR I think most physicists are more akin to Dirac, than Feynman.

    And I find it rather interesting that in the 20th century, probably nothing did more for the promotion of the importance of science then the Manhattan project and Sputnik (and the consequent race to the moon), all of which sadly happened before I was born. And yes, for the record I do understand that in both those events I listed, the main difficulties were probably more engineering, rather than pure science related. Nevertheless, I think it’s hard to deny that achievements of that magnitude were rather more impressive to the vast majority of people than all the books populizing science put together.

    I think that rather than professors advertising science (which is mostly what is promoted here), maybe the real way for scientists to reinvigorate interest in science is to do something as amazing as that was at the time. And if there is a need for advertising (which there probably is), then there should be positions for people to do that too, whether they be communications specialists or former scientists who would rather do that. But I don’t see the value in every scientist turning into a part time PR-person. I don’t think it’s what we’re good at.

  22. #22 Chad Orzel
    May 1, 2008

    lylebot, on hiring specialists: With what money? Those people aren’t cheap (like grad students and postdocs).

    Individual scientists don’t have the money, but the scientific community as a whole does, or could. I pay the American Physical Society something in excess of a hundred bucks a year in dues– some of that money goes toward lobbying efforts, some toward public outreach, and so on.

    If we want to effect major change in boosting the public’s understanding of science, those are the sorts of organizations that will do the bulk of the work.

    Harry: I just wonder what will be the professional equivalent of a heart attack that will spur the scientific community to get its act together.

    Every time there’s a massive budget crunch, I keep thinking this might be it. I keep being wrong.

    Well, to a point. I do think that the death of the SSC served as a partial wake-up call for high-energy physics. The outreach efforts made by the high-energy community (the LHC media blitz, the LHC blogs, the Quantum Diaries project, etc.) put the rest of physics to shame, and I think that’s partly because having the rug yanked out from under them back in the 90′s got some of that community to wake up and recognize the importance of public communication.

    That has yet to penetrate to the rest of physics, though.

  23. #23 Chad Orzel
    May 1, 2008

    Coriolis (who snuck in while I was typing): I am only a graduate student in physics but I have to say I rather disagree with alot of this post. Most graduate students I know are into science because they like physics, and they like research – not because they want to make movies or do other PR activities. As Chad himself points out, scientists are not actually good at everything (even if physicists would disagree ;)). If there is a need to communicate science to the public and to make science more important in the minds of those running this country, then there should be positions for people to do that, either in academia or some government agencies. I don’t really see the need to promote this behavior in people who are dedicated scientists however – our job is to be researchers and to some degree teachers, not PR experts. In terms of PR I think most physicists are more akin to Dirac, than Feynman.

    See, you’ve missed my point completely.
    I’m not saying that “dedicated scientists” need to devote themselves to becoming great communicators. Quite the opposite– communication should be delegated to those with a talent for it.

    What I’m saying is that “dedicated scientists” need to recognize that there is a need for public communication, and encourage or employ people who are good at it. The problem is that either they don’t recognize the need, or they aren’t willing to do what’s necessary.

    I would be perfectly happy with the creation of separate positions to employ people who are skilled science communicators to do just that. The problem is, in order to do that, we need to change the culture of science to encourage people to take those positions, because right now, all the incentives cut against communicating with the public.

    You can see this in the phrasing of Coriolis’s comment, which sets up an opposition between people who communicate with the public and “dedicated scientists.” In the current culture of academic science, anyone who tries to communicate with the public is seen as insufficiently “dedicated” to science. We reward tight-focus lab work, pitched to a narrow technical audience. People who want to teach undergraduates are looked at as if there’s something wrong with them, and people who want to reach a general audience are seen as positively loopy.

    That attitude needs to change, before you can even imagine having serious science communication from specially created positions.

  24. #24 caynazzo
    May 1, 2008

    The backlash we’re witnessing to Mooney can in part be attributed to the tone he uses in dealing with those resistant to his ideas. And through this, he has, as much as any other blogger, promoted the “opposition between people who communicate with the public” and so-called ‘dedicated scientists’.

    I cannot speak for academic scientists as I am a government staff scientist, but at the NIH there is an earnest attempt at public education, including many free regular events such as the Demystifying Medicine Lecture series, the National Library of Medicine, History of Medicine Division Seminar, and the Environmental Health Newsletter, to name a few. Unfortunately, the recent byzantine (in)security measures here do not promote a welcoming environment for the general public.

    One thing I haven’t heard a lot of is acknowledging the possibility that some of the problems concerning general science education in academics stem from the age-old and fiercely guarded partitioning of various departments–soft science, hard science, humanities and the arts.

  25. #25 Chad Orzel
    May 1, 2008

    caynazzo: The backlash we’re witnessing to Mooney can in part be attributed to the tone he uses in dealing with those resistant to his ideas.

    Who are, of course, unfailingly polite and above reproach in every way…

    One thing I haven’t heard a lot of is acknowledging the possibility that some of the problems concerning general science education in academics stem from the age-old and fiercely guarded partitioning of various departments–soft science, hard science, humanities and the arts.

    Oh, that’s a part of it.
    One of the major problems we have is that it is considered acceptable for “educated” people with advanced degrees in the humanities to know essentially nothing about math or science.

  26. #26 Coriolis
    May 1, 2008

    No I understood that point you’re making quite fine. It’s just that at least in my experience even at the junior/senior undergrad level, the vast majority of people there are interested primarily in physics, not communication with the general public. And I’m objecting to what you seem to be saying that we should promote this as part of a physics department/eduction, both because I don’t think it would work and because I don’t think it should be arranged that way.

    I would think people skilled in communicating science would rather be in history of science maybe or something related, although here I’m really guessing.

    Now whether such people should be given positions in a physics department or a communications department? I don’t know, I’d think some type of joint arrangement would be best although even as an grad student I can see how that might be hard to do, practically.

    Basically what I’m trying to say is, if we have a physics professor than that should be judged by his research abilities in physics, and physics only. If that person also (or instead) wants to deal with popularizing science, then he/she should have the opportunity to have some joint professorship in science/communication, or special positions within a physics department relating to popularizing science (if I’m not mistaken isn’t Dawkins in such a position at Oxford?). But I do think they need to be kept separate, i.e. getting a professorship as a physics professor should be based solely on research&teaching.

  27. #27 caynazzo
    May 1, 2008

    “Who are, of course, unfailingly polite and above reproach in every way…”

    It’s always tempting to nominate a few hecklers as your opposition’s spokesmen as Mooney has done. However, you seem to be advocating first that scientists recognize to a much greater extend the communication problem, and second that we need to support others in and outside our fields who do communicate science effectively.

    Mooney can communicate science effectively, evidence by his two successful books, therefore scientists should support him. But that doesn’t mean his methodologies can’t be called into question as well as the extent to which they are applicable.(what works for global warming may not work for evolution). I essentially see you and Mooney addressing the same problem very differently.

    And good for you for moving the discussion forward.

  28. #28 T
    May 10, 2008

    Typically, the guy upstairs and “science” the establishment will be the last to get it. If you have a good idea, just run with it with or without support.

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