The world needs science - and scientists.The article contains a link to the PowerPoint slides accompanying the presentation. The embedded version below lacks the animation of the PowerPoint, and the fonts are a little screwed up, but if you click on the link with my name below the embedded presentation, you'll be taken to SlideShare where you can download the PowerPoint. Then you'll have the animations, and if you have Gill Sans installed on your computer, the fonts will look right too. Enjoy!
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Earlier this year Science published three articles about the International Year of Astronomy. Today The Economist chimed in with its own article about Galileo and his contributions. The article is short and it's well worth reading the whole thing, but here's the punchline:
Four centuries on, it is difficult to think of Galileo's intellectual heirs, meeting this week in Rio de Janeiro under the auspices of the International Astronomical Union (see article), as firebrand revolutionaries. Yet their discoveries--from planets around other stars that may support alien life, to dark matter and energy of unknown nature that are the dominant stuff of reality--are no less world-changing than his. Moderns may be more comfortable than medievals with the idea that man's notion of his place within the universe can suddenly change. That should not blind them to the wonder of it.
So what do I have to add? Three things.
First, Stemwedel wonders who the "we" is in passages like this one from p. 18 of the book:
[W]e need a nation in which science has far more prominence in politics and the media, far more relevance to the life of every American, far more intersections with other walks of life, and ultimately, far more influence where it truly matters -- namely, in setting the agenda for the future as far out as we can possibly glimpse it.She concludes that "it's hard not to think that the main beneficiaries of the scientific America Mooney and Kirshenbaum desire would be scientists." I didn't get that at all. It seems to me that the "we" Mooney and Kirshenbaum refer to is the same "we" that a politician refers to when (s)he says "we must reform healthcare" or "we must provide better schools" or "we must reduce the threat of global climate change." The "we" they're referring to, in other words, is all of us -- or at least American society. Their fundamental concern is that a nation in which science is marginalized is bad for everyone, especially because so many of the challenges we face require scientific and technological expertise for their solution. That's a concern that I share, which leads to the second thing I have to add.
My disappointment with the book is that I share Stemwedel's skepticism that the solutions Mooney and Kirshenbaum propose can be implemented. As Stemwedel puts it:
Throwing these additional communication, outreach, and lobbying tasks on every scientist's shoulders seems a little nuts (unless we can give them each eight more hours per day to accomplish these additional tasks). And if you really wanted it to happen, this would require changing the official standards against which the job performance of scientists is judged (e.g., in their tenure and promotion cases). Making such changes -- not only in official policies but in the work cultures that implement them -- would require significant effort, coordination of a lot of decision makers, and probably resources (like funding and release time).Those are big issues, and it's difficult to see how we overcome them. That's not to say that we shouldn't seek ways, only that Unscientific America doesn't provide them. I was hoping that it would.
And the third thing I have to add? Just an observation that reinforces Stemwedel's point that maybe scientists (and those who care about science) aren't all on the same page. Consider this short list of people who like Unscientific America: Michael Mann, Joe Romm, Peter Kareiva. Now consider two people who didn't like it: P. Z. Myers and Jerry Coyne. See a pattern? No. Well let me help you.
On August 11, 1999-ten years ago tomorrow-the State Board of Education in Kansas voted to take evolution out of the state's science curriculum.
This came as quite a shock to a lot of biologists I spoke to at the time. A lot of them couldn't understand how it have happened. Some decided to get together to plan what to do in response. With lightning-fast reflexes, a meeting was arranged over a year later. Representatives from major scientific societies gathered to make a plan. They invited a number of other people to join them. I was one. And, frankly, I felt like I was observing a meeting of representatives of tribes from some New Guinea highland forest, who were following rules and speaking a language that I could not begin to understand. At the end of the meeting, these dozens of scientists made a momentous decision. They would...wait for it...go back to their societies and suggest that they post on their web site a statement that evolution is good science.
I sat there, gob-smacked, wondering exactly how many people actually visit, say, the American Phytopathological Society. And yet everyone at the meeting seemed so happy, so excited that they had really done something-that they had let the public know just where they stand.
The good news is that Carl thinks we're doing better now than we were 10 years ago. The bad news is that we still have a long way to go.
