Science Communication: A Conversation

So a few days ago, Brian of Laelaps and I had a conversation. The conversation went like this:

Sci: Somebody wrote a book where he referred to the “tone” of scienceblogs.com as being bad for science. The book is “Don’t be SUCH a scientist”. Because we are “such scientists”, as in, people who are obsessed with facts and take passion and interest from everything we communicate with. I’m really getting annoyed by this. Though I see the point, in that we all know many scientists can make learning some pretty dry stuff. But look, I’m a communicator, so are you. We write stuff people find entertaining! It’s on a blog for ALL THE WORLD to see, it’s even on the NY Times sometimes. Yet. I get 1500 hits a day. I know twilight fanfic websites that get way more than that. So I’m communicating, and I’m doing it well, and it’s not for lack of exposure…why aren’t people clicking then?
Brian: Yeah, [that scienceblogs reference] I don’t understand how it’s bad for scientists to help more people understand science! I haven’t read “Don’t Be Such A Scientist” yet, but a copy should be coming to my mailbox soon.
Sci: I think I want to post something. Because one wonders. There are those of us out there. Scientists, students of science, etc, who post about science. We try to do it so everyone can understand. It’s interesting, it’s relevant. It’s not fact-obsessed. There are tons of popular science books out there doing the same thing. But NO ONE CLICKS. And no one reads. Scientists might be part of the problem, but we’re not the only ones causing a major lack of interest.
Brian: Well, the people that read us are already interested in science. It’s harder to reach everyone else. You can’t make people care about something if they’re just not that interested. How about we write our own book, “Maybe they’re just not that into science?”
Sci: hehehe. That would be SO FUN! So it comes around again. How do we get people interested. People focus on scientists and science being portrayed as “cool”. But I don’t know if that’s it. People want to become doctors, and doctors are not necessarily cool. They want to become doctors because doctors save people. I want to be a scientist because scientists save the world. Perhaps we should focus more on how people doing science are heroes. Saving the planet, saving people.
So it comes around to how do we get people interested
Brian: Right, and for me, science just had this inexplicable draw. I loved nature, and if I wanted to learn more about nature I knew I would have to become a scientist. Making scientists “cool” will not solve the problem, and it might be a problem we never really solve. We just have to keep working as hard as we can to popularize science.
Sci: But you will contribute to human knowledge. You will inspire, which is very important.
Brian: I think a major improvement would be getting more science-savvy people into mass media outlets to replace some of these journalists who are on the science beat but don’t know a thing about science! I reject this idea that there was some golden age when people respected science all the time and we need to go back. There never was such a time. It’s always been a fight to get people to understand science, but it’s something that is worthwhile.
Sci: Yeah, i definitely agree. People talk about how, during the “space race” people were interested in science. Of COURSE they were. It could come down on their heads any minute. If I were building a fallout shelter and heard about spy satellites orbiting the earth, I’d want to know how they worked, too. But that’s because it’s relevant, not because science was somehow “cooler”. And people NOW are interested in science. They are interested in medicine, in vaccinations and psychiatry, because it’s relevant. It’s something they’re dealing with every day. I don’t think we can say that people are “less” interested in science than they used to be. They are interested in what is relevant to them at the moment.
Brian: Right. Well lots of people are interested in science, it is just what aspect, and to what extent. And it would be great if we could get people excited about science that isn’t directly relevant to their everyday lives, because there’s more to science than just medicine and technology.

And this conversation caused me to do a lot more thinking.


