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The Media Science

Getting The Public To Listen To Good Science 419

Posted by kdawson
from the i'm-your-doctor-dammit dept.
I Don't Believe in Imaginary Property writes "We all know that false or misleading science headlines are all too common these days and that misleading media combined with an apathetic and undereducated public lead to widespread ignorance. But the real question is, how can this trend be reversed? At a session at the recent AAAS meeting, a study was discussed indicating that what matters most is how the information is portrayed. While people are willing to defer to experts on matters of low concern, for things that affect them directly, such as breast cancer or childhood diseases, expertise only counts for as much as giving off a 'sense of honesty and openness,' and that it matters far less than creating a sense of empathy in deciding who people will listen to. In other words, it's not enough to merely report on it as an expert. You need to make sure your report exudes a sense of honesty, openness, empathy, and maybe even a hint of humor."
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Getting The Public To Listen To Good Science

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 25, 2008 @08:47PM (#22553196)
    The biggest problem is getting the public to listen to good science is to make them understand the scientific method and the philosophy of science. Otherwise it is just another type of belief to them.

    But how to you start to explain the difference between a priori and a posteriori without people rolling their eyes and walking off?
    • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Monday February 25, 2008 @09:02PM (#22553346)
      Look how Discovery channel etc get hyped and dramatized and facts removed to make for a more entertaining package. Even the news is infotainment.

      Anyway, what is Good Science? A lot of the more entertaining science is Bad Science. For example, Discovery Channel segments on dinosaurs often feature people making roaring extrapolations: find a tooth fragment and say that they have found something from a dinosaur that would have been 25 ft long and run at 40 mph. What bullshit.

      • by johnsonav (1098915) on Monday February 25, 2008 @09:30PM (#22553634) Journal

        Look how Discovery channel etc get hyped and dramatized and facts removed to make for a more entertaining package. Even the news is infotainment.
        I think this is a perfect example of how the situation is improving. Before things like TLC or Discovery, there were almost no infotainment outlets. Even though the balance is skewed more towards the "tainment," and less toward the "info," it is still a net positive.

        Science education, world-wide if not in the US, has never been better. Scientists and engineers make up a larger share of our society than ever before in the history of mankind. Religion and ignorance have lost ground, while knowledge and understanding have gained.

        Is there more to be done? Are we where we want to be in terms of scientific understanding? No, but we are on the right track as a species. The only things we can do is continue pushing the veil of ignorance steadily back, and doing our best to educate children in the way science actually works.
        • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Monday February 25, 2008 @10:02PM (#22553938)
          Sure, Good Science need not be completely dry and boring, but Discovery Channel etc edit for entertainment value, not fact. At the end of the day they are generating material which competes for eyeballs with sitcoms and Reality TV etc. No eyeballs means no ad revenue which means no airtime. Simple.

          Is it really a net positive for science if it gives a very skewed version of what science is and how science works?

          I would argue that the USA's peak of scientific interest was during the late 1960s when the space program was a national obsession and every second kid had a Nasa poster on their bedroom wall. Perhaps we have a lot of scientists and engineers now, but that is mainly a generational lag thing. Perhaps we know more about science now, but the interest is long gone. The current national obsessions (it there are any) are Britney Spears etc. The USA sure is not seeding the next generation of scientists.

          • by johnsonav (1098915) on Monday February 25, 2008 @10:29PM (#22554190) Journal

            I would argue that the USA's peak of scientific interest was during the late 1960s when the space program was a national obsession and every second kid had a Nasa poster on their bedroom wall.
            You're probably right. But, I'm sure there were plenty of people back then that thought there were too many kids interested in The Beatles, not science. If anything, I believe that what has been lost is a generation of physicists and biologists to the siren's song of computer science. If the Apollo program was what drew them in the '60s, then dot-coms and OSS draw them now. There is no other field today where the barriers to entry are so low that almost anyone can make a real contribution.

            The first step towards solving the problem, in my opinion, is stop making college degrees the minimum requirement for employment, regardless of major. There are too many people attending college today simply looking for any degree. This results in over-enrollment in so called easy majors, and less funding for science and engineering. You don't see nearly as many foreign students in those programs because, for them, the job market back home requires real knowledge, not just a piece of paper.
            • by mdfst13 (664665) on Monday February 25, 2008 @11:32PM (#22554674)

              There are too many people attending college today simply looking for any degree. This results in over-enrollment in so called easy majors, and less funding for science and engineering. You don't see nearly as many foreign students in those programs because, for them, the job market back home requires real knowledge, not just a piece of paper.
              I also think that you'd find that many foreign students have their educations funded by someone who cares what major they choose. In the US, the primary sources of funding are loans (controlled by the student), grants (given by the government for any major), need based aid (given by the school for any major), and parents. Grants and need based aid could be focused on particular majors but are not.

