Sunday, March 05, 2017

Hey professors, go talk to the public!

I have blogged before (like here) about how Charles Darwin's argument on natural selection and evolution threatened people's understanding of who they are.  It is not easy, I suppose, to accept that we humans are not that special.  Not made in god's own image.  If in god's image, then, ahem, when I look at the mirror I can only conclude that god is ugly;)

People continue to have a love-hate relationship with science because of that identity problem.  My adopted country displays that attitude really well.  The country displays a love-hate towards all thing, I guess.  We import stuff that clearly states it was "Made in China"; we buy a whole lot of it and then bash China.  But then that too is about our existence and identity, right?  Which is why we now have a president and his politics that scream America Wurst, er, First!

So, back to the science issue.
[The] public rejection of science is an extension of our politics, which in turn have become an expression of our constant outrage about everything that offends our deepest beliefs about ourselves. As social scientist David Dunning has put it: “Some of our most stubborn misbeliefs arise not from primitive childlike intuitions or careless category errors, but from the very values and philosophies that define who we are as individuals.” When those misbeliefs are challenged, laypeople take it not as correction but as a direct attack on their identity.
Which is why I have often argued that science has a public-relations issue.  Whether it is climate change or GMO or vaccines or anything scientific, merely presenting more and more evidence is not going to help science nor the scientists.  (Those with better PR skills, like donald t. rump, then happen!)
At the same time, experts cannot withdraw from a public arena increasingly controlled by opportunistic demagogues who seek to discredit empiricism and rationality. Instead, the expert community must help to lead laypeople, who find the modern world intimidating and even frightening, back along the road to a better day when the citizens of the United States valued scientists and other professionals as essential parts of the American story. Experts must continue, as citizens, to advocate for those things they believe to be in the public interest, but the most important role they can play is defend a stark but empathetic insistence on science and reason as the foundation for public policy.
It is awful that trump had to happen for intellectual experts to finally begin to accept what I have been yelling and screaming for years, for decades: The need for public scholarship and engagement.

Early next month, in Boston, I will be one of the panelists on this topic.  Hopefully, the academic world will seriously rethink its approaches in this new reality.  If not, we are all doomed!


Ramesh said...

Good luck in the panel discussion. Will there be a video of it somewhere ?

Sriram Khé said...

Thankfully there won't be any video of this ... ;)

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