The [Ninja Turtles] henchmen Bebop and Rocksteady have hijacked the musical genres for us just like the Lone Ranger hijacked the William Tell Overture for our parents.

- xkcd

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Difference Between Us

There's been a topic we've been discussing of late, that being the dumbing down of science for the "unwashed masses." I'm trying to wrap my head around whether this means that the primary problem is that the material is presented inaccurately; or perhaps if the inaccuracy is just a symptom of an untrained public; or worse yet, if the problem lies in our education system and recent cultural bias against scholarly pursuit.

No matter how you feel, it's clear that inaccuracies in mainstream articles are a problem simply because they are misrepresenting the work or research that have been done. This can be seen in any one of 8 billion journal articles that is picked up by news services and turned into the "Next Stop: Cure for Cancer ... tune in tonight to find out more about this amazing medical breakthrough!"

In spite all of this though, is the academic and scientific communities real problem is that they don't get respect. When the reporter presenting the segment says something like, "But I didn't understand any of it either" it's easy to see why scientists would feel that way.

In a world where we have a multi-billion industry and an entire infrastructure around reporting the scores of sports games it can be amazingly frustrating that they can't even get a 3 minute segment about important science research correct.

In the case of sports though, what makes it easy to capitalize on is the predictability. It's baseball season, it's football season, it's the playoffs, etc. They turn it into a story and once they've established a means of presentation that gets good ratings they can just keep running with it.

Science doesn't quite have that luxury. It has things like DARPA Challenges, X-Prize or the Nobel Prizes but nothing as constant and ongoing as sporting events. So the question becomes, is explaining something like science inherently different than explaining something like what happened in a sporting event to people?

So the question becomes: is there a way you can build a base of people with a collective fundamental knowledge about science in the same way that fans of sports know about their team, the rules of the game, the history, etc. so that you can present those kind of stories in the same way? Is this something that needs to be done in the school system or is it something that should be taken on by the media? Or maybe it is just that science is ALWAYS boring.

Read on for more ramblings ...


At 10/10/2006 11:05 PM, Blogger fulsome said...

In this era of hyperspecialization there is always difficulty in moving these concepts outside of their specialized terrain. However, if we can't keep people involved in these discussions why do they want to help?

The weekly diet fad articles are an example of how the public gets desensitized to the idea of scientific knowledge. If we don't know whether eggs are healthy, how can we know whether too much carbon dioxide is bad.

At 10/12/2006 1:48 AM, Anonymous Pinko Punko said...

Also, people only care about if the shopping cart is covered in flesh eating bateria.

Also, I made somebody sad.

I tortured the English language with feelings.

However, it is the other side of the coin and germane to the discussion. There appears to be a class of journalist that hates scientists because of their whinging. I assume this is similar to those that hate Media Matters for their fight against Truthiness. And stupid know-it-all Al Gore.


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