Mostly, I’ve been thinking about two things: science being “cool”, and the idea of a scientific golden age. Where do people GET the idea of a scientific golden age? Sure, it was a space race. People were interested. There were great scientific communicators around. But those people who were firing off rockets and stuff in their back yards? We still called them geeks. And those people who went on to be physicists? We still called them nerds. Science was never POPULAR.
And it probably never will be truly popular. To do science takes a real attention to detail, and an incredible amount of perseverance. We never give up. We never stop working. Many of us are devoted to our jobs in a way that probably isn’t very healthy. You have to be willing to keep taking the data, and do the same thing, EXACTLY the same thing, over and over and over. You have to deal with the fact that a lot of times, you’re going to be wrong. You have to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous reviews, and a lot of rejection, because the scientific community is about finding the truth, and this means only the best stuff is going to make it.
But what we have to do is convince people WHY we do what we do. Why we put up with that kind of attention to detail and all of the frustration. When I think about science, and how frustrated I often become because science is so…uncool, or unpopular, I think about doctors. A lot of kids want to be doctors. Very few want to be scientists. Doctors are better known, sure. But there’s more than that. Doctors have a reputation. Everyone knows WHY doctors do what they do. They are like heroes. They heal people. Save people’s lives. Every day. When you’re a kid, the doctor seems to know a lot of the things your parents don’t. And that’s all still true as adults. Doctors do save lives. And that’s why kids want to become doctors.
Why don’t kids want to be scientists? When people think of scientists, they think of people with frizzy hair, people who discover things with long names, people who are boring. Scientists are not heroes. And this is where science suffers.
Yes, doctors save lives.
Scientists save the world.
Doctors save many, many lives every day. But without scientists, doctors would not have the technology they do and the knowledge which enables them to put it to use. Most of us wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for aseptic surgery, vaccination, antibiotics, caesarian sections. We wouldn’t be here without doctors. But we also wouldn’t be here without scientists. Doctors save individual lives, but it is the work of scientists which saves populations. You life might be saved by a doctor performing an emergency appendectomy. But he couldn’t do it without scientists. Scientists designing the antibiotics. Scientists figuring out better ways to perform antiseptic surgery. Scientists designing the very thread the doctor uses to stitch you back up.
And not just in medicine. Scientists will eventually find ways to save us from ourselves, from global warming, from killing off life in the oceans. They could save us tomorrow by knowing when and where the next earthquake will be, the next volcanic eruption. Some are finding ways to increase agricultural yield to spare farmland and decrease hunger. Scientists obtain the knowledge which allows us to save species and ecosystems. Scientists give us knowledge about the world around us, where we came from, and where we might be going. And the stuff we find out is not only exciting, it’s probably a lot more exciting than that LOLcat you just wasted 5 minutes on.
Why aren’t we telling people? To be a superhero, be a SCIENTIST! To save thousands of people, be a SCIENTIST.
What do we tell kids. When they are kids. We tell them about doctors. Firefighters. Doctors keep you healthy, doctors save lives. Firefighter, like doctors, are heroes. What do we tell them about scientists?
Edit: W00t! Brian’s been doing some thinking, too. Check it out!

33 Responses

  1. I think there is a problem with your line of argument.
    The type of ‘saving lives’ that scientists do is very different from that imagined by the general public when they think of scientists ‘saving lives’. In all likelihood even if someone does something in science that leads to a single or even millions of lives saved it is going to be a small part of a much larger effort. In fact remove an individual scientists efforts from the equation and that advance will probably come from another scientist – such is the day-to-day competitive nature of modern research.
    This is not an endorsement of Randy Olsens views, by the way – he seems to have some sort of aversion to the sort of rational thinking necessary for science.
    As for the question “What do we tell them about scientists?”
    That is a really interesting point.
    There are good and bad sides to the scientific life.
    Is it good or even ethical to tell just one side (considering that it is the childrens future life that might be affected if they choose to be a scientist)?
    Vanishingly few individuals manage to become tenured scientists (even from the pool of PhD qualified scientists). Should we fully explain this to high school students about to choose a career path?

  2. I think a large part of why children and later young adults want to be doctors is because they interact with doctors they meet and get to know them and see them work hands on. Even on television they see the ‘life’ of a doctor. Very few children ever meet a scientist, let alone have regular contact with one. I know of few shows on television that have scientists and certainly no sitcoms or dramas staring scientists. I never really got an idea of what a scientist actually did until late into high school. I was ‘good at’ science and so people told me “maybe you should become a scientist” but nobody could tell me what that actually meant. I knew what it meant to be a doctor, or at least I had a better idea.
    I am not sure I have a positive claim to make about how to solve this, but I think the interaction is important to early interest in a career.

