Wednesday, March 08, 2006


I'm currently watching the 2000 DVD version of Sagan's (1980) COSMOS. As an educated layman defending science and debunking stupidity, i have to say that Sagan was really good at this stuff, and having a pro do it is a good thing. Further, it is in the scientist's own interest to make sure science is understood by the masses. Much of the funding for science comes from the public.

Of late, i've come to be of the opinion that i've been quite ineffectual in debunking the stupid. Coming down like a ton of bricks has the same effect that Bible thumpers had on me while i was growing up - which is none. I have to admit that all i've done is look like i'm trying to sound smart, when the smartest i've ever been was when i was asking stupid questions. What does seem to work is teaching using the audience's vocabulary, and using compassion. What you really need to avoid doing is saying, "i'm really smart, and these are the fact." You need to say, "This is the process that scientists find works the best." So, when an ID'er says that Carbon 14 dating isn't any good for talking meaningfully about T-Rex, i agree, and state that there are several lines of evidence that, though they include radio dating techniques that aren't Carbon dating, they also include stratification and other techniques, which, when combined, yield answers that are consistent with each other, and lend confidence to the results. Then i use an example i really know about: that the 1998 result in which the team states that the Universe we live in is accelerating apart at an increasing rate was delayed while they rechecked their process in several ways to avoid saying something that was wrong. It was an extraordinary claim, and such things demand extraordinary evidence. And it was extraordinary. It wasn't one of the three Freedman models that the Universe must be. And, yes, this result could be wrong. And yes, there is continuing study.

Easy ways for scientists to promote their causes are to write blogs, and when they complete some task, do a phone interview with a podcaster. Many of the science podcasts are made by educated laymen who have the time to figure out how to assemble podcasts and distribute them. They need content. The scientist has content that needs to get out.

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