I’ve spent a bit of time over the weekend, reading through the various posts related to Ken Ring’s attempts to predict future events: here, here, & here, for example. (Yes, really. For once I had a bit of time on my hands & no particular need to do anything else.) I found this a rather chastening experience. Here’s why.
This particular topic (whether or not Mr Ring can do what he claims, and the responses by the media & the scientific community) has generated a fair bit of heat, & it would be fair to say that the heat is on both sides. Scientists & science communicators (often one & the same, at least here on Sciblogs) are concerned that Mr Ring’s ideas get so much air time & are accepted by many. Others, speaking for ‘the public’ (which is an unfortunate term for a highly heterogeneous group whose one common feature is that they are not scientists), feel that the science community is trying to force their views on people & not give opposing views a fair hearing. (And then there are those who come across as ‘anti-science, but I’m not going to address that cohort here.)
And this is what bothers me most. The members of that second group (the ‘others’, above) are not ‘anti-science’. They are doing their level best to tell ‘us’ (the scientists/sci.comms. folk commenting on those threads) how this issue, & our handling of it, is perceived by ‘the public’. The fact that they’ve continued to raise obviously deeply-held objections to ‘our’ point(s) of view means that we’re not really doing a particularly good job of establishing true two-way communication here, & in fact more than once I couldn’t help feeling that I was with two groups of people who, with the best will in the world, were talking past rather than to each other. I worry that we run a real risk of alienating people who are generally supportive of science by giving the impression of dismissing/not listening to their views, at a time when good communication of and about science is probably more important than ever before. Maybe we (i.e. members of both these groups) need to establish the views and understandings we have in common, and then begin to take things further from there?
I shall now duck briefly below the parapet ….
…. & emerge again to try to start a discussion here by addressing a point made by Markj on (I think) this thread of Ken Perrott’s. Markj, I think you said that people should be free to make use of all available information to make up their own minds on a problem or topical issue. I agree with you 100% on this. But this raises an immediate question: how do we get all available information out there? There really are issues with getting science into the public sphere (at least some of which relate to existing conceptions about what science is and how it works). As Sir Peter Gluckman said, how can we ensure that the public has the information necessary to reach a consensus on matters where science has something to contribute? What can all parties do, to get us headed in this direction?
Over to you, folks