I have just watched this science doc about perceptions of science in the public/media, it's presented by a top scientist who highlights a problem:

 

Scientists seem to lack the clear communication skills that are present in other walks of life.  They have abjectly failed to get their message across, for example that evolution is theory and fact.

 

Is there a lack of clarity in science programming today?  Let's take the example of a friend of mine who watched a doc on cosmology where he latched on to phrases such as 'we don't know' and 'we speculate'.

Now he applied that line of thinking (wrongly of course) to all of science. So that now he thinks this is how scientists view evolution for example, (as some kind of speculation) do you see where I'm going here?

 

He failed to notice that just because scientists don't know one little thing, that doesn't falsify the big picture. But it should not be my job to painfully explain this to him, it should be the job of scientists who are presenting a show to the lay public.

 

Do you agree here? Your thoughts?

 

 

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We don't know much, but we know much more than we did 50 years ago.

As someone who deals with science routinely, let's see if I can clearly communicate some examples related to issues raised by your post.

In my experience, those who criticize, attack or oppose science typically have firm religious beliefs and are typically uneducated with respect to science.  Science has provided answers and solutions to questions and problems faced by man for centuries- even as we continue to speculate about things and still don't know many things.  But geology, microbiology, biology, chemistry, astronomy, physics, etc. have explained many things- many things that religion has clearly been wrong about.

Let's take an example of something that might be related to questions posed by your post.  A translocation of a part of one chromosome to another - translocation 9;22 or t(9;22) - results in the fusion of two genes, BCR/ABL.  This translocation is associated with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) (refer to http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/199425-overview#a0104 for a review).  The fusion of these two genes results in a protein being expressed that we can target with novel therapies.  Now, we don't know exactly what causes t(9;22) (although we have some ideas), but it is a defining feature of CML.  A drug, Gleevec, was specifically designed to target the abnormal protein resulting from t(9;22).  Prior to Gleevec, about 50% of patients with CML progressed from the initial phase to more advanced stages after only three to five years. Once patients reached the final phase of the disease, survival was generally three to six months.  In 2008, seven years after the start of a landmark study, nearly nine out of ten (86%) patients who initiated treatment with Gleevec were still alive (refer to http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/199425-treatment for a review of Gleevec).  Gleevec has made a significant improvement in the treatment of and survival for patients with CML. 

We don't know exactly what causes t(9;22) and we can speculate as to its causes, but does that mean we're wrong about the rest of what we think we know about t(9;22) and its consequences? Should we throw up our hands and pray that t(9;22) goes away in patients with CML, or should we apply the scientific method to understanding CML and finding treatments, like Gleevec, that make sense and save lives?

Another example- precursor B-lymphoblastic leukemia (acute lymphoblastic leukemia/ALL)- the survival rate for ALL has "improved from zero four decades ago, to 20-75 percent currently, largely due to clinical trials on new chemotherapeutic agents and improvements in stem cell transplantation (SCT) technology" (refer to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acute_lymphoblastic_leukemia).  In children, the cure rates are approximately 85%, but the cure rates are only ~20-40% in adults.  We know of several chromosomal abnormalities associated with ALL and how they relate to survival.  But we don't know exactly what cuases these chromosomal abnormalities in most cases.  Does that mean we are wrong about the rest of what we know about ALL or that the rest of what we know is invalid?  Obviously not. 

These are only two, and there are many, many more, examples of how science has provided understanding and solutions to problems that religion has neither explained nor helped to cure for centuries.  We don't know all the answers, but we know enough to understand these diseases to the point of making some differences in trying to cure those afflicted with these diseases- what are the alternatives- religion?  Religion has done nothing with respect to helping understand and treat these diseases- absolutely nothing.  In fact, if it weren't for the suppression of science by religious leaders for centuries, we may have found cures for these diseases many years ago.

Now let's look at a contemporary example of what religion, as an alternative, would consistently provide with respect to providing solutions for disease that science has helped us understand and successfully treat- the Kara Neumann case (refer to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kara_Neumann_case).  She died because of her parents' ignorance and their adherence to religious doctrine- and the sad truth is many people are still just as scientifically illiterate as her parents and believe religion, mainly via faith and prayer, is something worth promoting and perpetuating.

Science isn't perfect, but it provides a means to constantly evaluate what we know and make improvements.  In my experience it is far superior to religion, yet we are constantly fighting battles with the scientifically illiterate- especially with respect to things like evolution (and the reality is leukemia, and all cancer for that matter, is observable evolution- but it is evolution leading to an unfavorable characteristic).  Science encourages challenging current ideas and reevaluating current evidence- it leads to further understanding of the problems we have faced and continue to face.  By contrast, religion is fundamentally opposed to such philosophy and continues to promote scientific illiteracy.

