Science is not fun

Opinions personals de membres del CEHIC i alumnes de postgrau

gen. 20 2010

On science journalism

Posted in General |

I have just came upon a recent book on Stephen Jay Gould. There, I found not only contributions on evolution, but also reflections on science in the public sphere. Here is a sample, in which Richard Lewontin and Richard Levins advocate for the Jay-Gould model of scientist-popularisers.

“How is there to be even a semblance of a democratic state when vital knowledge is in the hands of a self interested few? The glib answer offered is that there are instruments of the popularization of science, chiefly science journalism and the popular writings of scientists, which create an informed public. But that popularization is itself usually an instrument of obfuscation and the pressing of elite agendas.
Science journalists suffer from a double disability: First, no matter how well educated, intelligent, and well-motivated, they must, in the end, trust what scientists tell them. Even a biologist must trust what a physicist says about quantum mechanics. A large fraction of science reporting begins with a press conference or release produced by a scientific institution. “Scientists at the Blackleg Institute announced today the discovery of the gene for susceptibility to repetitive motion injury.” Second, the media for which science reporters work put immense pressure on them to write dramatic accounts. Where is the editor who will allot precious column inches to an article about science whose message is that it is all very complicated, that no predictions can be made, that there are serious experimental difficulties in the way of finding the truth of the matter, and that we may never know the answer? Third, the esoteric nature of scientific knowledge places almost insuperable rhetorical barriers between even the most knowledgeable journalist and the reader. It is not generally realized that a transparent explanation in terms accessible to the lay reader requires the deepest possible knowledge of the matter on the part of the writer.”

Richard C. Lewontin & Richard Levins (2009). “Stephen Jay Gould—What Does It Mean to Be a Radical?”. In Allmon et al. (eds.) Stephen Jay Gould. Reflections on His View of Life. Oxford:Oxford University Press, p. 202-203

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