I recently sat down with Lindsay Patterson at EarthSky to discuss the state of science literacy in the United States.
Here’s an excerpt from the transcript:
Sheril Kirshenbaum: I think right now we are touching on an area where there is enormous opportunity. We have a very well-educated group of young people earning degrees looking to use what they know to contribute to society.
Kirshenbaum said part of contributing to the public’s understanding of science is making scientific research more accessible, through new media like Twitter or YouTube, or speaking publicly about their work and discoveries. Kirshenbaum said that today, fewer scientists are ending up in tenure-track, or permanent positions in a university. That’s why scientists who are experts in their field, and can also write or speak to the public, are at an advantage.
Sheril Kirshenbaum: Why not work with people who are thinking about science careers, but teach them science and something else? Enable young scientists to work with journalists and writers and gain skills to communicate that way. Get them more comfortable talking to media. Create the jobs for renaissance scientists, this new generation that’s going to have to step up and be prepared to tackle things we haven’t found solutions for already.
More at EarthSky…
We were initially surprised that our co-authored book, Unscientific America, was so strongly attacked for observing that scientists should strive to improve their skills at public communication–and that this probably includes not alienating potential religious allies or mainstream America. But in a sense, the attacks made a kind of sense. Mostly, they came from those for whom this advice ran contrary to their particular project of denouncing much of America and the world for alleged ignorance and superstition–the New Atheists.
However, with a recent review in The New Atlantis, it appears that we also touched a nerve on the political right. As this is a more interesting phenomenon, I want to explore it in this post. Read More
It’s received both tremendous praise and endless scorn. The president’s science adviser and the National Science Teachers Association extol it. The New Atheists loathe it and have repeatedly attacked it.
And today, after a whirlwind first year in print, Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future officially debuts in paperback! Already over at Amazon.com, there are only two paperbacks now left in stock…but we’re assured more are on the way.
The paperback edition contains a new preface, addressing some of the questions and criticisms that earlier editions received. Without giving too much away:
* We consider the latest data on science and the U.S. public.
* We consider the impact of “ClimateGate” on the book’s broader argument about science communication.
* We stand by and defend our “Chapter 8,” about the New Atheism. Read More
The book that caused all the ruckus–relentlessly bashed by New Atheists, praised by the president’s science adviser and the National Science Teachers Association–is set for its second run, this time with a new introduction that responds to critics and extends the argument.
In paperback, Unscientific America officially comes out June 8, and can be preordered online now.
So if you missed the hardback, here’s your second chance.
We’ll have more soon about the book, but we wanted to let you know now…to get ready.
Our book reviews aren’t over yet–perhaps they will keep coming out all the way to the paperback release date in May. The latest is from David J. Tenenbaum of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, founding feature writer for the WhyFiles, who is reviewing in the journal Science Communication. Tenenbaum begins with a revealing vignette:
I e-mailed an eminent limnologist today, seeking to discuss an environmental issue that he’s considered important enough to study for several years. To my delight, he immediately responded with word that a new study was forthcoming in an important journal. Then, to my dismay, he added that the journal’s embargo would expire a couple of weeks after my publication date.
No problem, I replied. He’d watched the issue develop for years and would surely have a useful comment. Then I got the silent treatment.
Huh? When you contact scientists for a living (I admit, science journalism can seem a branch of telemarketing), you get used to nonresponses, to experts who think a “tight deadline” means 3 months, or are in Mongolia or at an invitation-only conference in Estonia. This latest wrinkle on the rejection letter told me that this expert would be happy to get help publicizing his newest research triumph but was unwilling to help me explain the environmental ramifications of oil sands mining in Alberta, which just happens to be the largest energy project in the Western Hemisphere.
For indeed, and as we argue in the book, some scientists–not all–aren’t particularly helpful when it comes to interacting with the media. Yet they simply must do more, writes Tenenbaum–and indeed, it is in their own interest to do so. Read More
At the AAAS meeting in San Diego last month, I spoke with EarthSky’s Lindsay Patterson, and the resultant podcast just went up. You can listen here, or by playing the embedded audio below, and I’ve also pasted some transcribed sections below:
And now, the write-up: Read More
We were very pleased to come across the following news yesterday about a contest that was held for students of the CUNY system:
Altogether, 12 CUNY undergraduates–out of 101 applicants–received awards for their essays based on 2009 Nobel prize-winning work in chemistry, physiology and medicine, physics, and economics. First, second and third prizes in each category included an Apple iMac Computer, a Dell Mini 10 Netbook, and an Amazon Kindle.
The impetus for the competition, said Vice Chancellor Gillian Small in her opening remarks, came about when the 2009 Nobel winners were announced, and she was reading a recent book of essays titled Unscientific America, How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future.
“There is a distressingly large number of Americans who refuse to accept even the theory of evolution,” said Small, who envisioned the competition’s essays making Nobel work in science accessible to a larger audience.
What a wonderful idea. This is just more evidence–and it is everywhere–that despite some hold-outs, an emphasis on fixing science communication is the new trend within science itself…and these are just the kinds of initiatives that will spur along that change.
My laziness notwithstanding, I will not be outdone by this timely post of Carl’s. Participants in this virtual book party, sponsored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences, may stand the chance to win a copy of Carl’s The Tangled Bank–but I have just confirmed that 3-5 publisher’s copies of Unscientific America will also be on offer.
Let’s quote Carl on all the event details, so I don’t have to try to write them up better than he does:
What’s a virtual book party you ask? In this case, fellow Discover blogger Chris Mooney and I will each give a 15 minute talk about our new books. From the slipper-and-pajama’d comfort of your home or office (if you wear slippers and pajamas at the office), you can listen to us speak and behold our slide presentations in real time. After we’re through, there will be time for a virtual conversation between you and us. The event (which will last about an hour) is hosted by the American Institute of Biological Sciences.
Carl speaks first, then me. And my slide show won’t have the usual bells and whistles. But, sign up now, I hear they are going fast….
Full video of yesterday’s talk is up, as is the dialogue with former Clinton science adviser and Baker Institute fellow Neal Lane that followed it. You can watch here.
In the new version of the Unscientific America talk, I also tried to make more explicit the reasons why we think “scientific literacy,” broadly defined, is essential to American democracy, and something every citizen should strive for. What’s so great about it? Well, here are my answers:
1. Knowledge is a good in and of itself. The more anyone has of it, the better.
2. Empowerment: The more Americans know about science, and the methods of critical thinking about evidence that it imparts, the better off they’ll be when it comes to making choices in their own lives, e.g., in the medical arena.
3. Citizenship: The more scientifically literate our citizens are, the more they’ll be able to access and engage with the scientific aspects of key public policy issues like climate change.
4. Policy: There is a reality out there, and we need our decisions to be aligned with it. Ultimately, 3 should lead to 4, as more citizen engagement with science reverberates in the decision-making process. And that’s what matters most of all.
Any questions or objections? Or does that about encompass it?
I think that traditionally, most of the emphasis in “scientific literacy” discussions has been on 1 & 2. What I like think is different about the approach that we take in Unscientific America is that it much more strongly stresses 3 & 4.