We should all be concerned about this- religion ruled during the dark ages and religious "leaders" today continue to promote what is essentially superstition and belief in magic (prayer, etc.) and perpetuate scientific illiteracy.  If scientific illiteracy is not addressed, we may very well return to the dark ages.  I believe Islam and Christianity both have a following that makes this a real possibility.

I apologize for the possibility of a grim outcome, but scientific illiteracy is rampant not only in America, but much of the world.  I suspect the revolutions in the middle east may lead to establishment of theocracies and the spread of barbaric Sharia law.  Islam and Christianity both are powerful ideologies in the world today and they both fundamentally oppose freethought, and, ultimately, the advancement of scientific knowledge.  My hope is enough people can free themselves from the mind numbing bondage of religion and learn to think for themselves. 

We have enough problems to go around that will only be solved by the application of knowledge and science- not by religion, faith, prayer, etc.  I hope enough people can free themselves from religion and come to this realization.

 

Goog post and I like your examples.  

Let me be clear on one thing however, I am not attacking science or scientists, I am simply worried that they are failing to communicate the clear difference between scientific facts and speculation.

This only arms the armies of the ignorant. I think scientists should have a tougher and more passionate stance  on say evolution for example.  How this will be done I do not know. But this should be critically imortant for the reasons you mention in  your post.

 

We know of several chromosomal abnormalities associated with ALL and how they relate to survival. But we don't know exactly what cuases these chromosomal abnormalities in most cases. Does that mean we are wrong about the rest of what we know about ALL or that the rest of what we know is invalid? Obviously not.

 

Right, it's like saying that just because we don't know about a specific room within the Titanic, well does that mean we don't know that it sunk? Obvious nonsense.

 

The people who attack science focus in on the tiny details of speculation as if this somehow disproves all of science.  Totally ignorant and stupid people.

 

 

I don't think that its the fault of the scientists, but more a failure of the schooling systems & the teachers.

Lets get one thing straight, a knowledge of science will not help most people in their daily lives. They don't need to know how their computers & cellphones work to use them, nor do they need to know the theory behind internal combustion engines to drive their cars. Science can be tedious & difficult to understand & most people have no use for it nor the patience to understand it.

Up until the 9th grade I used to hate math. The I started liking it, but I started hating biology(mitosis & meiosis). Then from 11th grade onwards I took a serious dislike for Chemistry. I specially hated having to study chemistry in engineering college as it had nothing to do with my field(Computer Sc.). I think its about what you are interested in & how things can appeal to your sense of wonderment. I can appreciate all the Sciences from the outside, but I don't think I can get myself to actually learn some of them.

I school I remember people wishing some scientists were never born because they had to learn their theories. One joke used to be about why couldn't have Newton sat under a coconut tree. Then the falling coconut would have damaged his brain & we wouldn't have to study gravity. Juvenile stuff.

I used to enjoy these jokes, till I started seeing the beauty of science and now such jokes annoy me(unless they are about chemistry, which I whole heartedly hate :P).

I think the education systems around the world need to be revamped so that subjects aren't something that you have to mug up & the forget after the exams so that you can get into college & then get a job in the future. Rote learning in schools is the real bane here iMO.

Lets get one thing straight, a knowledge of science will not help most people in their daily lives. They don't need to know how their computers & cellphones work to use them, nor do they need to know the theory behind internal combustion engines to drive their cars.

 

That is all true.

 

But insofar as public perceptions of science, a lot of work needs to be done. The public are confused, they don't even know the scientific sense of the word theory is for example or what the scientific method is and the importance of evidence etc. This is not complicated, it can be learned in one afternoon. The education system is guilty yes, but scientists don't get a free pass either. There should be more television programmes explaining basic science , how it works, the basic stuff.

The public are confused, they don't even know the scientific sense of the word theory is for example or what the scientific method is and the importance of evidence etc

That battle was lost in schools. Thats where improvements need to be made. More TV shows & documentaries is fine, but the interest & curiosity need to be there first. Do you think that people will leave their favorite TV shows or sports matches to watch science shows?

Better science education in schools is the answer.

Do you think that people will leave their favorite TV shows or sports matches to watch science shows?

 

No but hopefully science shows can become their favourite.

 

Better science education in schools is the answer.

 

That's one answer to one segment of the problem, admittedly a large one. But again, another part is that scientists should be absolutely crystal clear in communication. Sometimes I worry that it may need to be dumbed down.

 

 

 

 

 

I've seen some discovery science shows & the scientists in them are pretty clear, at least to me. I don't think that scientists should have to concern themselves with being clear to the general public, unless they are trying to communicate with the general public, like the ones who make appearances on the documentaries & TV shows.

