Picture
_So, when US viewers watch the sublime Frozen Planet on the Discovery Channel, they won’t see the episode about the dangers of climate change. It's a terrible shame - a missed opportunity. But if you want to blame anyone, don’t blame the BBC. Blame the scientific establishment for being too patrician.
 
Here’s a shocking statement:
 
"the words 'science' and 'scientists' are now actively avoided at the Discovery Channel because 'they are perceived as elitist.'"
 
Discovery Channel will have taken on that attitude after focus-grouping their viewers. And if the viewers of the science-friendly Discovery Channel think science is elitist, something has gone badly wrong.
 
The above quote comes from a fascinating discussion that’s ongoing at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. If you are interested in how people view and interact with science, I recommend you read it.
 
For my money, a large part of the “elitist” problem comes from scientists focusing on trying to convince the world that they have a better way of gathering useful knowledge than any other. I happen to think they are right, but I also think it’s a message that is difficult to receive gracefully.
 
Here’s what Royal Society bigwigs were saying to the BBC about science coverage in the post-war period: “Can we sometimes forget war and atomic weapons, industrial advance or productivity ... and say something more of the history and growth of science, of the great solution wrought by the introduction of the experimental method?’ (That's taken from Timothy Boon’s book Films of Fact: A History of Science in Documentary Films and Television, a treasure trove of material on science’s relationship with broadcasters).
 
Science saw itself as the “great solution”. The Royal Society was able to exert some influence in getting this message across by controlling the supply of scientists for the cameras. During the 50s and 60s, the public image of scientists, on the BBC at least, was of upbeat and optimistic scientists who trumpeted that their work would make the world a better place.
 
It’s a message that scientists are still trotting out today – Channel 4’s recent series Brave New World with Stephen Hawking had Hawking’s trademark Voice of Wisdom declare “we will show you how science is a force for good” at the beginning of every episode.
 
Few people doubt science is a force for good. But scientists repeatedly telling us this does smack of elitism. And every time science feels under threat, or undervalued, we hear the refrain again: “we’re making a bigger contribution than anyone else – why does nobody appreciate us?”
 
Re-imagine it as a husband talking to his wife: “You don’t seem to appreciate how much I contribute to this household.” It sounds awful, doesn’t it? Even if it’s true, there’s little to be gained from saying it out loud.
 
Scientists and the public are, in many ways, trapped in a bad 1950s, Mad Men-style marriage. This may be one problem that scientists are not qualified to solve. Does anyone have the number of a good marriage guidance counsellor?

 


Comments

09/03/2012 11:43

As you quite rightly point out scientist are often elitists to the point of arrogance and similarly many, particularly the most public feel that they are the only ones qualified to speak on anything. After all they know the language and have created a load of acronyms to simplify writing concepts properly. If you then ask sorry what does 'INTBIAAW' mean? they often retort with a patronising sigh and some backhanded remark about not understanding fundamentals and how you should go away and get a degree before daring to ask such impertinent questions.

There is then an assumption that the public are complete idiots and they as men with more letters after than in ones name, can get away with all sorts of miss information. Perhaps the king of this is old tricky dicky dawkins who's vile crusade against anyone having a faith leads him to constantly claim that religious people hold science back.. !! how wrong can this be! it doesn't take a lot of effort to google Newton, Linnaeus or Lemaistre and to quickly realise that pretty much all the major discoveries and theories come from theists; but will Dawkins acknowledge this? No. And do any of you bother to correct him? No.. So in truth if the public don't trust you can you blame them?

One of the things that has stuck in my head for a few years now was Dawkins at the Vatican being interviewed for One Planet and stating that "so many bad things have been done in the name of religion" when counter argued that a lot of Good had been done too he paused and only after being pressed he retorted with "well I suppose there may have been some" Now we all know that more people on this planet have heard of Mother Teresa than Richard Dawkins and if he lives such a sheltered life and the name of this wonderful selfless soul is new to him then its likely he hasn't been around too long and knows very little about anything.. either that or he blatantly ignores anything that doesn't support his hypothesis.. so we can't really call him a good scientist or trust the objectivity of his research???

I would aver that the Radio 4 listeners are not so ignorant and see through Dawkins and his vile crusade.. People like him are not good for science, they not only distort the facts to suit their own 'religious' agenda (because atheism is a religion just as free masonry is!) but they insult the intelligence of the very people they think should listen to them.. and you lot sit there in silence and don't correct him thus implying that you think it's acceptable.. so stop moaning about the publics ignorance and start tackling it closer to home.. up in the Ivory towers!

regards Greenman-23 the Anarchist Gardener down here in the gutter and happily sowing the seeds of descent

Reply

Your comment will be posted after it is approved.


Leave a Reply