Full disclosure: I am not a scientist. I have not even been to college: I am just a disabled veteran, an erotic Romance editor, and a village trustee (city councilmember) — they are all related.
Daily Kos member Retroactive Genius wrote a short diary here about a decision handed down by the United Kingdom's parliament to the BBC Trust on no longer giving climate change denialists an equal platform to the overwhelming number of scientists who agree that global warming is happening, it is being driven by humans, and it is changing the climate.
As I said, I am not a scientist, just a high-school educated tail-ender of the baby boom with too many unemployed brain cells. But below the tangled orange knot of string theory branes, I will rehash a debate I had on another forum on how to address the problem of denialists in the long term.
I would welcome an actual science student's or scientist's opinion on this.
Television especially, but much of corporate media today views controversy as the stuff of ratings, where differing opinions hold equal weight.
Science on the other hand, is not a democracy: the only thing that matters is evidence.
Retroactive Genius noted an article in The Telegraph about the decision handed down to the BBC Trust. I first came across it at Ars Technica here.
The Ars Technica article notes that the problem with false balance is not just in climate science but all science issues, and that the BBC also failed to adequately separate science from public policy opinions.
Debates about the military budget or whether this or that monetary policy are appropriate debates to have in public fora; science is not up for debate. Non-scientists are not equipped to have a debate about scientific issues. When public policy addresses a science issue, what should drive the discussion is science, not opinion.
Did you ever notice how few scientists actually appear on television or radio shows? A scientist does not "do science" when he or she speaks to us; they are doing science when they speak to each other. When they argue and try to prove each other wrong.
From that crucible smelting evidence and counter-evidence, of competing hypotheses in duels to the death until only one is left standing, that is where science is done.
When scientists speak to the public they are not doing science. At best they are entertainers. And this is the problem: entertainers compete with each other, and scientists are not trained in entertainment. There are very few scientists that have training in public speaking or communications.
So reality shows get more attention than scientists.
Bill Nye is a mechanical engineer. He understands the scientific method, and also understands that a person is entitled to his or her opinions, but not his or her own facts.
But Nye is also a television personality. He understands how to communicate with an audience not trained in science. And Bill Nye was even on Dancing with the Stars.
So when Creation Museum owner Ken Ham threw down the gauntlet looking to "debate" whether the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection is valid, Nye stepped up to the plate to deliver. While Ham used the famous Gish Gallop technique of argument (usually used by those who do not have evidence to back their claims, also made famous in the first debate between President Obama and Governor Romney), it was clear that Nye "won" the debate.
More importantly, whilst Nye probably did not convert the hard-core religious in the audience, there is little question that the seeds of doubt on evolution were planted in the minds of a few of the attendees, as well as the millions that watched the debate, and continue to watch now, as it is available at YouTube (two hours forty-five minutes).
My modest proposal to those universities that teach scientific disciplines: they ought to require public speaking and writing classes for anyone studying science. The public at large does not have the training or education to follow the esoteric lines of inquiry that make up a scientific theory.
If scientists cannot adequately explain, in plain language, what it is they do and why they do it (and why research takes a large bite of tax money), then an opening as large as a semi-truck for those who have an agenda to derail or obfuscate science appears, because it stands in opposition to their profits or religious views or anything else that is not science.
In weighing the Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court ignored science about contraceptives in favour of a putative corporate religious belief. Regardless of what one thinks of the current makeup of the Supreme Court or its decisions, opinion should not drive matters of public policy in scientific matters, science should.
How we run our government is a matter of political opinion. For that, debate in the public forum is right and proper. But for those who would drag us back to the Dark Ages with nonsense opinions about vaccines, intelligent design in the classroom, contraceptives, or anything else that has a scientific basis and understanding, we need actual scientists that can speak to the public in terms the public understands.
Last week my brother-in-law came up to the Nebraska Panhandle to visit my wife (and help us rewire our house, because we could not get an electrician to come in six months to this out-of-the-way village even waving a fist full of cash at one).
He is a schoolteacher in Texas, but he is also a geologist and a meteorologist. As such, my wife, who is the library director in Broadwater, asked him to do a presentation on the Nebraska Sandhills (as his Master's thesis was on the formation of the Pawnee Buttes, as well as the flora and fauna found in these rock formations around here).
As a schoolteacher, my brother-in-law engages in public speaking as part of his job (ofttimes with students who do not wish to be there).
I put together a media blitz of public service announcements on local TV, radio, and in newspapers to draw in an audience to a science lecture in a town of 128 people.
The evening of his geology lecture was amazing. People from all over the Nebraska Panhandle turned up. There were more people at the public library than there were in the local tavern (I counted)!
He wove together for farmers, ranchers, students, businesspeople, retirees, and others a two million year history of Western Nebraska: plate techtonics, geology, evolutionary biology, global warming and climate change, in a two hour lecture that held the attention of everyone who came to the event. He included simple charts, graphs, drawings, and photographs (suitably large for a lecture to elderly people with low vision) to underpin his lecture.
At the end of the lecture, numerous people came up to him asking when he would return: they'd learned a lot in a couple hours and they wanted to hear him speak again. No FOX News Channel talking points about how climate science is a hoax or any of that nonsense; he's shown through an engaging lecture with non-science trained people how climate change is going to hit them right in the pocketbook (farms and ranches).
He will be back for the total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. Broadwater is right in the centre of the path of totality. He will do a lecture on eclipses, how they occur and how to view them safely.
My brother-in-law is an example of how to change the course of the discussion about scientific matters that are not up for debate, like climate science and evolutionary biology. While not an active researcher, he is trained in public speaking.
We need those out on the cutting edge of science to take up public speaking as well. The truth will out, even against great gobs of money.
Hence my modest proposal: make public speaking mandatory for anyone studying scientific disciplines in college.