Re: Popular(izing) Science

From: Amara Graps (
Date: Sat Mar 03 2001 - 14:43:12 MST

>From: "John Marlow" <>, Wed, 21 Feb 2001

>> The older they are, the less flexible they are in their thinking.
>> (This is true of many people, however, not just scientists.)
>> The older folks are also the ones more often in the public view.
>**Yup--and the more powerful.

Sometimes you appear overly concerned with who has the power.

>> This sounds to me like an entrenched and old-thinking perspective.
>**Absolutely. Trouble is, it's still here.

In your eyes ... (not mine)

>> Your choice of words is sometimes inflammatory. If you describe
>> scientists with those words, then you'll probably find some or many
>> reacting with some hostility to you.
>**Hey, I calls 'em as I sees 'em. That's a journalist's job.

Is it a journalist's job to take an adversarial position against the
scientist? You appear to have already prejudged scientists.

My view is that it is a journalist's job to be as objective,
and *open-minded* as possible and to do their best to get
many facts and views about the scientific topic under

If I was in a press conference with you in my audience, and you
approached me with a question, and your

  choice of words
  body language
  tone of voice

presented your opinion of:

>**With the possible exception of religious fundamentalists, there is
>no other community as blindly intolerant of new ideas as the
>scientific community. None. Nada. Zippo. Zilch.

then I would not be very motivated to give you a good answer
to your question. If you persisted with this attitude I would
cut short your question, ask for the next question from the
audience, probably mutter a few swear words out of range of
the mic, and then later ask the press organizers who let
you in the room.

.. all of this would, no doubt, bolster your opinion that scientists
are like religious fundamentalists, living in their own close-minded
world. Hmmm?

>scientist's job is to advance the frontiers of knowledge and
>(arguably) communicate his/her findings to society in a
>comprehensible manner.

I'll agree with this

>When it comes to the latter, there is
>frequently no effort whatsoever, or the effort is a total (perhaps
>well-meaning) botchup.

Nobody is perfect, and one could always do better. I would like
to see scientists be better communicators too. But their inability
does not imply 'close-mindedness' or dishonest intention.

>**Excercise: Come up with a radical but plausible theory which
>requires extensive testing and little or moderate time on restricted-
>access equipment. Your theory must be one which will destroy
>presently-held theories advanced or refined by leading scientists in
>positions of authority and power. Put your theory forward.
>**See what happens.

Many things. However, some efforts may not be immediately visible.

Even if you don't see things happening immediately, the ideas that
are 'right' will eventually reach the surface.

>**Ah. Thank you. I agree. Why single out scientists? Because science
>is a search for truth. A scientist by definition seeks truth, and
>will follow wherever the facts lead. Anyone who does less is not
>worthy of the name. There is (or should be) no room for those who go
>about this--arguably the most important endeavor of the human species-
>- -in anything less than a principled manner.

Scientists are not gods, contrary to some opinions. They are human
folks like you and me.

>> Regarding 'pet theories': [...]
>**Understandable. However, some people are "idea people" and can't or
>won't do the background research. Doesn't mean they have nothing of
>value to propose.

No, I disagree. If they have half a brain to propose the idea, then
they have enough brain to educate themselves on the topic.

It's not the scientist's job to be servant to the public's pet theories.

>> I think that the best thing that the scientist can give to the
>> nonscientist is _not_ plain facts and answers, but instead, to
>> instill a sense of curiosity and wonder and awe, to aid the person
>> in thinking on their own, about the possibilities of humans in our
>> universe.
>**Could be--but if they lack the ability to communicate, it ain't
>gonna happen. (So be nice to journalists.)

Only if the journalists are nice to the scientists.

>> "That's the whole problem with science. You've got a bunch of
>> empiricists trying to describe things of unimaginable wonder."
>> --Calvin (& Hobbes)
>**My favorite philosophers! "The strength to change what I can, the
>inability to accept what I can't, and the incapacity the tell the
>difference." --Calvin

Then you'll like this ..

       Calvin: I used to hate writing assignments, but now I
                          enjoy them. I realized that the purpose of
                          writing is to inflate weak ideas, obscure poor
                          reasoning, and inhibit clarity. With a little
                          practice, writing can be an intimidating and
                          impenetrable fog!

(poking fun at you)

I adore C&H. Lately, Calvin and Hobes _auf Deutsch_ is helping me with
my German.

I put some of my favorite C&h here (in English):

I'm ready to drop this topic, btw. It makes me tired.
I suggest we agree to disagree.


Amara Graps email:
Computational Physics vita: finger
Multiplex Answers URL:
"Whenever I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the
future of the human race." -- H. G. Wells

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