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  •  Re (18+ / 0-)

    We scientists don't tend to study public relations.  We produce data and then write to the rest of the scientific community about what we find.  We give talks and presentations to our colleagues.  It's how we operate, and it's how we get the most done.  It is the job of science reporters in the media to take what we've done and get the public at-large to understand it.

    Now, some scientists are adept at relaying the findings to the public, and they deserve every bit of credit that they can get.  The truth is, though, that in most cases, there is a great deal of background information that any given person needs to have an understanding of before he can even begin to interpret what even the best explained study accomplished.

    That knowledge gap is the primary reason that scientists tend to throw their hands up in the air when it comes time to tell the public.  When talking to my non-scientific friends and relatives, I often have to go back and do a five minute crash course in genetics to even give them an inkling into what it is that I'm working on.

    •  I think that... (5+ / 0-)

      disseminating relevant results of your work to the non-professional community is a part of your duty to the society. However, some people just plain old suck at talking about their work in a way that would be comprehensible to a non-professional. Or even to a professional.

      •  Re (8+ / 0-)

        Yes, there is often a lack of communication skills, but keep in mind that the material that we put out cannot be understood without substantial background knowledge.  Part of the problem is the public's lack of education on the matter.  Most folks don't learn enough science well enough in high school (or in college, if they're a non-science or engineering major) to be able to follow what we do.  Also, scientific understanding is constantly updated.  Someone who studied science in high school in the 1970s would be greatly disadvantaged by all of the obsolete knowledge that they have, if they retained it.

        Any time I want to explain what I'm working on, I have to explain genetics.  Most people have no idea what genetics is about.  Some folks don't know what DNA is.  Most don't really understand what genes are.  It takes a long time to get someone up to speed such that I can tell them what I do without anything more than a polite nod.

        If you want things improved, improve science education.

        •  Sadly... the schools don't teach... (7+ / 0-)

          elementary reasoning skills (to say nothing of the foundations of science). I think it's on purpose. If students are taught to reason, they won't reliably  vote Republican when they grow up.

          •  Really? (4+ / 0-)
            I teach reasoning AND foundational science concepts, and how to evaluate claims.

            I also got called every name in the book when I pointed out in another thread the RFJ Jr is a total kook when it comes to science. Oh, well.

            •  You are more of an exception then... (0+ / 0-)

              if you teach at a public school. Keep up the good work, we need more teachers like you.

              •  Thanks (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                kalmoth, WillR, cgirard

                However, I do have a lot of great colleagues in my school and district. There are some pretty bad teachers around to be sure, but I have a lot of respect for most of my colleagues. At least I don't have to deal with any twits in the science department at my school.
                To me, the biggest problem isn't teacher quality (at least in my area, a Seattle suburb), but curriculum. The math curriculum is horrible, and the math teachers hate it. I get classloads of 9th graders who are completely baffled by F = ma ; solve for a. Thats as simple as algebra gets. The other thing is that they are only required to take 9th grade physical science and biology. They should be required to take science EVERY year, imnsho.

                And yes, I do teach at a public junior high school.

        •  Have to do it all the time (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          i like bbq

          I do a fair amout of work as an expert witness.  Work on some analogies that lay people can understand, and give them a flyer.  Keep the ones that work.  Boil it down to the essenses and you can get responses and understanding from the lay public.

          You can't support the GOP and the Constitution at the same time!

          by Arsenic on Fri Nov 07, 2008 at 11:17:49 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  So what, so do economists, for that matter (3+ / 0-)

      so does anybody explaining foreign policy.  It's a duty you can't avoid.  So get with it, you folks.

      WE must hang together or we will all hang separately. B.Franklin

      by ruthhmiller on Fri Nov 07, 2008 at 10:33:31 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  But you can explain foreign policy in English (13+ / 0-)

        and economists lie to us all the time.

        The problem scientists run into is that in order to genuinely understand what's being discussed at high levels in any given scientific field, you need a solid fundamental understanding of a) multivariable calculus, b) statistics, or c) both. It's honestly far more difficult to write pop-science than any other genre of nonfiction, because you need to translate concepts that exist in math-space into English-space in a way that neither distorts them nor loses vital information, and we just don't have an algorithm for that yet.