              I've toyed with ideas about programs that would be more corporately focused. For example, what if student loan recipients were chosen by companies? The company would be on the hook for hiring the student after graduation. The student would be responsible for maintaining good grades in a major approved by the company (note: students would be able to pick the company that offered a major that they wanted). Students who flunk out, change majors (without a new sponsor), or who decide not to work for their sponsor have to pay the loan back. If the company cuts back staff and does not hire the student, then the company eats the loan. If the company hires the student, the company is assumed to have adjusted the student's pay appropriately. After some number of years, the student will finish the loan period and can switch companies without paying back the loan.

              Another possibility would be to replace federal grants with corporate tax credits. Companies could pay for a student's tuition and mark it down as taxes paid. Obviously it would be more efficient for a company to pay tuition for a student it would like to hire than someone who is interested in an entirely different field.

              A big problem with US education before college is the shortness of the school year. Why not take a page from Germany's book and switch to ten 216 day years in elementary and secondary school (the same 2160 days that come from twelve 180 day years)? Then go to a two year program that could be more general than a university degree (i.e. something like Engineering, Science, or Liberal Arts rather than Electrical Engineering, Physics, or Philosophy) and more specific than the final two years of secondary school currently are. Afterwards, students could go to the regular university with a more consistent and focused presentation. For people who aren't college inclined, they could use those two years in a trade school.
              • by penix1 (722987) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @12:19AM (#22554934) Homepage

                I've toyed with ideas about programs that would be more corporately focused. For example, what if student loan recipients were chosen by companies? The company would be on the hook for hiring the student after graduation. The student would be responsible for maintaining good grades in a major approved by the company (note: students would be able to pick the company that offered a major that they wanted). Students who flunk out, change majors (without a new sponsor), or who decide not to work for their sponsor have to pay the loan back. If the company cuts back staff and does not hire the student, then the company eats the loan. If the company hires the student, the company is assumed to have adjusted the student's pay appropriately. After some number of years, the student will finish the loan period and can switch companies without paying back the loan.


                There are many problems with this approach. First, fields seen as "not profitable" by corporate leaders would suffer greatly. Fields such as paleontology, philosophy, history and even pure mathematics would go the way of the dodo bird. Next, those who wanted one of those unpopular majors would be forced into a government student loan that has dwindling users meaning the cost would go through the roof (as if it isn't already there) simply because nobody except those unpopular majors are getting them. Lastly, the whole concept of "general education" would die because companies wouldn't pay for classes that don't directly relate to whatever job they have lined up for the student. That is just a small sample of the problems. I''m sure others can think of more.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Just Some Guy (3352)

            Is it really a net positive for science if it gives a very skewed version of what science is and how science works?

            My daughter got into Discovery's shows about fishes, and now sincerely wants to become a marine biologist so she can learn more about them. Yeah, I'd say it's a net positive.

        • by etherlad (410990) <[ianwatson] [at] [gmail.com]> on Monday February 25, 2008 @11:10PM (#22554522) Homepage
          Before things like TLC or Discovery, there were almost no infotainment outlets.

          I'd like to amend that to remove TLC. Sadly, we're well beyond the days of James Burke's Connections and the like. There's not much science involved in 2-day home renovation shows, fashion makeover shows, or pimp-my-vehicle.

          The closest they get is the occasional ghost investigation, which can hardly be called science.
          • by johnsonav (1098915) on Monday February 25, 2008 @11:30PM (#22554646) Journal

            I'd like to amend that to remove TLC. Sadly, we're well beyond the days of James Burke's Connections and the like. There's not much science involved in 2-day home renovation shows, fashion makeover shows, or pimp-my-vehicle.
            Whaaaat?! If it wasn't for Trading Spaces, my Ph.D thesis, "The Effects of Quantum Entanglement on Low-Cost Interior Design" would never have happened. I owe my job here at CERN (Cost Efficient Redesigning, National) to that show.
      • by ResidntGeek (772730) on Monday February 25, 2008 @10:52PM (#22554352) Journal

        find a tooth fragment and say that they have found something from a dinosaur that would have been 25 ft long and run at 40 mph. What bullshit.
        Not a paleontologist, are you? Teeth are very diagnostic, and very often well-preserved and documented. If you find a tooth dead center in a Kimmeridgian-stage formation which perfectly matches a tooth from the holotype specimen of Stegosaurus armatus, for example, it's not bullshit to say the tooth came from a dinosaur with 17 armored plates on its back - even if it sounds like it.
      • by a_nonamiss (743253) on Monday February 25, 2008 @11:59PM (#22554822)

        Look how Discovery channel etc get hyped and dramatized and facts removed to make for a more entertaining package
        Actually, this is a myth. I know because I saw it on Mythbusters. And it was totally busted.
    • Otherwise it is just another type of belief to them.

