Crusaders of Science

A recent article by Richard P Grant on why scientists are loosing the communication fight, really struck a chord with me.

Richard comes across as actually saddened by the way in which many scientists attempt to communicate with the public. He points out that most of the people who actively argue and disagree with science are just people. They’re people who want their concerns, fears and needs listened to and taken into account. And instead of doing this, we scientists have the tendency to fight the good fight and defend science at all costs.

This article certainly made me wonder – is the habit of defence so ingrained in all scientists that it’s actually eroding our ability to communicate?

Now I don’t know any scientists who habitually browbeat people into accepting their point of view. However, there is an element of defence in everything scientists do. We are taught to defend our research to other scientists. We defend the value of our research to funders, companies and governments. And then we go right on and defend our research to the public, even though perhaps, this is one group of people with which we should instead be conversing, inviting in and offering the chance to engage in what we do.

But what about frustration?

I feel frustrated when I overhear someone’s conversation about “the myth of climate change”. I feel frustrated when my partner or someone in my family hears the debate of a science skeptic on the radio or tv and says, “Oh that’s a good point”. As someone who has studied long and hard to obtain environmental science knowledge, it can be really hard  when other people don’t automatically understand. But to be fair, not having that knowledge isn’t their fault. Everyone has different knowledge and has mastered different skills.

Maybe my frustration could be more useful as a warning that my defensive tipping point  is fast approaching. Because as romantic as it may sound to be a crusader for science, our defensive fervour could be getting in the way of true communication. I for one am going to try and listen a little more and defend a little less.

To read the full article by Richard P Grant, click here.

One thought on “Crusaders of Science

  1. I’m not sure there’s an easy solution to this problem. I think there are several tiers at which science-to-lay communication doesn’t work. I’ve tried some recently and share your frustration. First, there is a mismatch of definitions; lay folk (not an aspersion) use words like “chaos” and “random” without an understanding of fractals and probability, hence they do not understand how random gene mutations across huge populations are not random in the lay sense but operate within very strict rules of outcome and that chaos is not complete disorder in a biblical or apocalyptic sense but is a way of thinking about non-linear, non-Euclidean geometries, topologies, and space. How do you close this gap? There is no easy remedy – the lay person needs to study the definitions and accept that the way they’re thinking about the words is not adequately disciplined.
    One of my most frustrating recent conversations has had to do with laws of thermo, which lay people seem to think don’t work and reveal a huge gap in scientific thinking. Ummm, nope! Laws of thermo are very precise and within the laws is the very important “in a closed system…” constraint. Does this disqualify all thermo laws? No, but it does require increasingly complex mathematics to model thermo outside of those constraints.
    Chemistry is really tough. There is limited to no understanding that the elements are virtually (if not completely) the result of sub-atomic particle interactions at conditions that are inconceivable to people who do not study high-temp/high-pressure reactions or who do not understand that elements are combinations of particles which added and subtracted change the properties of everything around us. Add to that the difficulties of conceiving of how simple molecules might combine to make biopolymers and we’re off to the “random” olympics again.
    Not sure there’s a solution if there is no will to apply one’s self and learn.
    Kind regards, MSOC

    Liked by 1 person

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