  3. All career paths have good and bad sides, so I don’t think science (and engineering) are any different. Honest, balanced communication about all aspects is the best approach.
    As to how to better communicate the reality of science, your blog is part of what is needed. Well written, insightful, sometime humorous and sharing the passion of science. That includes discussing how to improve science communication to kids and adults.
    The majority of people will never be interested in science or engineering. However, if we (scientists and engineers)take the time to share our excitement with kids, some will capture the flame and follow in our footsteps. Even those who don’t may benefit from at least having a better appreciation of what we do.

  4. It’s really very simple:
    http://nfccomic.com/index.php?comic=150

  5. I’m a scientist. And not even I think science is “cool” for any reasonable definition of the word. We’re not like rock stars, reality tv-producers or models. We’re like accountants. Public Certified Accountants. Doing a job that we find fascinating and important, but that most people are only vaguely aware of, and happy that someone else cares about it so they don’t have to.
    BTW, I’ve never read “twilight” and don’t click on fan-fic sites. It’s not due to lack of exposure, but simple lack of interest. It may be excellent contemporary fantasy, but it’s not for me. I suspect it’s largely the same for science sites.

  6. Let’s not forget something obvious that affects what careers people aspire to:
    Money.
    Physicians make money. Scientists don’t.

  7. I think Andrew’s got a good point, although I quibble with the details. There are certainly scientists in dramas on television – main characters on shows like Bones, CSI, and Numb3rs.* That really only supports his point, though, because forensic science has become cool/popular/something kids want to grow up and do.**
    Everyone knows a doctor, few people know a scientist before college. Even then, most students don’t have much of an interaction with them, and by then they usually have decided at least the broad field of their major.
    * The accuracy and diversity of scientist on TV, on the other hand, leaves something to be desired.
    ** Forensic science is popular enough among teens that colleges are creating forensic science programs, even though there aren’t that many jobs in the field and even though the employers recommend a degree in biology or chemistry rather than specifically in forensic science.

  8. First, let me say that in my opinion the stuff you write, and the way you write it, is excellent and I don’t see how this could not possibly be a forward step in making science both more accessible and also more generally read about, liked, and appreciated by everybody.
    But now I have a mild criticism to make. Both you and Brian have (mildy) dissed a book, the book by Randy Olson, that you’ve not read but that you’ve heard a bit about. Not only is that not classy, but it is not a smart move if you want to communicate stuff. You’ve left yourselves open to criticisms that you are biased, and in fact, I’m calling bias now: Many science bloggers, both on Sb and elsewhere, came out with negative comments about Randy’s movie (Sizzle) before they saw it, and after it came out, they got very mad at Randy becasue he called them on being “such scientists” in the famous Sizzle Memo. There is clearly an oppositional situation set up here, both by some science bloggers and by Randy, which looks like it is starting to play out again just like it did last time.
    The reviews for Sizzle were themselves binary. A pretty large proportion of scientists did not like it. A pretty large proportion of scientists did. Those scientists who did not like it may well have had very valid reasons for not liking it, but, to ask the question “why did others like it but we scientists didn’t” might be to ask the question “why are most Americans still YECs despite it being the 21st century and all!”
    I’ve not read Randy’s book. But my copy did come a few days ago. The reason I’ve not read it is because my wife, who is a high school biology teacher, happened to pick it up and now she loves it and can’t put it down. She has been a long time consumer of all the usual popular science writing that you and Brian mention. She can’t put that stuff down either.
    I think we need to have an open exchange of ideas, but that is best facilitated by data collection followed by opinion, rather than the other way around. Your dissing of Randy’s book is very mild and nuanced and may not even be real … I apologize if I’ve got that wrong. But after seeing the Lord of the Flies effect in all its glory with Sizzle, I have a hard time trusting that the well known skeptical and objective approach of science, which was set aside to no small degree in the last round, is not readily at hand this time. I’m probably being over sensitive.
    I also admit a bias on my part. I like Randy. We’ve talked quite a bit about this issue, just like the two of you guys have, and I believe I understand and mostly agree with his key points. Or, more accurately, I knew what his key points were going to be months ago, but I don’t know what is in his book as I’ve not read it. So, my bias is: I want to like the book.
    I also wanted to like Unscientific America, and there are many parts I do like quite a bit, but I”m struggling with my review of that and I’m going to have to do some difficult things.
    I guess my main point (that I’m not making very well) is this: I think we have a common objective, and when I say we, I mean Laelaps, you, me, PZ, Chris and Sheril, and Randy too. It is possible that we have differences of opinion about what the best approach is, but let’s try to avoid (and I’m not even remotely saying that you are doing this) taking our favorite approach or problem and saying that the other approaches are bad. We need to be an army with lots of working parts more than we need to be a lot of working parts that find it more rewarding to disagree with the other working parts than to move towards the final objective of world domination by scientists, or whatever it is we are doing here.

