Well, this topic has really run away on its own at this point. I can no longer keep track of all the things that have been said. I find Chad Orzel’s thread the best, because it really gets into a lot of the baffling reactions, many of which amount to saying, “this oped omits X” — even though X is to be found in the longer paper, or in the American Academy’s lengthy transcripts which I was asked to summarize.
So I really feel that the people who are making this argument about omissions, without even mentioning the longer work, are being unfair. An example would be Evil Monkey–here criticizing the Post piece without mentioning the longer paper, and yet nevertheless saying “I’ve already done more than Mooney. I’ve made a couple concrete suggestions for how the problem needs to be addressed”; here glossing over that omission by saying the prior post “was directed at the Op-ed, which was pedantic and useless, if not counterproductive.”
Look: Everybody knows that one has to pare a topic down in order to write shorter articles, especially for mass media outlets rather than specialized ones. I’ve really seen nothing raised as an alleged omission in my Washington Post outlook piece that I haven’t written on extensively elsewhere–denialist attacks on science, poor media treatment of science, academic disincentives to being a better communicator, etc. In many cases I literally wrote the book on these things, or have been writing about them for more than half a decade. In other cases, alleged omissions are to be found in the longer American Academy paper, rather than the Outlook essay, or in the academy’s workshops.
Believe me, folks, it has been covered. Read More
Update: The American Academy paper is now live. Download it here.
My Washington Post piece is receiving a truly unexpected blog critique. It is basically being criticized for being relatively brief, and not getting into that much detail. In other words, it is being criticized for being what it is by definition–a short newspaper commentary.
Thus Orac, PZ Myers, and Evil Monkey all fault the piece for not providing more on solutions. The irony is that the byline of the Post piece mentions that I’ve done a more in depth paper on all this for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. And that 15 page paper, in turn, is based on a reading of hundreds of pages of transcripts for four expert workshops put together by the Academy. There is more talk of solutions in the transcripts than the paper, and more in the paper than in the Post piece…and so on. As you’d expect.
In any event, the paper releases today, whereupon it will be available at this link. Thus far, the link isn’t working, but it should pretty soon.
So for those who want more detail, please download the paper. Or, if you prefer, criticize the Post piece and then download the paper!
[Note: There are other points to respond to in these critiques, especially from Orac. I'm busy preparing my talk about the paper for an event this afternoon at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, but hope to address those tomorrow.]
Update: Just learned the American Academy paper will be available for download at this link tomorrow. But don’t go now, it just gives an error message….
Well, the piece yesterday prompted a lot of commentary on the blogs, on Facebook, on the Post website (214 last time I checked), and through emails directly to me. I want to make some remarks on some of the more interesting–and less interesting–reactions that I received.
First, though, a factual point: A lot of folks have asked when the American Academy of Arts and Sciences paper that all of this is based on will be available. The answer is Tuesday, and while this paper is being printed in hard copy–technically an “occasional paper” of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences–an online PDF will also be available. I will link as soon as that occurs. (Tuesday is also day the paper is being rolled out at the other AAAS–American Association for the Advancement of Science–and once again, details on the event are here.)
So, on to the responses. Read More
I’ve got a piece in this weekend’s Sunday Outlook section in the Post, entitled “If scientists want to educate the public, start by listening.” The argument is that although people often seem to resist science and argue back against it, they’re frequently motivated by nonscientific considerations at the core–nonscientific considerations that scientists themselves often don’t really understand. But alas, this means that arguing with them scientifically often doesn’t yield the desired result. Example:
Or consider the long-running controversy over plans to dispose of the nation’s nuclear waste at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain. Although many technical experts have long argued that the repository would be safe, this has hardly convinced frightened and angry Nevadans. In 1991, the American Nuclear Energy Council even launched an ad campaign to educate the public about the Yucca Mountain plan but it backfired. Nearly a third of viewers became more resistant to the repository, and among those who were already opposed, their resolve strengthened. (Just 15 percent had a more favorable opinion of the repository after seeing the ad, and half of viewers did not change their minds.)
The piece also makes a similar point with respect to climate change and vaccination.
So then what is the solution?
Initiatives that engage the public about science policy in a two-way conversation — before controversies explode — show great promise. In Canada, for instance, the national Nuclear Waste Management Organization spent three years listening to the public’s views about how to handle nuclear waste disposal and promised that no dump or repository would be sprung on a community without its consent. Throughout the process, even critics of waste storage efforts remained engaged and supportive of attempts to come up with the best possible solution. In the United States, meanwhile, the federally funded National Nanotechnology Initiative has sponsored a great deal of social science research to explore possible public concerns that may arise as this new field of technology advances.
In sum, work with experts who understand the public to figure out what is driving concerns and resistance–and ideally, do so before you have a long running controversy with lots of bad blood and entrenched positions.
The Post piece mentions in my byline that I’m “author of a paper on the relationship between scientists and the public to be released Tuesday by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.” Indeed, there is a much more detailed and lengthy paper that will be coming out shortly–as well as a public event on Tuesday at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences to present the paper and engage in a discussion about it. You can register here to attend. Also appearing: American Association for the Advancement of Science President Alan Leshner, American Academy of Arts and Sciences Executive Director Leslie Berlowitz, and Resources for the Future scholar Robert Fri. For more details, click here.
Recently, I learned that the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, with support from the Sloan Foundation, had undertaken a path-breaking project to examine what scientists understand about the public. The Academy held four sessions on the topic with experts over the past year and a half, and then asked me to write a paper about the workshops and what they taught and revealed.
The initiative, and my paper, are scheduled to be unveiled at an event at the American Association for the Advancement of Science auditorium in Washington, D.C., on June 29, co-sponsored by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Washington Science Policy Alliance. The event requires registration, and here is a write up for it: Read More