        I've thought for a while that researchers should use talented undergraduate students to help them convey their ideas and findings to the public. What's needed is a group of people with the bare minimum technical knowledge to grasp the discussion as presented by a scientist, who also remember clearly what it was like not to have that knowledge.

        During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. - George Orwell

        by kyril on Fri Nov 07, 2008 at 10:44:42 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I almost disagreed with you, but I do agree (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          i like bbq, kyril, cgirard

          I work in IT.  I have to explain computers, security, hardware, etc. to people, in English, all the time.  I don't have to break down the TCP/IP protocol for them using the OSI model every time they have a problem with "Their Internet."  

          Sure, computers are designed with human use in mind, but there is a lot of math, physics, science and even philosophy involved that average folks just don't need to understand.

          It is why there are sysadmins in cages at ISP's, far away from the users. I can talk to them as easily as I can explain to a computer neophyte why it is important to have a strong password (without getting into a discussion of cyphers).

          I think that there are reasons why these people don't business, the less educated the buyer is about the thing you're selling, the less risky your product will be in the market.  Scientists need to consider who they entrust with their findings (of course, many work for the businesses that are selling the results of their work), and people who use the products of scientific research need to consider who they trust to explain it to them.

          There's a lot of research going on for research's sake...perhaps we should consider the consequences and the outcome in a different light.

          The MSM...excuse me, the Traditional Media is propaganda.

          by mmuskratt on Fri Nov 07, 2008 at 11:00:52 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  My password is "1234" (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            mmuskratt, AnnieJo, kyril, cgirard

            Actually, it isn't...

            As a software professional (30 years) I can tell you there are some things that are easy to explain in 30,000 FT non-jargon and there are things that are IMPOSSIBLE to explain or discuss (like a boss I had who ALWAYS wanted the explanations to specific problems to be jargon-free - and HE had a degree in computer science!). Sometimes you have to have a wee bit of knowledge in order to understand the answer.

            My wife is in Public Heath and FREQUENTLY she goes over my head - and the explanations at times are VERY lengthly...

            Sometimes we, as a nation, need to take, as an article of faith, that professionals know a little about what they talk about. I'm not saying that there SHOULDN'T be discussion -- but you DAMN well better have something better than "my neighbors kid had a friend who said that wasn't true"...

            For example, when my wife says that NOT getting vaccinated is riskier than getting vaccinated, I take that with the knowledge that SHE knows more than I do about Public Health and the ramifications if I skip that vaccination.

            Unfortunately, it takes next to nothing to put up a website that argues anything will kill you/causes xyz disease/cures cancer. I know, I have a sister who is suffering from an incurable disease and started this "program" designed by a quack. Damned near killed her.

            Who would Darth Vader vote for?

            by feloneouscat on Fri Nov 07, 2008 at 12:01:15 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Public Trust (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              ZenTrainer, kyril, pedmom

              Faith vs. is blind belief, the other takes a lot of convincing first.

              That's part of the argument here...some people need to believe, some people need proof before they trust you.

              Hence, part of the problem is those that will create gray areas in the intersection between faith and trust - as well as those who, in the past, have proven untrustworthy.

              The problem a leap of faith is you usually only get one shot at it.  The problem with trust is that, sometimes, that person who packed your chute doesn't always do it right.  And unless you're an expert at it yourself, you'll just have to live with the end result...

              The MSM...excuse me, the Traditional Media is propaganda.

              by mmuskratt on Fri Nov 07, 2008 at 12:26:44 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

    •  Well... (0+ / 0-)

      There are scientists who study public relations the "We scientists" could be a little more precise.  Unless, of course, you want to get into the pseudo-science arguments that come up in semantic arguments like the one I'm making in this comment...

      The MSM...excuse me, the Traditional Media is propaganda.

      by mmuskratt on Fri Nov 07, 2008 at 11:06:14 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  another scientist here (0+ / 0-)

      we dont study PR.  Our bosses hire PR people to dumb down our findings to read to the masses.  Have you seen this latest research on autism?  I wonder where this will lead.

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