      What do you expect when just about anyone can come up with anything, slap "ology" at the end of the word and call it a science?
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        As a Scientologist I am offended by your remark.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by RobBebop (947356)

      But how to you start to explain the difference between a priori and a posteriori without people rolling their eyes and walking off?

      I rolled my eyes, and then went to look it up on Wiki [wikipedia.org]....

      One rough and oversimplified explanation is that a priori knowledge is independent of experience, while a posteriori knowledge is dependent on experience. In other words, statements that are a priori true are tautologies.

    • by colmore (56499)
      Teach it to them in school.

      Smart people are mostly made, not born. Otherwise there would be a lot more geniuses in the slums, ...and don't toss out social-darwinian bullshit, modern economics, even interpreted liberally, hasn't been around long enough and the populations in question are far too large, and intelligence (short of incapacitation) isn't only a small chunk of what contributed to human survival until very recently (for the first 99.9999999% of human history, being resistant to diseases and dumb
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by themushroom (197365)
      Good science isn't necessary (in the public's eye) when it's a celebrity doing the talking. Seriously, consider Jenny McCarthy talking about autism, Tom Cruise talking about mental health issues, or Paris Hilton on drunken elephants. [grinning on the last one] While science and truth should matter, and in the end do, people still prefer the people who play doctors on TV -- or play the fool on TV, radio, magazines, etcetera -- to the folks who actually know what the f#&* they're talking about.
  • by Gothmolly (148874) on Monday February 25, 2008 @08:50PM (#22553236)
    People have been taught, for several generations now, that causality is optional, that science is for geeks, that geeks are there to serve the jocks, that man needs to serve the state, and that perception is reality. Why would they care about your silly little experiments?
    • What we have here (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ColdWetDog (752185) on Monday February 25, 2008 @09:04PM (#22553364) Homepage
      Is a failure to communicate ...

      Unfortunately, this is a war that we are unlikely to win. The hearts and minds of the populace are mostly centered between the stomach and groin. What the AAS report is basically saying is that science has to "advertise" - just like everything else.

      Then it's not "science". It's just one more religion / belief system in a pile of others out to get converts.

      The only thing we can do is teach the scientific method - in schools, at home, in conversations. It's the only weapon we've got, however small.

      • by rthille (8526) <web-slashdot@nOSPAM.rangat.org> on Monday February 25, 2008 @09:32PM (#22553648) Homepage Journal
        I disagree when you say it's not science at that point. The trouble is that scientists who are trying to communicate to the public ignore the scientific information about how people learn and change their beliefs. Too many scientists think that the average person is just like them; present the public with the data and the theories and they'll make the right decision. That idea ignores the fact that we're all emotional beings, not much different from the apes.
        • by ryeinn (844805) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @12:29AM (#22554990)
          What depresses me the most, as a high school physics teacher, is how right you are. Too often I see a lack of desire to actually think about things, rather than rely on the data.

          I want to scream at some points when the students are doing labs/I'm grading their labs.

          "Data is king! It determines truth. If it doesn't match with what you expected, one of two things is going on. Either your expectations were wrong or you didn't do a good enough experiment."


          You'd be surprised (or maybe not, this is Slashdot...) how many students think "I did the experiment once, my data is perfect, nothing could have possibly gone wrong." If they would shut up from talking about how their weekend went and actually think about what they're doing it would all be so much easier.

          Ok, I've gone off topic. My apologies. But seriously, stop, examine data and where it came from. Don't go by who told it to you, go by what was told.
      • by isomeme (177414) <cdberry@gmail.com> on Monday February 25, 2008 @09:34PM (#22553660) Homepage Journal
        The only thing we can do is teach the scientific method - in schools, at home, in conversations. It's the only weapon we've got, however small.

        Of course, one big problem is that the scientific method is usually taught incorrectly. People frame it as if the scientific method explained everything about how actual scientists do actual science; there's this weird image that scientists just mechanically follow a set of steps, and science results.

        In fact, of course, the scientific method is merely (though crucially) a way to apply rigorous tests to the results of intuition and imagination. Kekule dreamed that benzene was a ring; no amount of mechanical scientific-method application would have ever resulted in that golden idea. But, having had that idea, he then went into the lab and applied the scientific method to test it, to measure his confidence in the results of those tests. He published his results in a form which allowed others to reproduce his experiments, and to analyze his proposed explanation for the results of those experiments. All that is how science manages to be more than opinion.

        But the interesting part, the human part, the part that gets people interested in science, is the very part that isn't subject to the scientif method. I believe it was Brecht who remarked (paraphrased from memory) that science is not a gateway to infinite wisdom, but rather a guard against infinite folly. That's the best summary of the scientific method I've ever run across.
        • by Scaba (183684) <joeNO@SPAMjoefrancia.com> on Monday February 25, 2008 @10:11PM (#22554018)

          Of course, one big problem is that the scientific method is usually taught incorrectly.