"Lets get one thing straight, a knowledge of science will not help most people in their daily lives. They don't need to know how their computers & cellphones work to use them, nor do they need to know the theory behind internal combustion engines to drive their cars. Science can be tedious & difficult to understand & most people have no use for it nor the patience to understand it."

 

People may not need to know how these things work, but if they don't have some basic understanding of these things, they can be (and are) manipulated into buying just about anything- whether material goods or the gospel according to Reverend Du Jour.   

 

Scientific illiteracy is directly related to religiosity.  I am constantly fighting battles, via emails and letters, with religious leaders and politicians with religious agendas on matters related to all areas of science (most recently legislation proposed in TN that would allow ID to be taught in schools as a valid, scientific alternative to evolution and natural selection).  Yet religion is the "solution" actively being proposed by influential leaders in this country who have billions of dollars at their disposal- these so-called "leaders" are actively seeking to rewrite history and build a "Christian" nation.  This is a real threat to this country and the world.  I would encourage everyone reading this to become aware of legislation that is in the process of being passed, as I am writing this post, in many states related to transforming our country into a Christian nation.  If you haven't already joined or supported organizations like Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Freedom from Religion Foundation, or the Secular Coalition for America, I would encourage you to do so (of course, only if you care about the freedom to worship or not to worship in this country).

 

Science has provided answers to questions and solutions to problems for centuries where religion has repeatedly failed- absolutely failed and is dead wrong on many subjects.  Not long ago, I had a recent college graduate say to me "I bet you believe in evolution."  I was shocked that a college graduate today would say such a thing.  She clearly was short changed on her education, but she is not alone out there.  Needless to say, she is a proud Christian who believes the bible is the word of god and that god will save this country and the problems we are dealing with in America (I guess it's God Bless America but screw everyone else).

 

Religion ruled during the dark ages, let's not let it happen again.  Science was, and still is, the brightest candle I can see in the dark. 

(sorry for straying from the original topic, but, obviously, I think there are important related issues here) 

 

What I meant in my post was that people have no incentive to learn anything about science, outside of academic life where most people only study it because they have to if they want to pass.

So if they have no incentive they would only learn if they were interested in science. But schools are just killing off curiosity. That is what needs to change.

Unless this issue is tackled in schools, most kids will grow up dis-interested in science. Not all kids have an interest or aptitude for science, and making science education better will not make all kids grow up to love science, but at least it would be better than the current situation.

I see two sides to this issue.  On the one hand we could groom all of our scientists in P.R. skills and send out memos on 'the party line'.  On the other hand, we could increase 'scientific literacy' in the general population.  This isn't to say that everybody needs to learn mountains of science, but perhaps they could at least be taught that science is never finished.  I don't need to 'believe in' evolution or a particular cosmological model - but I should be aware that a lot of people are working independently to gather observations that are filling in an ever expanding picture.  In the same way, I don't need to know all the statutes that exist under the law in order to trust that those educated in such matters have systematic means of locating the applicable statutes and accepted practices of resolving the inevitable conflicts that will arise between them.

I don't need to 'believe in' evolution but I should be aware that a lot of people are working independently to gather observations that are filling in an ever expanding picture

 

If someone does not accept evolution then the knowledge that people are working on things will be meaningless. The  whole point is that they do accept it.

 

 

 

On this I disagree and I think it well defines the problem.  The suggestion that knowledge is meaningless unless accompanied by proscribed beliefs is a defense of holy texts from rational criticism.  Requiring that knowledge precede belief is a core tenet of the scientific method, the inversion of which is the core tenet of faith based systems.

 

I've been without faith for a very long time and I'm glad that I've resisted the temptation to develop a faith in science.  Back when the cosmological model formed a school of thought that any discussion of 'before' the big bang was simply a non-sequitur, I encountered many a dogmatic student of physics that took it upon themselves to declare that the case was closed and any further discussion was irrational - and on more than one occasion they hadn't even been a part of the discussion.  It was that very dogmatic assertion the empowered William Lane Craig to advance his cosmological arguments to the status they have today.

 

When I am presented with very non-intuitive and extraordinary assertions about the quantum realm, I especially refuse to lend my faith out to be abused.  There are a lot of very intelligent people working independently and inter-dependently on the problem and although I accept their observations I require an open dialog rather than doctrines to be developed by their evaluations of that data.  I realize I am not qualified to contribute to that dialog but I should at least be afforded the right to ask questions.

 

I see no reason why someone should expect a theist to have faith in science when their uninformed questions are met only with responses of, "you're stupid," or, "you have no clue!"  It is the duty of those that are intelligent and have a clue to be patient with such questions and welcome discussion, offering evidence to provide knowledge rather than simply expecting faith.

 

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