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Re: Problems with paleontological portrayal

Two summers ago, I had an interesting debate with a columnist for
Scientific American.

Her contention was that scientists have no responsibility for explaining
themselves: scientists are only responsible for "discovering."  It is,
in her opinion, the responsibility of journalists to "explain" what
scientists are talking about to the rest of the world.

My contention was that scientists have a responsibility to be clear.

If we follow her logic, then the average person simply can't have any
access to the "real" meaning of science unless there is an intermediary
(in this case a journalist). This smacks to me of a familiar structure
set up by various religions to intermediate between the common man and
the highest powers of the universe.

Whether we agree with her or not, it is clear that whether we like it or
not,  intermediaries or "translators" are necessary in 1997: there are
too, too many statements (not to mention proclamations) made by learned
folks that are simply incomprehensible. Granted that the higher reaches
of any speciality (whether it is nuclear physics or bowling) involve
some sort of jargon and understanding which is not easily communicated
to the uninitiated, nonetheless, my belief is that anything that one
human being can experience, can be communicated clearly to most other
human beings. I'm leaving out learning impaired individuals and making
assumptions about the base language that the communication occurs in:
Obviously all of us here in this list read and write English (to some
extent or another) and we exclude inadvertantly all those who don't. I'm
not talking about those barriers.

Responsibility is always a touchy word because none of us want to feel
coerced. Don't we all have those "go away and leave me alone and don't
ask all those dumb questions" kind of days?

Science, however, is misunderstood enough and, I think,  in these "New
Age" days under a lot of pressure that derives from pure ignorance on
the part of the public. Perhaps we should view the "need to be clear" as
a form of self-preservation rather than as a responsibility or worse as
a condescention to the ignorant or stupid.


Ellen Sue Blakey wrote:

> Marty Martin wrote:
> > What difference does it make to the world if only a few can
> understand
> > it? Scientists from all fields, not just paleontology, fly off the
> > handle as soon as someone not from their field mis-interprets or
> > incorrectly portrays their beloved work. I don't think this is the
> fault
> > of the layperson as much as it is of those responsible for doing the
> > work.
> >        <snip>
> As a writer and a former teacher of writers, I like to explain the
> process of
> writing/teaching/communicating in this fashion.
> Learning and educating is a process.
> Learning is but half of a full circle.
> Educating is the other half.
> If you see the process as a clock face, everyone begins the learning
> process at 6
> o'clock. If an individual applies himself/herself and succeeds, he/she
> achieves a
> high level of professional (perhaps also professorial) background that
> allows him
> (and I use this pronoun generically) to reach a level of knowledge
> where he is
> able to communicate on a highly technical level with his peers. That
> level is 12
> o'clock.
> But aahh, that is only half the story. For if he is really to educate
> (communicate, teach or even truly accomplish), then he must proceed
> back around to
> 6 o'clock, back to the level where he once was, to reach those who are
> just
> beginning the process. And this means returning home to his own roots
> and lack of
> knowledge, remembering his own limitations even if he has no empathy.
> This is a matter of not pulling up (you cannot pull from the right
> side of the
> clock face) but of reaching down to that original level before
> beginning the
> upward movement with someone else in hand.
> Not to make that transition (back to 6 o'clock) is, in some measure,
> to fail. For
> half a clock is not a clock at all.
> Of course, even those individuals who achieve 12 o'clock in some areas
> (but who
> are curious about other areas) are always at 6 o'clock on some circle
> of life.
> Knowing that, how can we avoid at least some measure of humility and
> willingness
> to complete the circle?
> Ellen Sue Blakey
> Is this zen enough for you, zen lizard?
> Mickey, isn't an understanding of the process applicable to the line
> as well as
> the technical information?

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