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RE: Unscientific America again



> From: owner-DINOSAUR@usc.edu [mailto:owner-DINOSAUR@usc.edu] 
> On Behalf Of Ian Paulsen
> Sent: Wednesday, July 15, 2009 4:24 PM
> To: dinosaur@usc.edu
> Subject: Unscientific America again
> 
> HI ALL:
>  I was wondering how you would bridge the science gap in America?
> 
I would say that first of all there are more than one "gap" to bridge, and
thus there is not a single solution.

There is the big issue of the nature of science education, in which the
nature and process of Science is rarely taught (and indeed largely unknown
to many K-12 science teachers), and thus many make their way through high
school assuming that Science is simply revealed wisdom handed down from guys
in white lab coats. [And leave aside the bigger issue of the funding of
education in the US anyway.]

Then there is the news media's relation to Science and the many issues there
(i.e., how journalists are trained to "present both sides of the story" as
if there are a) only two sides to an issue or that b) the different sides
have comparable weight; also, the need for a punchy theme or a punchy title;
and so forth).

Then there is the entertainment industry's relation to Science: both the
documentary side of things, and the fictional one.

Then there is the 363.6 kg gorilla (wait, it is the US: the 800 lb gorilla):
America's proportionately greater embrace of fundamentalist religious
ideas--even by those who are not themselves fundamentalists per se--when
compared to much of the rest of the developed world.

Then there is that gorilla's ourangutan buddy: various big business fields
with vested interests in preventing good science from being well understood
by the public.

And there is the somewhat smaller friend to these apes (the 75 kg chimp, I
suppose): all sorts of non-profit activist groups left, right, up, down,
center, and any other axis of P-space (political space), who again are more
interested in a particular agenda than in scientific discovery.

And, of course, a lot of scientists aren't very good communicators (just as
many people in practically ANY field aren't good communicators).

And the fact that Universities (which are the home base for a sizeable
fraction of scientists) often do not reward or value outreach beyond the
classroom.

And that many scientists quite frankly are more interested in working around
in the lab and publishing papers than bridging gaps.

And others, too.

As to what to do: I recommend to those who have read Mooney & Kirschenbaum
to pick up Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the
Dark, which addressed many of these same problems a decade and a half ago.
Chapters 17-23 are mostly about the issue of bridging the gaps in many ways.

-------

So how do *I* work on bridging the gap?

- In most of my intro-level classes, I emphasize what Science is and how it
operates, and how we know what we know
- I write books for general audiences (esp. kids) that do the same
- I give talks to various organizations interested in dinosaurs, evolution,
Earth history, etc.
- I am a media whore... Er, I will do documentaries, even knowning a lot of
my dialogue will wind up on the cutting room floor
- I talk to print/electronic reports when they have questions about new
discoveries, etc., to help put them into perspective
- I go on various blogs and mailing lists (;-) to add my $0.02

And so on.

We should all do what we can. We're all in this together.

Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.
Email: tholtz@umd.edu   Phone: 301-405-4084
Office: Centreville 1216                        
Senior Lecturer, Vertebrate Paleontology
Dept. of Geology, University of Maryland
http://www.geol.umd.edu/~tholtz/
Fax: 301-314-9661               

Faculty Director, Earth, Life & Time Program, College Park Scholars
http://www.geol.umd.edu/~jmerck/eltsite/
Faculty Director, Science & Global Change Program, College Park Scholars
http://www.geol.umd.edu/sgc
Fax: 301-314-9843

Mailing Address:        Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.
                        Department of Geology
                        Building 237, Room 1117
                        University of Maryland
                        College Park, MD 20742 USA