          ...which causes people to make unsupported assertions, and then speak in anecdotes and generalities...

          People frame it as if the scientific method explained everything about how actual scientists do actual science; there's this weird image that scientists just mechanically follow a set of steps, and science results.

          :>)

      • Re:What we have here (Score:5, Interesting)

        by couchslug (175151) on Monday February 25, 2008 @09:40PM (#22553710)
        "What we have here is a failure to communicate .."

        What we have here is a marketing failure.
        The average person is not very bright, is superstitious/religious, and only relates to the world in emotional terms. Instead of trying to change them, figure out how to do what their leaders do and "sell" them what you want them to think. Scientific method is for reaching future scientists/geeks/techies, but we need to get some leverage with the average schmuck on the street.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by utnapistim (931738)

          "What we have here is a failure to communicate .." What we have here is a marketing failure.

          I don't think so; I believe what we have here is - if anything, a failure in education. People are taught what to think, not how to think. The moment you know how to think and see an affirmation that has no support (in infotainment - for example) you can realize that. When you don't know how to think, you'll probably say "I'ts true - I saw that on discovery ( I do that more often than I'd like to :-( ).

          Sadly I'

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by siphonophore (158996)
        The hearts and minds of the populace are mostly centered between the stomach and groin.

        Wow, I sure am in the mood for a burrito and some sex right now. Thanks for reminding me.
      • by RobBebop (947356)

        The only thing we can do is teach the scientific method - in schools, at home, in conversations. It's the only weapon we've got, however small.

        I mean this in a respectful tone that is endeared to science and the pursuit of knowledge, but fuck the method. Not that is hasn't been used to unearth some might useful information that has benefited the human race, but there is better science than the scientific method and it is hard for students to understand the process of discovery when repeated trial and error is often boring.

        And the goals of science are fairly well understood in this day and age as well. NASA wants to get to Mars by the time to

    • by Anonymous Coward
      How many of your local papers had big articles about high school seniors signing letters of intent to attend one college or another on the football team?

      How many had articles about students being accepted to academically prestigious schools (e.g. MIT, CalTech, etc.)?

      How much funding is there for new locker room equipment? How much for science labs? (my daughter's high school still has the lab benches installed when the school was built 30 years ago.. they also have artificial turf in the football stadium.)
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by jo42 (227475)
      ...the progress of Intelligent Design to Idiocracy [slashdot.org] continues...
  • Man In The Sky (Score:5, Insightful)

    by milsoRgen (1016505) on Monday February 25, 2008 @08:52PM (#22553258) Homepage
    Well when a major chunk of the population believes the earth is only umpteen thousands of years old, I don't think a presentation of any style or quality is going to get them to listen to what science has to say in any meaningful capacity unless it easily and directly benefits them.
  • My neighbour didn't get her baby boy the usual shots. I told her she should do it, but she didn't "trust" it.
    • Re:immunization (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ceoyoyo (59147) on Monday February 25, 2008 @09:35PM (#22553670)
      Maybe we have to be a little less sensitive. When her baby dies (or is left sterile, or with heart damage) from one of those diseases everyone gets immunized against, someone (better yet lots of someones) should point out that she killed him. The news should carry the story.

      I'm irritated that my health plan doesn't properly cover real medical expenses like wisdom tooth extraction or eye exams, but it does cover naturopathy. Why do I have to pay for someone's placebo habit?
      • Re:immunization (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ScrewMaster (602015) on Monday February 25, 2008 @10:07PM (#22553980)
        Why do I have to pay for someone's placebo habit?

        Presumably because they're cheaper than real medicine.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by dbIII (701233)
          Unfortunately this is not longer the case. It is also the case that a naturapath may pay as much and spend as much time for their certificate as an educated medical professional. It is a very worrying series of confidence tricks that is being perpetrated on students as well as the sick. To be quite serious a roleplaying game book contains more credible information on herbs than some of the stuff these people are given to read.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Belial6 (794905)
        The problem is that it goes both ways. If you look at the data on the chicken pox vaccine, it is clear that it was pushed through for profit reasons and not because of good science. So, should we mock the people that did or did not get their kid the chicken pox vaccine that lead to their death, or at the very least didn't prevent it. Now, I'm not saying that all vaccines are bad, but if a more suspicious individual than me took a look at the chicken pox vaccine, I can certainly understand why they would
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Secrity (742221)
      I am all for immunizations; my kids and cats have had all of their recommended shots. I do not know her reason for not trusting immunizations, but I can understand why she might not trust immunizations. There are serious questions regarding the safety of immunizations, especially regarding thimerosal preservatives.
      • Re:immunization (Score:4, Insightful)

        by AJWM (19027) on Monday February 25, 2008 @10:55PM (#22554396) Homepage
        There are serious questions regarding the safety of immunizations, especially regarding thimerosal preservatives.

