More on Communicating Science

Carl Zimmer has more on The Loom about communication and evolution, with an interview with Randy Olson, director of the movie A Flock of Dodos. I believe he has some good suggestions about communication, but I also believe we are still missing the largest issue. I don’t think that a nation that is addicted to information that is presented quickly, and requires little effort to comprehend is going to be able to understand the issues involved in science. That would be OK if people without any understanding of the issues were not trying to make decisions about it.

PZ Meyers has already made some good notes over on Pharyngula.

Those whose primary role is to communicate with the public should look at the suggestions here. But again, I don’t believe that those involved in scientific research and even in classroom teaching (beyond a few basic courses that are almost identical to the popular media) should have to be concerned about these types of things. They should take notice, however, of the fact that they are not well qualified to communicate with the general public. A number of scientists have gone out to debate with creationists who should have stayed in their labs.

But that is not the primary problem with this debate. I believe that the primary problem is that we have an issue that can be expressed well by one-liners on one side, but requires serious study on the other. It is much easier to understand that “God did it and we don’t know how” than it is to deal with biological issues. Even at the gross amateur level (which is where I am), evolution is simply more complicated than creationism. Creationists will tend to win debates for this one reason alone.

There is indeed a need for some good publicity work. There are major public misunderstandings that can be dealt with through some good publicity. Projects such as the Clergy Letter and Evolution Sunday help let people know that this is not an issue that divides between people of faith and the “infidels” (however defined), but rather that people of faith are involved in large numbers on the evolutionary side.

I’m afraid that I sense a certain condescension from the media savvy communicators. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. I’m glad that scientists are principally gifted at dealing with complex scientific information. And just to keep beating my regular drum–solid education is what we need.

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