  9. I LOVE all of these comments! It’s really great to see so many well thought out points. I know there were lots of flaws in my argument, and I love how the comments are turning out. w00t!
    Greg: I just want to say that I didn’t mean Randy’s book in particular, and I really wouldn’t want to diss something I haven’t even read (I actually don’t think I’m getting a review copy, unfortunately, though I’d like one if he’s willing to send it). Rather, I’m talking about the opinion in general that science needs to be “cool”, and whether or not that will work, rather than a specific opinion in particular. I’d love to read Randy’s book and find out whether or not he’s continuing the line of thought that scientists need to be “cool”, and how he supports his argument, but I certainly didn’t mean his book in particular. I just want to make that clear.
    Also, I never saw “sizzle” and never gave an opinion on it. In fact, I didn’t even know Randy did “sizzle” until Brian told me. :) I think I’d only just started blogging when that whole thing went down.

  10. Oh yeah! Janne: I’ve never read Twilight either. Well, that’s not true. I read the back, and the first five pages in the airport once, and it was SO BADLY WRITTEN that I couldn’t bring myself to spend money on it. But I’m very well aware of the extent of the phenomenon, so that’s what I was referencing.

  11. Ah, Sci, I think the Twilight example is actually spot on, and I was trying (too briefly, I realize) to take the example another step. My point – cleverly disguised – was that with all its mindshare and all its exposure, there’s a natural upper limit for its uptake (and thus for it’s associated sites too). There’s lots of people that would never touch it no matter what. There’s plenty of people (like me) that’s sort of potentially a target for it, being generally avid fantasy readers, but that for whatever reason elect not to be involved. These are all people for whom more or better information won’t change anything; they won’t be on board the “twilight” phenomenon no matter what. There’s simply an upper limit to how many people Twilight is going to reach.
    And science, too, has such upper limits. For all the pontification on the state of science communication, the reality is that most everybody with a potential interest in science is being reached at least to some extent, and those who are interested can, and are, actively seeking out further information for themselves. The vast majority of those untouched by science won’t develop an interest just because people change communication strategies; the set of people for whom better formulated communication will make them interested is small.
    Chances are that the current level is probably within a few percentage points of the natural upper limit for science interest in the industrialized western world.
    And that should teach me not to be so telegraphic in my comments :)

  12. LOLs! Silly Janne, everyone knows that Sci doesn’t do telepathy until after her THIRD cup of coffee. :)
    But yes, part of the reason Brian and I giggled about writing the book “Maybe they’re just not that in to Science” is because it’s true, only a small percent of the population are EVER going to be in to science. The trick is to grab that percent before they find other things. And possibly to make other people not mock them quite so much for being geeks. :)

  13. LOLs! Silly Janne, everyone knows that Sci doesn’t do telepathy until after her THIRD cup of coffee. :)
    But yes, part of the reason Brian and I giggled about writing the book “Maybe they’re just not that in to Science” is because it’s true, only a small percent of the population are EVER going to be in to science. The trick is to grab that percent before they find other things. And possibly to make other people not mock them quite so much for being geeks. :)

  14. Lots of (little) kids go through a “I wanna be a builder” phase, mostly because heavy construction equipment is pretty darn cool. Fortunately, some parts of science are inherently cool, so you could grab some attention early that way.
    On the other end of school, letting young adults know what sort of jobs there are, what the job market is like, and about how much it pays will help them decide whether to invest 4-10 years of extra schooling into becoming a scientist.

