Rock S.O.S.™ Link Dump 4–We Salute You?

By Chris Mooney | November 29, 2010 12:49 pm

RSOS Final JPEG Page 2More commentary on the campaign rolls in, some of it occasioned by my recent argument with Martin Robbins

* There’s an interesting and thoughtful post at It’s Okay to Be Smart, occasioned by the Mooney-Robbins brouhaha. I don’t agree with all of it, and liked the ending best for obvious reasons: “Mooney is right that Robbins can’t claim science’s divine right to cool. Robbins is right that the message is lost, and could have been done in a better way. But since he called Chris names, and doesn’t even celebrate Thanksgiving, Mooney gets the drumstick!”

* Jamie Vernon also reflects on the argument: “I’m not here to complain about the campaign. I’m here to complain about the complaining.”

* Ed Yong also covers the controversy. He likes my Da Vinci Code/Dancing With the Stars line.

* All this has also unearthed for me a post I missed before, from Lab Spaces with tons of comments, taking the basic Martin Robbins line on the campaign.

* PZ Myers doesn’t like the campaign either. He writes that  “Marty Robbins has exposed a similar campaign on behalf of scientists that can similarly only harm…” Now we’re causing only  harm? Now we need to be exposed? Jeez.

* The latest polarization opens a vast middle ground, and John Pavlus drives up and parks there:

People. Wake the f*ck up… …and realize that there is no one, pure, true, best, “proper” way to get Real People™ engaging with science. There are many ways. The GQ campaign is one of them and, while it does come of as cheesy to many of us professional dorks, it ACTUALLY WORKS for a lot of other people. Meanwhile, Martin’s indistinct smear of colorful pixels ALSO WORKS for many other people–personally I do think it IS awesome that we can see the sun through the earth via neutrinos. But this is not zero sum, so please stop being such churlish trolls about good-intentioned attempts at reaching Regular Folks© that you happen not to like.

Mooney: high five. Martin: High (different) five. We’re all on the same team here.

Pavlus has now trademarked this argument, incidentally, so take heed–no one else is allowed to make it.

The worm can turn in the science blogging commentariat once you run through enough rounds of argument. And thus two posts over at ScienceBlogs are pretty favorable to the campaign:

* Dr. Isis does something no one else has yet done that I’ve seen–she unpacks the meaning of the photo pairing up Brett Michaels with Alzheimer’s/brain docs. It’s one of the most compelling pictures in the set, because it tells a clear story about the importance of medical research and advances to a musician’s actual life.

* Over at Starts with a Bang!, Ethan Siegel has a fun montage of possible physicist-musician pairings. He adds, “Opinions are mixed about the merits of this project, but it’s caused me to look up the biographies of many interesting scientists doing great work. I wouldn’t have otherwise, and so I’ve got to commend this project for putting it out there.”

That’s a good note to end on, because at this point, it’s obvious that something is happening with Rock S.O.S.™ in the science blogosphere that, in retrospect, is probably unavoidable.

The science world is going through a partly (although not entirely) generational change over how it approaches the public and communication. And especially online, science folks are fairly riven over it.

So every time a communication initiative comes along, there’s a lot of fierce debate over its effectiveness. Rock S.O.S.™ has now been swept up in this.

I don’t regret this occurrence in and of itself, any more than I regret the diurnal cycle. But I do have a problem with the way the debate is unfolding. You see, I feel a lot of things exciting things are happening in the science communication space, and they make these arguments kind of old and stale.

Based on everything that I’m seeing unfold, we are going to be engaged in strategic communication about science, now more than ever before. And we have already gotten over the idea that scientific facts, alone, are enough to sway nonscientific audiences or to reach the general public.

That is the way the thinking is going, and I don’t believe it can be stopped.

As this evolution occurs, there will be many novel and creative attempts to communicate, like Rock Stars. There will be trials and failures, and impacts larger and smaller, more and less quantifiable. And there will be armchair criticism and Monday morning quarterbacking. All fine.

But I believe we will ultimately need to go beyond “I like this”/”I don’t like this” assessments coming from people who already know a lot about science. We’re trying to reach a public that is not you.

So far, Kevin Zelnio has done the best job of broaching a discussion about the evaluation of communication impacts, which is quite complicated. Let’s have a serious dialogue in this space–based on what we know, and can know. Starting with Kevin’s blog post is the best idea I can think of. Once again, it’s right here.

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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