        Thimerosal preservatives haven't been used in vaccines for children in years. Long enough, in fact, that the much ballyhooed (but never demonstrated) link between that and autism has been disproven because autism rates haven't decreased since the discontinuance of thimerosal.
  • by bperkins (12056) on Monday February 25, 2008 @09:07PM (#22553396) Homepage Journal
    Stop running crappy stories like these:
      http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/02/20/0340238 [slashdot.org] http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/02/03/1644252 [slashdot.org]

    and uninformed editorializing like this:
      http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/02/20/0031238 [slashdot.org]
  • schools (Score:4, Insightful)

    by wizardforce (1005805) on Monday February 25, 2008 @09:08PM (#22553410) Journal
    the only way we're going to see the public at large be able to evaluate claims and discard the "bad scinece"/pseudoscience is by starting in the schools. As long as there is a problem conveying basic science concepts to the younger members of our population, there is no hope of solving the problem in adults. Dover, Florida, Kansas etc. all examples where science was dumbed down, misrepresented or ignored entirely in favor of teaching pseudoscience that contributes nothing to the understanding of the world around people. It's terribly disturbing as a biologist to see that the educational system is as it stands, a complete and utter failure especially in regard to the major sciences and that there are little or no plans to remedy the situation.
    • The new generation have been educated that the world revolves around them and their feelings. Many even believe that scientific "facts" are just an opinion and that their opinions are just as valid, whether based in fact or not.

      Science needs to be, if nothing else, impartial and rational. The current educational generation are not being educated to be impartial or rational. Thus, science will suffer.

  • by l33tlamer (916010) on Monday February 25, 2008 @09:08PM (#22553414)
    The lack of emphasis on Science, Maths and good ol' Logic during schooling, especially in the earlier years, is to blame for the lack of public interest in real science. Many of my relatives and friends just don't care about how things work, as long as they do. That, the natural curiosity to find answers for the "how" questions, is what is lacking in society today in general. The only time people want to know it seems, is if they are in danger or if their wallets are involved.

    The problem is, the majority of the "ruling class" in management, government and all other areas are generally not scientifically inclined nor are they actively promoting science. They influence education policy and funding for research, which trickles down to the education system and the public's view of science.

    I personally found algebra and calculus to be interesting and challenging, the latter is what drove a lot of my friends away, when I first learned it ages ago. I know that if I had worst teachers or if my father weren't an engineer, my feelings towards would have been quite different. Until scientists are more popular than movie stars and mathematicians are more well known than recording artists, the root of the problem will still be that science is just not popular enough to be seen as interesting or useful.

    The fact that people actually care about Paris Hilton is also a nice solid data point in my suggestion that people's perspective on what's interesting and important is just waaaay off the mark from reality.
  • Simple. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ransak (548582) on Monday February 25, 2008 @09:13PM (#22553464) Homepage Journal
    Give parents a tax break based on how well their children do in school.

    The hard part would be implementing it. Standardized testing that can be agreed upon is probably a pipe dream for something like this, but if it could be done you'd never see parents take more of an interest in their child's education.

    • by Gyga (873992)
      Or parents would no longer challenge their kids and make them take non honors/AP classes so they appear to do better.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by icegreentea (974342)
      How do you deal with kids with mental disabilities? Kids who just 'dont get math' or 'dont get chemistry'? I'm still in highschool (in fact I'm enrolled in a somewhat prestigious private school), and I know a bunch of kids who are by no means 'dumb' or 'uncreative' (some of them are incredible writers, or musicians, or artists) but just don't get math or sciences. And how do you deal with kids in crappy schools? Really the idea despite the appeal it might carry is not only impractical, but also elitist, and
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by PPH (736903)

      Standardized testing and a standardized curriculum will never be accepted by a large portion of the public. Unless the standard happens to be teaching out of the bible.

      Look at all the moaning and crying people do over a mention of evolution in a science text. Or attempts to slip creationist material into schools.

      If you try to implement this nationally, you will run into the tradition of local control over schools. That's a brick wall you will spend the rest of your life beating your head against.

  • On the other hand, he wasn't as famous as Michael Jackson or Britney Spears. Says something about our sick priorities, eh?

    Or maybe it's the third hand... He didn't want to be open and honest about the cause of his own death, apparently because he didn't want to embarrass his physician.

    Oh well. I still regard him as the greatest American. Or maybe he doesn't count since he was an immigrant or the son of immigrants? Back to the sick priorities topic, eh?
  • Specifically, James Randi, Mike Shermer and Penn and Teller.

    Oh wait - human cloning is still hype...

    OK or just watch their videos and read their books.

