The Sciences

Classic Quote from PZ's Blog, vs. Classic Quote from RealClimate

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyJul 9, 2009 2:34 PM


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From PZ's blog, complete with the standard profanity, which will not be edited in this instance:

[*****ADDED FOR CLARIFICATION: As the link above shows, these words are from a comment left on Pharyngula, not from its author.] Mr. Mooney, you seem to have this bizarre notion that anyone here cares what you think, or what you have to offer. After you spend two chapters essentially telling one of the strongest voices of the pro-science movement that he's a poopyhead who needs to sit down and shut up, even though he has evidence on your side, do you really think that he or those who think speaking out and up are going to heed what you have to say? To care? And why--why--don't you expect the stupid to educate itself, rather than telling people to pat stupid on the head and say, "there, there, I'm sorry if what I said hurt your feelings." These people are screaming their heads off while smearing feces on the wall. "There there" will not change them. It only enables them, and usually makes them act up even worse. I don't think it's the responsibility of any scientist or pro-science ally to make people feel better. Fuck their feelings! Ridicule can work to make people educate themselves, especially when they are way past the age of being compelled into schools.

Yes, well, this whole mindset is precisely what we wrote a book against. The blame the public mindset. The it's not our fault, we're the smart people mindset. The undeniable reality of the situation is that the gap between scientists and the public is the fault of both, and it won't do to put the blame only on one side. Bridging the gap requires many things of the public, but also many things from scientists--among them some introspection about what has gone wrong these many years. That's why we're quite confident that people who are ready to stop blaming the public or the religious, and start working with them to try to change things, will like our book. And indeed, we have plenty of evidence of that. For instance, zip over to RealClimate, where somebody really gets it:

1) I finished the book yesterday, concur with mike’s review. I’d amplify two of the mesasges: rewards system receiver-oriented communication 2) Rewards system Indeed, if you want something to change, you have to change the rewards system. If you run a university, and you want to encourage interdisciplinary research (which can be especially tricky for younger faculty in disciplines that tend to be stovepiped), you hae to take explicit action. If you want communication skills to be improved, as the book suggest, you have to offer long-term encouragement for some scientists to do that. Most people have observed that university researchers vary widely in their communications skills, from truly wonderful to abysmal. [Imagine a course in theoretical mechanics where the professor starts at one of a blackboard, spends the class scribbling illegible equations from one end to the other, all the while mumbling in not-so-good English.] On the other hand, when I was at Bell Labs (1973-1983), good communications skills were prized and rewarded, and showed up in merit reviews, because management knew that uncommunicated results weren’t very useful. Besides lectures & papers, we had frequent internal formal courses … but people weren’t usually *allowed* to teach them unless they’d generally displayed good communications skills atop the relevant expertise. Otherwise, they’d be wasting the time of a bunch of well-paid professionals, few of whom would be shy in complaining about a poor course. Rewards systems matter. 3) Receiver-oriented communicators (p.61-62 of book), i.e., calibrate the audience and adapt to it. Anyone successful in sales or outbound marketing does this all the time. Counterexample: someone asks a really basic question. Answer: Read the IPCC. Comment: not particularly productive, unless one points them at one of those tutorial boxes, which are actually pretty good. Calibrating audiences is one of the reasons for trying to develop a coherent scale for knowledge and expertise on some natural science. That might help people recommending study, to get from one level to the next in their understanding....

PZ says our book is "useless," doesn't present any solutions--and yet this reader found some, no? And articulated them in a civil and thoughtful way, and contributed insights to a constructive discussion. Meanwhile, back on PZ's blog, average Americans are being called stupid or worse ("These people are screaming their heads off while smearing feces on the wall"), swearing is rampant, and scientists are apparently exonerated of any responsibility for where we are as a society with respect to public understanding or appreciation of science, even though they are inarguably part of the equation. PZ says in his review of our book that we criticize not only him, but his blog Pharyngula. Is it any wonder why?

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