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- April 2011
We Love Science! Er...Most of It.
   April 10th, 2011, 6:51 pm

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During my years on science forums and in the #science chatroom, I have come across a wide variety of those characters which the internets have to offer. It can be both fun and infuriating (not unlike grad school), but in the past year or so it felt like these places were inundated by people with a particular agenda. In general, I refer to them as sci-haters, but they are a fairly diverse group. There's these types:



Some of whom you can reason with, many of whom go into a toddler-esque tantrum rage at the mention that maybe they're wrong and people who have spent a lot of time studying these topics just might know better. Then there's the types who simply want to bash science and/or scientists as wrong, heartless, elitist, biased, a waste of space, etc.

I felt like I was glimpsing into the heart of a country (and perhaps a world) that was deeply suspicious and distrusting of science, and it saddened me very much.

But then I realized that I was making a very n00b scientist mistake - I was assuming that these ornery people were a representative sample of the rest of the country. And apparently it's a mistake that many scientists and science hobbyists make. Enter Matthew C. Nisbet and his blog, Age of Engagement.

Matthew C. Nisbet wrote:[Pundits and commentators] proclaim a "growing disconnect," "a dangerous divide," a "widening gulf" and use other metaphors that are representative of what sociologists might label as a moral panic. This traditional fall from grace narrative about science argues for the need to return to a (fictional) point in the past where science was better understood and appreciated by the public. In the U.S., this point in the past is often referred to as the years just after the launch of Sputnik and leading up to the Apollo moon landing.

Yet you would be hard pressed to find this type of rhetoric in the peer-reviewed literature examining public opinion about science, the role of scientific expertise in policymaking, or the relationship between science and other social institutions. ... Indeed, if there is a "dangerous divide" in society it is between the conclusions of experts working in these areas and the extraordinary claims that are often made by some journalists and pundits.

In 2009 the Pew Research Center released results from a comprehensive survey of Americans and how they view science. 2009! Even before I started developing my own personal fall-from-grace narrative about sci-haters. Man, I am behind the times.

Matthew C. Nisbet wrote:In the U.S., scientists and their organizations enjoy almost unrivaled respect, admiration, and cultural authority. Americans overwhelmingly trust scientists, support scientific funding, and believe in the promise of research and technology. Among institutions, only the military enjoys greater admiration and deference.

Consider that according to the Pew survey, 84% of Americans agree that science is having a mostly positive effect on society, and that this belief holds strong across every major demographic category, including 88% of Republicans and 83% of Evangelicals.

When asked to evaluate various professions, roughly 70% of Americans answer that scientists "contribute a lot" to society compared to 38% for journalists, 23% for lawyers, 40% for clergy, and 21% for business executives. Only members of the military (84%) and teachers (77%) rate higher in public admiration and esteem.

Long story short, what has been flooding into my little corners of the internet are the people who are extreme enough and angry enough to come search out my compatriots and I, and attempt to give us the what-for. Isn't that always the way?

This has made me much more optimistic about the state of science, at least in the USA. But I still worry about the state of science communication, and the potential damage that these loud mouths and heavy typers could inflict on a public that many scientists address only occasionally and awkwardly. But that's a topic for another post.

2 Comments Viewed 3598 times


Re: Loud Mouths (and Heavy Typers)

Permanent Linkby Anonymous on October 26th, 2011, 10:49 pm

Where would the world be without science? In darkness and uncomertability that's where. I for one can appreciate the logicalness that scientists often bring to arguements, the same logic that often gets them unnecessarily labeled as heartless or unfeeling. You have my vote ;)
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Re: Loud Mouths (and Heavy Typers)

Permanent Linkby zetreque on May 16th, 2014, 1:41 am

This was in the news again recently. Not sure how biased the poll was though, never looked into it. ... ng/360976/

I often think back to imagining times of paradise in our history like when the Greeks sat around with food abundant just exploring science and math day in and day out, or the renaissance era of art and science, or the library of Alexandria with people from all over coming together to learn. Then I realize that even back then, things might have not been the paradise we like to imagine them to be, and they struggled with many issues. Just look at what happened to the Library, and great cities all being burned and destroyed.

I still like to try to imagine times like those being paradise though, where they had all the support of the city, and their biggest problem in life was figuring out the circumference of the Earth :)
Last edited by zetreque on May 16th, 2014, 1:45 am, edited 1 time in total.
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