    Make sure every science teacher for several generations gets a good dose of their message.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Scrameustache (459504)

      Oh wait - human cloning is still hype...
      I never knew what was so wrong about clones. So what, you have delayed twin births already (frozen embryo, reimplanted after a while), not much outrage an paranoia about that.
      Making a baby twin of yourself, WHAT is the big deal? It's like an offspring, or a younger orphaned sibling in your legal guardianship. The media talk about it like it's some kind of proven heresy or something. I'm not worried about clones at all.
    • You forgot Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman. They are not quite so rigorous as Shermer and Randi, but only Penn and Teller come even close to their audience share.
  • Fuck em! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 25, 2008 @09:19PM (#22553524)
    The Toronto Star, the largest daily circulation newspaper in Canada, ran a story [thestar.com] a few weeks back about an "inventor" who has discovered a method to get energy out of nothing, with a few electric motors and magnets.

    The idiots at The Star ran the story with a straight face, including the financial backing that the "inventor" has raised. Now, I don't know if the "inventor" is an honest kook or a fraudster, but the sad fact is that a major newspaper has no one on staff who ever took a physics course or has any scientific knowledge. YOU CAN'T GET ENERGY OUT OF NOTHING!!!

    Sadly, the idiocy at The Star is not limited to science. And this "inventor" is going to bilk quite a few idiots out of their savings and/or venture capital.

    At some point you have to say there's one born every minute.
    • True But... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by maz2331 (1104901) on Monday February 25, 2008 @09:49PM (#22553788)
      Then again, every once in a while, someone hits on a previously unknown fundamental breakthrough that turns the rules as we know them on their head. Think Gallileo, Newton, Einsten, et al. It DOES happen.

      That said, it's highly unlikely that the inventor of the "free energy" stuff is actually on to anything. I take his claims with a truckload of salt, but am willing to see what is really going on there.

      It is possible that he hit on something, but pretty highly unlikely.

      "YOU CAN'T GET ENERGY OUT OF NOTHING"

      Very true. But if someone DOES hit on a way to tap into something we've been heretofore unaware of, that doesn't make it energy from nothing, just energy from something we didn't know about before -- the same as fusion, fission, and antimatter anniahlation would have been unthinkable in 1670.

  • My method (Score:4, Funny)

    by erroneus (253617) on Monday February 25, 2008 @09:29PM (#22553618) Homepage
    I have a "special" dentists chair in my basement. It's very comfortable so they don't "need" to move. Then I make the air really humid so that they don't need to blink which really helps make the toothpicks in their eyes much more tolerable. Then I just play them simple, repeatative educational videos for a short time... say about 72 hours or so. I find people are rather receptive to new ideas in the right environment.
    • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Monday February 25, 2008 @09:48PM (#22553780)
      Yes, see it. Note the quote at the end, from a working scientist:

      "When I read the literature, I'm not reading it to find proof like a textbook. I'm reading to get ideas. So even if something is wrong with the paper, if they have the kernel of a novel idea, that's something to think about," he says."

      Also, the author of the paper points out that replication is more important than the original finding. Generally things aren't elevated to the level of scientific "truth" on the basis of one study. If the public wants to peruse scientific journals or if publish by press conference is going to become an accepted standard, then the public should understand this.

      But when your oncologist recommends chemotherapy he is not speaking from the results of one small, unregulated study.

      Note also that even if "most published scientific results are wrong," those results are still more likely to be correct than any other result.
  • by ah.clem (147626)
    It's not my responsibility to "reverse the trend" - it's my responsibility to make certain that people that choose to be stupid don't get in my way. There is absolutely no excuse for anyone of average intelligence not taking the time to try to understand the world around them.

    Ignorance has consequences. Teach people to be responsible for their own learning, and you don't need to "dumb it down" for them. Pander to them and you're stuck as their babysitter for the rest of their lives.
  • A Sisyphean Task (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Stanislav_J (947290) on Monday February 25, 2008 @09:42PM (#22553726)

    Part of the problem, at least here in the U.S. (land of self-centeredness and instant gratification) is that science often fails to give people the answers they want to hear, or the results they want to have.

    This is especially true when it comes to medical science. As far as medicine has advanced, there are still diseases and maladies that cannot be cured or even mitigated by current knowledge and practices. It can be very hard, if you are someone suffering from something of that sort, to accept that there may be little, or even nothing, that can be done. Desperation can cause even basically level-headed people to seek out untested or even already debunked alternative treatments that may at best have a mild placebo effect, more likely will do nothing to alleviate their suffering, and at worst can worsen the condition or hasten the person's ultimate demise.

    Religion, obviously, can be a powerful impediment to acceptance of science as well. If your faith stands or falls with a literal reading of Genesis, then you will not, indeed CANnot accept scientific evidence to the contrary.

    Finally, one thing I've always noted about humans is that we don't like "grey areas." We want answers that are complete, definitive, and satisfying. The fact that science can sometimes be wrong, and theories changed as more evidence is gathered, is unsettling to those who don't understand the scientific method, and leads them to have little faith in its conclusions.