  15. Sci:Oh yeah! Janne: I’ve never read Twilight either. Well, that’s not true. I read the back, and the first five pages in the airport once
    Funny, I had the same exact experience! And I wanted it to be good, because my daughter was reading it. We had a lot of fun co-reading Harry Potter (once I got on board). How disappointing.

  16. The thing is, it’s not hard to make science cool.
    Young kids are interested in the world around them; the stereotypical never-ending series of ‘why’ (in addition to suggesting kids are innately interested in testing the limits of the knowledge/power of adults around them) suggests science has a lot to offer them. More importantly, science is fun. At least, there are fun parts, which can be well done in school type settings (though my exposure to them was probably unusually high).
    Plus I can nearly always find something sciencey to talk to people about (of course, sometimes in exchange I have to see if there’s anything a CPA can get *me* interested in- to date, the answer is no. But the real estate agents are much more interesting people than I would have imagined). Science has sufficient cool and fun raw material.
    And even if it didn’t, all we need is scientists on trampolines + the colbert bump (seriously, Seed needs to get on that and send bloggers off to The Daily Show or Colbert).
    *Side note: If anyone would like to make science recruiting propaganda for schoolchildren involving trampolines, I would very much like to participate.

  17. I think that most people DO think science is cool, but they also think it is unattainable, and therefore it is someone else’s job and not something that they can actually interact with or participate in in any more meaningful way than watching Mythbusters (which is awesome, BTW).
    I agree that there was never a Golden Age of Science in which science journalists all reported the actual un-dumbed-down non-over-hyped science and the scientifically literate public was completely on board and horoscopes fell completely out of fashion and all was Good throughout the Land. By and large science journalism has always sucked and average folks have not cared very much about science.
    BUT–average folks are busy working jobs (if they have them) and raising their kids. At the end of the day, most people are tired and want some downtime and relaxing rather than challenging entertainment. I know I do, and I’m a scientist. I may not be on Twilight fanfic sites, but I’m just as likely to be getting some laffs at Failblog as I am to be slogging through a blog post on nanotechnology or fish genes or Darwin’s pets. No matter how engaging and well written, science blogging simply scratches a different itch. When I get on an airplane I’m more likely to grab a trashy sci-fi novel than a biography, and I don’t feel bad about that, and I don’t blame other people for wanting to spend their free time with brain candy instead of brain food.
    I think the bigger problem is that ordinary people feel cut off from science; it’s something incomprehensible, that unapproachable people do, in exotic or off-limits places (labs, dinosaur digs, the ISS, etc.). I think that most people are interested in science and just don’t have an easy way in, and in fact don’t even know that a way in exists or that there is any ‘in’ to get to. That’s why I’m so excited about the rise of citizen science projects (like, er, this one) and open access publication. The artificial wall between science and the public is being eroded by these things (and not necessarily by science journalism, which often exploits the wall), but they’re relatively young* and it will probably take some time for them to have much of an effect. None of us are getting as many hits as we dream of getting (with the possible exception of PZ), but the whole idea of science blogging is only about a decade old. Let’s figure out to how to accelerate the changes that are already going on–and let’s be real about the fact that science is not going to replace entertainment (not even for most scientists).
    Good posts, from you and Brian both. More, please!

  18. Why do we WANT to make science cool and popular? This isn’t high school any more! So what if lots of people couldn’t give two hoots about being a scientist – so much the better. The best scientist is someone who is crazy passionate and fascinated by what they are doing – you don’t get that just by wanting to be in a cool career.
    I think blogs and science communication generally work to make science fun and accessible to anyone that’s interested. If they aren’t interested, then who cares? They can go work on a LOLcat. BTW, I rss LOLcat, so I’m not dissing them, they’z mai daily dose of CUTE.

