Randy's underlying message in this chapter is the power of positivity. As scientists we're conditioned to look for what's wrong.2 Was an experiment designed correctly? Were appropriate methods used to collect and analyze the data? Are the data being interpreted correctly? That's what we mean by "critical thinking" and "critical evaluation of theory and ideas". The whole process of peer review is built around this kind of critical evaluation, asking knowledgeable people to poke holes in what we've produced, recognizing that as a result of this collaborative effort, the results will be more reliable.
But "normal" people don't look for what's wrong, or at least "normal" people who are likeable don't look for what's wrong. I think everyone would agree that Oprah is a lot more likeable than Glenn Beck. And when was the last time you heard Oprah screaming about her disagreement with someone else? When was the last time you heard criticize a book rather than promoting it?
Being positive is something I'm fairly good at. My students are always telling me that I'm a "glass half full" kind of guy. That's great. It means that I may be (moderately) likeable, if also a little boring. Of course, that leads to a bit of a quandary.
How is it that we should confront those who want to teach creationism in science classes or who deny that humans are contributing to global climate change? We have to say that they're wrong, don't we? And aren't we being negative when we confront them?
Well, yes. But maybe there's a way to confront them without being too negative. I'll be back with more thoughts about that in a future post.
1If there are any people reading this who know me and don't like me, you'll probably see there comments here. Of course, I get comments so rarely you shouldn't take the absence of comments as evidence that people who know me like me. Better to take it as evidence that no one cares. I've failed to engage any audience.
2Again, it's not just scientists who suffer from this disease. It's academics. The whole academic enterprise is built on critical thinking.