[T]he ordering and naming of life is no esoteric science. The past few decades have seen a stream of studies that show that sorting and naming the natural world is a universal, deep-seated and fundamental human activity, one we cannot afford to lose because it is essential to understanding the living world, and our place in it.The piece is adapted from Yoon's new book Naming Nature: The Clash between Instinct and Science. I haven't read the book, but I just ordered it for my Kindle. It looks as if it will be both a wonderful survey of the history of taxonomy and a wonderful example of how a skilled writer communicates science to a broad audience.
[T]o order and name life is to have a sense of the world around, and, as a result, what one's place is in it.
No wonder so few of us can really see what is out there. Even when scads of insistent wildlife appear with a flourish right in front of us, and there is such life always -- hawks migrating over the parking lot, great colorful moths banging up against the window at night -- we barely seem to notice. We are so disconnected from the living world that we can live in the midst of a mass extinction, of the rapid invasion everywhere of new and noxious species, entirely unaware that anything is happening. Happily, changing all this turns out to be easy. Just find an organism, any organism, small, large, gaudy, subtle -- anywhere, and they are everywhere -- and get a sense of it, its shape, color, size, feel, smell, sound. ... [L]uxuriate in its beetle-ness, its daffodility. Then find a name for it. Learn science's name, one of countless folk names, or make up your own. To do so is to change everything, including yourself. Because once you start noticing organisms, once you have a name for particular beasts, birds and flowers, you can't help seeing life and the order in it, just where it has always been, all around you.
I mentioned in passing a week or so ago that I was reading Unscientific America. I finished reading it a few days before my presidential address.1 Some of the ideas -- notably the idea that some of the scientific literacy problem is the fault of scientists -- were already part of my talk. I hope to post my impressions of the book some time later next week, so if you're looking for a review, you'll have to come back later.
In catching up on what's happened in the blogosphere lately, I noticed that there's another book I'll have to read. No, it's not Randy Olson's Don't Be Such A Scientist. I already knew about that one and ordered it. Cornelia Dean, an excellent science reporter for the New York Times, has a book coming out in October called Am I Making Myself Clear? I've ordered myself a copy of Cornelia Dean's book, and I look forward to reading it when it arrives. According to Chris Mooney, there's at least one more book coming after that.
As if that weren't enough, Matt Nisbet recommends two more edited volumes on science communication. The volumes Nisbet recommends appear to be more in the realm of scholarly analyses of communication than in the realm of "self-help" books like Olson's and Dean's.2 Still that's two more books I should probably read.
Now if some of us scientists can just figure out how to apply the advice we're getting, maybe we'll make some progress. In the meantime, I can't wait for my copies of Olson and Dean to arrive.
- You have to first listen, observe and scope out your audience and know how they look at the world.
- Then, using those data, you have to frame your talk in terms to which the audience relates.
- Then you have to have the courage to select only the few most salient numbers and facts or results, and discuss those facts in a way that makes the point you seek to make. Yes, you need real numbers and metrics -- but they have to be chosen and talked about in a way that suits the audience, not the way scientific colleagues are comfortable talking about.
In the meantime, you can look at the PowerPoint on SlideShare, if you're so inclined.You can download the presentation as a PowerPoint file from there, but the fonts may look a little funky unless you have Gill Sans installed.1
A new project sponsored by The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) -- a UK-based organization for research and training in social and economic issues -- aims to change that. Comprised of contributions from writers, scientists, and others around the world, The Human Genre Project seeks to spread the word about human genomics through short stories, reflections and poems.I rather like "the telomeric tale of the mouse's tail (after carroll)" by shardcore.
In Darwin Year 2009 many historians have helped to bring our subject to the general public. Yet we [Peter Bowler, Janet Browne, Sandra Herbert] are writing to the Newsletter with a cautionary tale. We have recently been featured in a documentary film, "The Voyage that Shook the World," produced by Fathom Media of Australia and directed by Stephen Murray of Synergy Films, New Zealand. We were led to believe that the movie was being made to be shown as an educational film on Australian broadcast television and possibly elsewhere. Fathom Media was revealed to be a subsidiary of Creation Ministries International when publicity for the movie began to appear on the internet. We were alerted to the true nature of the movie by James Williams of the University of Sussex shortly before its release in about April of this year.According to IMDb "The Voyage that Shook the World" is the only movie that Fathom Media has ever produced. And it lists "The Voyage that Shook the World" as Stephen Murray's only film.