  19. @Sigmund: Norman Borlaug saved millions of lives, and though he was certainly part of a larger effort, he, himself, was credited with the major discoveries that launched the green revolution.
    With regard to several other comments, enrollments in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) university programs are considerably reduced from levels of even five or six years ago, not to mention the Sputnik age. This may have to do with the pecuniary attractions of financial engineering and merchant banking, but to my mind the biggest influence is television. How many cool, sexy, brilliant doctors are there on TV, compared to cool, sexy, brilliant scientists? The scientists may win the brilliant race, but lose on the cool and sexy, as portrayed on the screen. (Those of us who have friends and/or relatives of both the scientific and medical persuasions know how the comparison works in real life.)
    So we need more TV shows featuring exciting, sexy scientists and engineers!

  20. @Sigmund: Norman Borlaug saved millions of lives, and though he was certainly part of a larger effort, he, himself, was credited with the major discoveries that launched the green revolution.
    With regard to several other comments, enrollments in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) university programs are considerably reduced from levels of even five or six years ago, not to mention the Sputnik age. This may have to do with the pecuniary attractions of financial engineering and merchant banking, but to my mind the biggest influence is television. How many cool, sexy, brilliant doctors are there on TV, compared to cool, sexy, brilliant scientists? The scientists may win the brilliant race, but lose on the cool and sexy, as portrayed on the screen. (Those of us who have friends and/or relatives of both the scientific and medical persuasions know how the comparison works in real life.)
    So we need more TV shows featuring exciting, sexy scientists and engineers!

  21. Is this true as Zen Faulkes said “Physicians make money but scientists don’t”
    According to my information scientists can also make money but not as much as Physicians.

  22. Well, I’m not a scientist, and probably a good lab-rat for this blog entry.
    I’m basically a “convert” having not really cared for science much at school but now, in my 30′s, reading science books and ScienceBlogs every day. I’m a software developer and my colleague and I have gone science nuts. Discussing it every day, sending each other blog entries, watching YouTube videos and sharing books.
    There are 3 things that attract me to science:
    (1) “The Spock Reason” – that logic (clear-thinking) is beautiful and something to always aspire to
    (2) The “In Your Face Reason” – I love stuff that “proves everyone else wrong”… maybe just your friends
    (3) The “Unbelievable Reason” – this is like a negative – that people believe weird stuff and that they don’t look to science to find it about it or verify it
    On the subject of getting (other) people interested in science, I sometimes tell colleagues about an amazing podcast or book and they often won’t do much about it. Science takes time to listen to, energy to think about; and it might even make you a “smartarse”. Just to be one myself, I even wonder if there’s a good proportion of the population who simply “cannot” be consumers of science. At least in their ability to go from nothing-to-science-blog.
    But this is my most important comment. What really spurred my interest into science was seeing other people NOT doing it.
    I recently spoke to a member of my extended family who confidently tells me that the “scientific method doesn’t work, because you can skew test results to say anything you want”. He sites Darwin’s theory of Evolution, which was obviously proven wrong (sic), as evidence that science is crap.
    Hmmm, where do you start with that sort of mindsight? These blogs are great once you got them into your playground. But this guy needs help.
    I actually think it’s up to people like me to help drag everyone else in. There’s often too much distance between the potential consumer and a science blog. If I’m doing my job right, as a convert, you’ll get 1501 hits next month. I think it will probably end up working like that.

  23. Well, I’m not a scientist, and probably a good lab-rat for this blog entry.
    I’m basically a “convert” having not really cared for science much at school but now, in my 30′s, reading science books and ScienceBlogs every day. I’m a software developer and my colleague and I have gone science nuts. Discussing it every day, sending each other blog entries, watching YouTube videos and sharing books.
    There are 3 things that attract me to science:
    (1) “The Spock Reason” – that logic (clear-thinking) is beautiful and something to always aspire to
    (2) The “In Your Face Reason” – I love stuff that “proves everyone else wrong”… maybe just your friends
    (3) The “Unbelievable Reason” – this is like a negative – that people believe weird stuff and that they don’t look to science to find it about it or verify it
    On the subject of getting (other) people interested in science, I sometimes tell colleagues about an amazing podcast or book and they often won’t do much about it. Science takes time to listen to, energy to think about; and it might even make you a “smartarse”. Just to be one myself, I even wonder if there’s a good proportion of the population who simply “cannot” be consumers of science. At least in their ability to go from nothing-to-science-blog.
    But this is my most important comment. What really spurred my interest into science was seeing other people NOT doing it.
    I recently spoke to a member of my extended family who confidently tells me that the “scientific method doesn’t work, because you can skew test results to say anything you want”. He sites Darwin’s theory of Evolution, which was obviously proven wrong (sic), as evidence that science is crap.
    Hmmm, where do you start with that sort of mindsight? These blogs are great once you got them into your playground. But this guy needs help.
    I actually think it’s up to people like me to help drag everyone else in. There’s often too much distance between the potential consumer and a science blog. If I’m doing my job right, as a convert, you’ll get 1501 hits next month. I think it will probably end up working like that.

