Re: Popular(izing) Science (was RE: SOC/BIO/POL: International Forum on Globalization conference)

From: John Marlow (
Date: Thu Feb 08 2001 - 00:05:38 MST

I suspect a large part of the reason for the lack of popularizers is
the fact that the scientific community in general tends to look down
upon popularizers, even if they are scientists themselves. They seem
to consider this sort of thing--as well as the sort of person who
would engage in it--as being beneath their station. Thus, to become
popular with the masses is quite often to become UNpopular with the
scientific community. Not a good thing when your research and your
career depend upon the opinions and support of others within the

Another part of the reason is that a lot of these folks don't get out
much. How many times have you heard an engineer speak of
"interfacing" with people?

You don't INTERFACE with people--you TALK to them!

Finally, of course, there's arrogance. Is aw a bit of this in Crick,
who absolutely detested interviews and refused to grant one. (I got
him anyway, after talking my way past security and bypassing a few
locked doors...) This was in his later years. Regardless of how lofty
one's goals or how pressed one's time, public support is essential to
science. At the very least, the lack of widespread public antagonism
is essential.

Popularization is therefore essential, and time must be set aside to
educate the public in a manner they find comprehensible.

Will make a few suggestions offlist.


On 7 Feb 2001, at 22:35, Josh Martin wrote:

> It has been written (by Greg Burch) :
> >
> > >...a Carl Sagan seems to come along all
> > > too rarely.
> To which Barbara Lamar responded:
> >
> > OTOH, long as you're still alive, it's never too late to start learning
> > communications skills.
> >
> > > The simple facts are that the kinds of people who are drawn into
> > > scientific
> > > and technical fields tend to be TERRIBLE communicators in the way
> > > needed to
> > > have an impact on the culture at large.
> >
> > I wonder why this is. Wish we could talk about this on the list and figure
> > it out. It hasn't always been so.
> >
> >
> > > Even getting the people who could afford to fund the grooming of good
> > > spokespeople to recognize the need seems to be an uphill task.
> >
> > This is something the people on this list could begin to remedy
> > immediately.
> > Beginning with each person funding their own grooming (funding in terms of
> > time as well as money).
> >
> > Barbara
> >
> I have been thinking about this ever since I decided that a neuroscientist's
> life is the life for me (hi-diddly-dee). Though making a contribution to
> the knowledge base (a ground-breaking theory or two would be nice, as well)
> is very important to me, I also feel a great responsibility to further
> science through communicating about it. If it wasn't for Damasio, Dennet,
> Pinker, Hofstadter, Davis, Gazzaniga, et al, as well as some excellent
> professors here in the neuroscience department at OSU, I would still
> probably be a disillusioned pre-med wannabe. I very much want to be a
> popularizer, to attract fresh blood to the science, as well as to inform
> John Q. Public about the wonders of science, and what it can do (and has
> done) for his life.
> That said:
> How can I get there from here? (ATTN: Mr. Broderick and other
> writers/communicators on this list)
> So far, I have been voraciously reading whatever I can get my hands on in
> the area of popular science (my reading back-log is horrendous). I do this
> not only for knowledge about the specific science, but with an ear to how
> they communicate. I have found Steven Pinker to be excellent in this arena
> (his was the only non-fiction book I have ever read cover-to-cover in one
> week, I usually jump around book to book). At his advice, I'm looking into
> Joseph Williams _Style: Toward Clarity and Grace_, which Pinker says is "a
> scientific style manual," in that it is informed by discoveries in
> Linguistics in its attempt to create understandable and expressive prose.
> If anyone knows how else I can improve my writing skills, I would very much
> like your advice.
> I have also been reading fiction, both classics and modern, to discover how
> they express themselves. I consider the purpose of art to be expression,
> and I would like to use what I can learn about expression from art to
> enhance my expression in science.
> Verbal communication, in speech and debate, is one area I cannot seem to
> find good information about. I took a debate class, but it was less than
> useless. I would like to hone my speaking skills, and to that end I have
> been making presentations for the Mars Society. My major failing thus far
> is that I have a low, soft, somewhat soothing voice, and it tends to put
> people to sleep. I do, however, consider myself to be a good communicator,
> and I often can understand where the person I'm talking to doesn't
> understand, and smooth out conflicts.
> I know that there are people on this list who are good writers and
> communicators. For me, and those like me, please share your thoughts and
> resources on how we can better communicate our visions.
> Josh Martin

John Marlow

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