The tag-line in my @psybertron twitter bio is “Keeping science (and humanism) honest”.
The humanism is relevant because so much “new-humanism” is of the scientistic “New-Atheist” kind (see previous post). The humanism is parenthetical to the science. It’s the scientism – a puffed-up version of science that really doesn’t understand itself or its real place in the human world – that has always been my main target. An environment where polarisation – “science good (rational) / religion bad (irrational)” – is seen as good enough to engage any argument.
One of my recurring themes is memetics – how in these days of ubiquitous communication it’s the bad ideas which fit existing prejudices and accepted patterns of ideas that spread best.
It’s the “fittest” ideas that spread. It’s not the good ideas that spread.
Great example from Brian Clegg via John Gribbin today on Facebook. The very idea of Newton is already a great and readily accepted icon for enlightenment science – so let’s hang any old “2nd Law” on to him, that’ll work.
There are many Newton, Galileo, Einstein and more examples.
The two topics are connected. 90% of (popular) science writing (including social-media opinion and mainstream-media science-celebrity (*), present company excepted) is crap, because 90% of everything is crap. That is, the problem is not confined to science, but in these days where scientists are encouraged to write for their public, the growth in scientific communication tends towards this low common denominator. Popular science writing is not science. It’s predominantly political rhetoric; how well informed and carefully argued it is becomes increasingly irrelevant to its success as popular science communication.
This is a natural (but bad) consequence of evolution. It needs to be actively countered by humanity. Less is more.
[Aside – related to this is the “evidence-fetish”, a part of the mis-placed scientism problem. I’m all for the “ask for evidence” campaign where arguments offered are supported by scientific claims – in health, environment and energy areas, say – but it creeps into every debate. Just this morning John Simpson on BBC R4 Today interviewing someone in the Brexit / Remain debate challenged his interviewee with “there’s no evidence” that it will take 10 years to sort out leaving EU. Of course there’s no bl**dy evidence – that will require 20 years of hindsight, and even then it will never be a reproducible situation, so its value will be limited anyway. This is science – and John Simpson – holding back human progress by filling our air-time and attention-spans with irrelevance (and inaccuracy).]
[Post Note : And later today, a case in point. Bill Nye “The Science Guy”.
Hat tip to Massimo Pigliucci.
(*) Science media celeb = “star of edutainment”.]
[Post Note : And this from THE arguing in defence of public engagement,
“You’re a professor at university, FFS.
Stop wasting your time on YouTube.”
Confronting the “critics of public engagement”:
Contrary to my “less is more”? Timely, but worse than I thought:
“cannot sing [Brian] Cox’s praises enough.”
We are at opposite ends of this spectrum. Sure, “telegenic stars of edutainment” inspiring interest in science through mass media – Sagan-wise – is to be lauded, but please, please, please don’t confuse any content with scientific knowledge and information. It’s scary how much I disagree with that Philip Moriarty THE article:
“This is a particularly vitriolic example from a few years back: “Brian Cox doesn’t dumb-down science. He does worse. He makes it disposable.” The author sneeringly claims that “Cox has single-handedly turned the fine art of science presenting into a Katie Price impersonation competition”.
I try to avoid the vitriolic rhetorical “rants” of the likes of Paul “Lord” Harper – but that’s me ;-)]