  24. Following the lines of the Twilight Arguement. What about economics? Economics is a very important issue at the moment, it affects the world, and what is happening in the world, and all of our lives.
    There are no doubt many wonderful and well-written economics blogs out there. I don’t read any. I haven’t even looked for any. I just don’t find the subject exciting. Same with some of the more mathsy-maths blogs.
    I’m guessing some people feel the same about science. Every time I fall into despair about the general lack of science-interest, I always think of all those pissed off economists, feeling the same about me.
    [and thanks for linking to the carnival!]

  25. To answer #19,
    “Is this true as Zen Faulkes said “Physicians make money but scientists don’t”
    According to my information scientists can also make money but not as much as Physicians.”
    The comparable payscales for scientists are far closer to high school teachers than physicians but that is NOT the problem for working scientists.
    Most aspiring scientists do not enter the profession seeking huge monetary benefits but I have found that they usually expect some sort of trade off (lower wages, but fairly secure employment). The reality is that the big problem faced by scientists is lack of job security. The job market is saturated with qualified scientists. The big labs often only take on people if you agree to work for no money from them (you need to secure external short term grants). Its not all bad but one should have a realistic picture of this aspect of the job if you are thinking of becoming a scientist.

  26. To answer #19,
    “Is this true as Zen Faulkes said “Physicians make money but scientists don’t”
    According to my information scientists can also make money but not as much as Physicians.”
    The comparable payscales for scientists are far closer to high school teachers than physicians but that is NOT the problem for working scientists.
    Most aspiring scientists do not enter the profession seeking huge monetary benefits but I have found that they usually expect some sort of trade off (lower wages, but fairly secure employment). The reality is that the big problem faced by scientists is lack of job security. The job market is saturated with qualified scientists. The big labs often only take on people if you agree to work for no money from them (you need to secure external short term grants). Its not all bad but one should have a realistic picture of this aspect of the job if you are thinking of becoming a scientist.

  27. I’ll say here the same thing I said on Brian’s blog. What scientists need to be doing is going into schools on ad-hoc visits with fun things they’ve done or learned or are investigating, and hold demonstrations of the important, fun, and cool side of science. In this way the students will grow fond of science and they will carry this fondness into adult life.
    If there’s no interest to begin with, it makes no difference how wonderful a science communicator you are, people aren’t going to pay attention, especially when there are other, more powerful distractions
    In writing about your conversation, Brian used the phrase “My library is stocked with but a small collection of these tomes” – describing his science books. I told him that the word “tomes” completely turns off any thrall I might have for the books and I love science!
    I wouldn’t expect him to have written “these thrilling page turners” – though there are science books like that – but something a little more appealing would be a better way of communicating. Perhaps this is part of the problem?
    If you’re not willing to “get ‘em whilst they’re young” and you still really want to engage the adult public, then let’s get some scientists writing science stories as fiction à la Michael Crichton or even after the fashion of Dan Brown (but without the inherent idiocy those two seem addicted to). Make the novels fascinating and thrilling but keep the science real and instructive. People who thrill at the science in fiction will inevitably develop an interest in science as fact (and method!)
    Anything else has proven to be a waste of time, judged by the sorry state we’re in, hasn’t it? The critical thing is to reach those people who most need to understand how great science is, not simply keep reaching just those who already have an interest.
    It’s worth noting that sports essentially reaches only those who already have an interest – but there are a lot more who develop an enthusiastic interest in sports in school than there are who develop such an interest in science at that same venue. We _can_ change this.
    So do you have any cool ideas for a novel? I’d even volunteer to help write it…!