    This can only be remedied by not only pushing basic science courses hard and early in school (something way more comprehensive than that which produces the mere ability to answer a few multiple-choice questions on some standardized test), but instruction in reasoning and critical thinking as well. And I don't see that happening, not by a long shot. If you have a child, and want him or her to be scientifically literate, you pretty much have to teach them yourself. Schools today are about establishing minimal (very minimal) levels of ability, and high (very high) levels of conformity. Teaching too much science threatens the former goal, while instruction in critical thinking thwarts the latter.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)
      People simply respond to emotional appeals better than logic or "complicated" things like science. The naturopaths are sure they can help you. The MD tells you the odds. The priest tells you about faith and epiphany. The scientist tells you about experiments, observations and theories.
  • Any chance people could read, digest and apply the material referred to in their /. postings?

    A (very) few popular science media outlets include goofy references in their articles, but not nearly to the extent of /. posts, who apparently think nobody will read them if they don't include SF references or FUDish statements, or a combination of the two.

    And I do suspect it's the editorial policy. I've submitted many decent articles only to have the same material printed with a bunch of that sort of junk included
  • to many different classes of graduating scientists in commencement speeches he has given over the past couple decades. Amazing that someone else is finally catching on.
  • by NIckGorton (974753) * on Monday February 25, 2008 @09:56PM (#22553878)
    Stephen Jay Gould wrote an exceptional (and entertaining - bonus) piece in 1994 about selling Evolution to the lay public - combating the Creationist spin that evolution is 'only a theory' by calling it a 'scientific fact'. He justified this with... well crap, I should let the good Professor say it much better than I could: http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_fact-and-theory.html [stephenjaygould.org]
  • Science doesn't give them the "Truth" they want, i.e., eternal forever truth. It's not "nice" to talk about, but intelligence follows a bell curve, and half the population, by definition, is below average, that's why average is "average". Yes, there is a huge flat part of the curve, which is where most of the population resides. But there's a good solid percentage that is stupid and clueless. Proof? Bush's popularity is at 19%. That means about 1 out of 5 people think he's OK, even after ALL the obvious hor
    • by Fantastic Lad (198284) on Monday February 25, 2008 @10:55PM (#22554390)
      Part of me wants to respond with, "Fucking 'A'!" and another part, the older and more mature part says, "You're right, but it's important to remember that even self-destructive choices which make us crazy to watch unfold are nonetheless valid choices. The best you can do is keep speaking truth, and do it in a way which isn't vengeful.

      I've watched friends become church-goers; kneel before a priest and promise to believe in biblical claims. How can anybody "promise" to believe anything? Isn't belief the final product after a process observational and logical cross analysis has taken place? All you can realistically promise to believe is what your mind tells you is true. And since we are constantly learning, then we cannot promise, ever, that our belief system will not change when new information enters our awareness. Such promises can only be kept if we effectively stop learning and stop cross analyzing. --So either my friend was just nodding and repeating what he was told to say at his religious confirmation ceremony without thinking about it, or he was actually really promising to limit his rational thought processes to only those which would allow continued "belief" in biblical doctrine; a virtual lobotomy. Either way, it was a very disheartening event to witness; this is a guy who is otherwise smart and aware and caring. Luckily, it's possible to change your mind, and so all I can do is continue being myself and allow him to grow as he best sees fit. But it has been a challenge to remain respectful.

      I'd been invited to his confirmation and he really wanted me to be there, so I went. It was my first time inside a church in many years, and I was reminded again why I cannot stand religion. --I was the only person, I think, in a church filled with almost my entire community, sitting there thinking, "This is all absolutely fucking insane. All these people are crazy! Aren't they hearing this stuff? Don't they SEE what is going on here?" --I've read the bible, and I've studied the other various religions, I know how cults work, I know how social control works, I know how mind-programming works, and I know enough psychology to know how and why people can be seduced, or worse, how (as you point out), they WANT to be seduced. I can tear the whole thing apart like the sand castle that it is, and I've done this over and over. Anybody with a brain can do it; it's fish in a barrel stuff.

      But I held back on that day. I'd been invited by my friend, who knows full well my views on this, so all I could do was agree to watch him do this thing.

      Brrr. I'm sorry. I'm venting.

      Or perhaps I should say. . .

      Fucking 'A'.


      -FL

  • Socrates was right (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MagikSlinger (259969) on Monday February 25, 2008 @10:39PM (#22554244) Homepage Journal
    "The clear message of the session was that a command of facts is never going to be good enough to convince most segments of the public, whether they're parents or Congress. How the information is conveyed can matter more than its content, and different forms of communication may be necessary for different audiences."

