[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index][Subject Index][Author Index]

Re: New iguanodonts in PLoS ONE



"Respect" for something abstract like
>  a language or a dead culture falls squarely into the category of
> something we don't need to be concerned with.  It's an issue like the
> salad fork- no one's harmed by breaking the rule.  It's all about
> tradition, appearences, being proper and cultured, etc..  Nothing that
> influences the science at all.

Curious.

I see almost this exact same logic in certain other contexts.

I'll just substitute a few synonyms and near-synonyms to illustrate.

"Respect" for something obscure and obsolete like an extinct animal
falls squarely into the category of something we don't need to be
concerned with.  It's an issue like studying useless old bones- no
one's harmed by ignoring them.  It's all about not having a real job,
having interests that don't produce anything useful, trying to look
all smart, etc..  Nothing that meaningfully impacts mainstream life at
all.

As soon as someone considers something outdated or otherwise
irrelevant, they trot out this sort of argumentation. I've dealt with
it far too many times in other guises. The logic used here to justify
weaker standards in one branch of science terminology is very much the
same used in some quarters to justify weakening science education and
science funding: "It just doesn't matter enough for the purposes of
myself/my demographic/my ideology, because it's too
abstract/obscure/eccentric/head-in-the-clouds/naively
idealistic/elitist/too much 'in principle' and not enough in the 'real
world.'" I.e., it's a bit too close for comfort to that cultural
complex in which information is not valued unless the benefit is
immediately tangible.

If we're honest with ourselves, we know that - while the general
public may have a superficial interest in charismatic paleo subjects
like dinosaurs - they don't have much respect for the actual process,
methodology, or language of not just paleontology but science in
general. Blue-collar workers don't think sifting through sediment for
ancient pollen has any relevance to the modern world, and white-collar
workers don't usually care in any serious way about
270-million-year-old synapsid dentition unless it's somehow an
opportunity for profit. Most of our research as paleontologists is
only read and appreciated by the proportionately tiny community of
people who themselves do (or hope to do) such research. The 95+% of
the population that's not even science-literate can dismiss our
efforts until we're blue in the face with this kind of reasoning. By
their standards, they just don't have to care.

It's not a survival issue, it's not a profit or power issue, and it's
not a comfort or leisure issue. Therefore, irrelevant. Just like
pretty much the entire universe.

I'm sure most of us would agree that this is not the kind of mentality
we want to promote, regardess of the scale of the issue or the content
of the subject. And I think we as science-minded people are behooved
to get better at defending our work against it, if we ever hope to see
the respect and social recognition we think such knowledge deserves.
All too  often I see scientists who've spent too much time in their
insulated institutional spheres floundering against simplistic
rhetoric that, hypothetically, should be easy to disprove. They just
don't know how to articulate an argument for the abstract, perhaps
because they're so used to having the freedom to favor it subjectively
that they never hit upon the need to do so objectively. We need to be
more closely in touch with the reality of public perception, but more
importantly we need to be more prepared to engage it effectively. Some
of you on this list are to be commended in that regard.

So, back to you personally, I'm not accusing you of being in bed with
anyone remotely like that or being entrenched in that kind of
reasoning (since I know the reverse to be true), and while I care
about the subject I don't want to be self-righteous about it either.
Yet I do want to say to anyone who agrees with that line of
rationalizaton: Be mindful of how your standards may influence the
perceptions of those around you, whether they're on "our side" or not.

Knowledge should be promoted for its own sake. To do anything less is
to presume knowledge we do not truly have.