  28. Sci happens to have a GREAT idea for a novel, actually. But I cannot give it away!!!

  29. “Sci happens to have a GREAT idea for a novel, actually. But I cannot give it away!!!”
    Uh-huh! I’ve heard _that_ before! I wasn’t asking to steal it, just offering to do some of the labor. Besides, I have my own ideas, so there!

  30. Ok, I’ve read all the comments now, so I can really mouth off!
    I don’t agree that Randy Olson is a good science communicator. I saw “Flock of Dodos” long before the “Sizzle” fizzle and I wasn’t at all impressed. I saw it because people were saying it was so good but it showed nothing that I found to be particularly interesting, and certainly nothing which was revelatory.
    The fact that it was science bloggers who were speaking so highly of it made me realize that there is indeed a serious disconnect between those who write about science and those who most need to read what’s being written.
    When Sizzle came out, Olson was asking for opinions from the bloggers and instead of truly listening to them, he and his crew all but got into fights with them. From a personal perspective, the cherry on top was when one of his minions dissed a comment I made not by effectively rebutting it, but by avoiding it under the transparent pretense that something I said in my opening sentence (which was obvious to anyone of moderate intelligence and no pig-headedness) was stupid.
    That’s _precisely_ the MO adopted by the creationists, and it was the last straw for me. From that point on, Olson lost me. I have no desire at all to read another thing he writes or see another movie he makes, nor would I recommend him to anyone. I felt the same way about Kirschenbaum and Mooney after I saw their behavior over “Unscientific America”.
    The fact that Olson’s movie “Sizzle” evidently chose to exploit the post-Katrina misery in New Orleans under the pretense that it in particular was somehow a “consequence” or a “prediction” of global warming, was reprehensible. An intense hurricane hitting New Orleans would have caused the same problems regardless of whether the planet was warming, cooling, or going nowhere. If creationists or fundamentalists had used that same ploy to support some point they were trying to make, they would have been loudly (and rightly) called on it.
    I mention this because in the same way Katrina was a straw man (woman?!) in “Sizzle”, something I termed “The Big Easy Lie”, there’s a straw man potentially creeping into this conversation in the form of people bemoaning how science jobs are scarce and we can’t graduate everyone with a science degree.
    Yes, jobs are scarce, but that’s not what this conversation is about. I don’t see that we’re trying to discuss how to generate as many science degrees as we can. Isn’t this conversation supposed to be about how to generate interest in and passion for science amongst people regardless of what subjects and career they pursue?
    People need to understand science, and in particular the scientific method for no other reason than that it helps in so many ways in helping people to be effective in life, and to grasp how things are and how things work. It’s also a very effective bulwark against bullshit. And it can be fascinating if children are not turned off it – as I was when I was in high school – by tedious teaching methods, which were not only boring in themselves, but which made no attempt to relate science to the real world or to show how critical it is. That’s why special efforts are required to reach and engage the young. Once that’s achieved, the results will percolate throughout society without any further effort as these children grow and have children of their own.

  31. If you replaced Science & Scientist with Sex and Sexist in your post, would it be as true?
    Just Curious.

  32. It seems like your point is, “I write a great blog. I write as a scientist. Why don’t people read it?” Maybe your great science writing is not as great as you think it is.
    Sounds to me like a classic case of the communications theory know as “Knowledge Deficit.” Many scientists suffer from the belief that if people just heard about what they are doing, they would love it. How can they not, I mean, these are facts right?
    The truth is that people need to be more engaged than most scientists realized. They need context, they need framing, they need a message that is carefully crafted to appeal to their age, interests, and lifestyle. You can’t just put the information out therean d expect people to flock to it.

  33. Posted by: Scicurious
    “it’s true, only a small percent of the population are EVER going to be in to science. The trick is to grab that percent before they find other things. And possibly to make other people not mock them quite so much for being geeks. :)”
    You have no idea what you are talking about.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 35 other followers

%d bloggers like this: