There’s a certain liberation in being able to constantly update your beliefs based on the evidence.
But we are not competing in the marketplace of commerce. We're competing in the marketplace of ideas.
So where do sensationalistic science headlines start? They start with the scientists themselves.
There are of course a few challenges to public outreach from the perspective of a scientist: difficulty in translating the jargon, fear of saying something inaccurate, discomfort in presenting to large crowds, and so on.
When we ask people to "trust" a particular scientist or result, we need to make sure that it's not the person itself that is necessarily deserving of trust, but the method and structures that they represent.
There's another source of bias that is much more pernicious and insidious. But it's surprisingly easy to find that source of bias: just look in the mirror.
Is the presentation of the data hiding something? Was anything excluded or minimized? Was anything glossed over? Was one part of the graph highlighted or emphasized to draw attention away from something else?
Take the case of the interior of a black hole (a question I get a lot). We'll never see inside a black hole, and if you were to visit one you would a) die horribly, and b) never be able to communicate your gruesome results to the outside world. So how do we know what's inside?
It's a part of the training to become a scientist, but it's not one you learn through any class. Instead, over the course of years you begin to recognize that what at first feels like harsh, personal critique is actually a vital part of the scientific process itself.
First off, the very act of using natural language to describe scientific concepts can be considered "dumbing down".
But we often hear the narrative that STEM literacy is declining, and that our mission is to fight that decline lest the general public becomes ignorant and afraid of the world around them. But here are three questions in response to that claim: 1) Can you actually reliably measure STEM "literacy"?, 2) Is it really declining?, and 3) Is that the true motivation of our mission?
So what to do? Well in the words of famed English novelist and critic George Orwell, "the quickest way of ending a war is to lose it."
So while many scientists agreed with the messages of the March, they didn't necessarily agree with the methods.
But not all scientists and members of the scientific community joined in the efforts. The March's slogan was "out of the labs and into the streets," but many scientists chose to stay in their labs. In this two-part series I'll weigh the pros and cons of the effort, starting with the pros.
There are many features of the scientific enterprise that we can incorporate into our everyday lives. These are all well and good, and with a properly trained mind can be wielded to great effect. But there's one more feature of science that has only emerged in relatively recent times: the rise of the collaboration.
In a perfect world we would just open up the doors, let folks filter in to take their seats, and start talking about science. They would listen, agree that it's pretty awesome, and go home to tell their friends and family what they just learned.
But how many times do scientists not actually mind the stereotype, and even actively work to encourage it? I've met more than one scientist who deliberately puts on an air of aloofness, who has judged society to never be able to understand their work, or who thumbs their nose at social conventions because they're too important.
The most interesting stories are when theory connects to observations, when there's a strong attempt to refute or bolster some piece of (un)known science. And here the name of the game is error bars.
The end goal of this process is to achieve a mastery of the subject. And a handy side effect of having an understanding of a topic with this particular technique is that you're perfectly positioned to explain it to audiences who have no prior experience using simple, uncomplicated language with lots of metaphors.
If a single person walks away from an educational moment not understanding the concept, we have to assume that it's entirely our fault.