    Translation: Sophistry trumps logic in public debate.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DigiShaman (671371)
      With programs like 3.2.1. Contact, Mr wizard's World, Bill Nye The Science Guy, and Myth Busters; Socrates would've been proud!

      Also worth noting, he would be crying in shame if he saw how our public educational system was ran...like a prison.
  • Exudes a sense... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gmuslera (3436) on Monday February 25, 2008 @10:41PM (#22554264) Homepage Journal
    ... is a big problem. Your report could look honest, open, have some humor etc etc, and that will have nothing to do with the fact that it is good or bad science. You can even honestly think that your are an expert in whatever topic is about. But still, it could be very wrong. As in the universe there is no single atom of justice (Pratchett dixit), the same goes for that kind of bells and whistles you want to see in the "truth" (or how it is presented). Wonder how much scientific reports presenting that the earth were flat, or the center of the universe, or that we were created by a superior being had all those attributes, even with the addendum of being of "common sense" at that time.

    Still is pending how you distinguish good from bad science, of both can be presented in similar ways. Maybe some trusted authority/organization/etc can say that it is good, or at least, that the followed methodology is right.
  • by csoto (220540) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @12:37AM (#22555034)
    See http://www.henryjenkins.org/aboutme.html [henryjenkins.org] for bio. It was an interesting "invitation" for academics (scientists) to start blogging. Essentially, it's a different sort of "review" that helps academics write about their work in a more approachable fashion. Of course, the danger is to not presume to "dumb down" the research, but rather using the real-time feedback of the online community (whatever nerds happen to follow your field or recognize you as an expert in the field) to massage your message to assure it's understood correctly. He's an interesting speaker, but then again, he's an expert in "media" so, you'll find a lot of stuff that basically makes a lot of (cynical) nerds tune out...
  • by darekana (205478) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @01:31AM (#22555312) Homepage
    At CureHunter [curehunter.com] we try to bring "Evidence Based Medicine" to the people.
    Data mining and mapping peer-reviewed research to find all the effective treatment options for any given disease.

    Taking "obesity" as an example [curehunter.com], you can quickly see strong relationships with "insulin" and "exercise".
    And in a few clicks you can read the supporting article abstracts.

    Whether or not average people want to read scientific journal articles is debatable, but we can cut through the pharma marketing noise and bring them the sourced research that matters to them.

    With goal seeking algorithms and peer-reviewed source data I think information overload and Google spam can be fought.
  • Geek to geek (Score:4, Insightful)

    by R3d Jack (1107235) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @02:15AM (#22555554)
    combined with an apathetic and undereducated public lead to widespread ignorance

    Would you listen to someone who views you in that way?

    People don't listen to geeky experts because
    1. The average person has much greater emotional intelligence than the average geek. I had to learn that the hard way. We think we are communicating factually, and the average Joe is hearing something completely different, because he is listening on a broader and higher level. The things he is hearing don't invite trust.
    2. Experts are so 1950's. I grew up in the 60's, when "Question Authority" was a radical slogan to put on your bumper. Now days, no one accepts authority automatically, but I remember when they did. Bottom line, the experts put forth a lot of bad information that led many people to do things they deeply regretted. Remember the insulin treatments in "A Beautiful Mind"? That's why I don't trust experts, either.
    3. People learned long ago that experts are just as political and dogmatic as fundamentalists, and they can be just as misguided.
    BTW, some of the postings make me embarrassed to be a geek. I don't see disrespect as a sign of intelligence.
  • Mythbusters! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by slashbart (316113) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @05:06AM (#22556232) Homepage
    The Mythbusters team attempts to show scientific reasoning, variable elimination, repeatability and other tenets of doing science. They also show the joy of it. And then they blow stuff up, which is enjoyable in itself :-)

    Many of the 'real' science programs on TV spend far less time on explaining the process of science, and instead present the subject (whatever it is), as a sequence of 'facts', with little discussion.

    I really think that Mythbusters is probably the best science promotion show on TV.
  • by Eravnrekaree (467752) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @09:37AM (#22557438)
    Probably the most misleading instance where science has been ignored or seriously damaged is the teaching of creationism in science courses or downgrading of evolution by christians who do not like it because it conflicts with their religious beliefs. To teach creationism as coming anywhere near science or being something of which there is any real positive evidence of it is simply lying to children. Evolution is an extremely well supported scientific theory that has a large amount of physical evidence to back it up. Science must be based on physical evidence, not religious superstitions and fantasies. To mention creationism in the same breath as science and suggest it is a competitor to evolution is an insult to everything that science is and that which has made so much progress to our understanding the world better and getting the truths about the universe. If religious fantasy had prevailed, we would still think the earth was flat and stars were little fires several miles above the surface, and that the edge of the earth dropped off into an abyss populated by monsters who ate ships that dared fall into it. Creationism like these theories should be in social studies where it belongs or used only as an example of old, outdated absurd ideas that science has proven wrong.

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