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Re: Two ideas that may ruffle feathers



I don't want to comment on Bakker or his work and my remarks should not be
taken as directed at him, but I wanted to say something about popularizing
science. If it means presenting real science in an exciting way and in terms 
that can be understood by the casually interested layman, I am all for it, and
I don't think it is done enough. But I don't think pandering to the public is
good for science. Emphasizing the most speculative and least testable ideas of 
a science as if they were the great problems is bad enough, but presenting them 
as fact is worse. Representing this as science encourages the view that 
scientific knowledge is gained by magical means by the experts and handed down
to the uninitiated. I think it is much more useful and can be just as 
interesting to show how scientific hypotheses are connected to real evidence.
That way the non-scientist can get a better idea of what science is, that it is
something anybody could do with sufficient talent and training. That might
encourage some who otherwise see it as beyond them to go into science as a 
career or a serious secondary interest. It might help those with an 
unrealistic view of what a scientist does  recognize what kind of preparation
is needed to follow that career at an early stage in their education. As for 
popularizing dinosaurs; based on my experience, I don't think dinosaurs need a
champion to promote interest. In fact, I think it tends to work the other way
around. If you claim to be an expert with something to say about dinosaurs, 
you have a guaranteed audience, at least once. One could take that opportunity
to encourage appreciation of some of the great real wonders of the natural 
world rather than promoting just another escapist fantasy.

George Engelmann
engelman@cwis.unomaha.edu