Tuesday, April 26, 2005

I believe the bloggers are the future ...

... let them link and they will lead the way.

OK, I'm back from bashing my head against the wall to get that song out of my head. Back to the matter at hand:

Only hours ago, I was using this space to bemoan the difficulty of getting the public right with science. A big reason I noted was that science is complicated enough that it can be hard to explain clearly. Well, the blogosphere comes through again, yielding a pair of very nice posts that add clarity without dumbing down the scientific issues.

First, check out Majikthise on the scientific status of overweight. Obesity has been grabbing headlines as a big public health crisis. Then, a week or two ago, we got news that being a little overweight might actually be healthier than being of "normal" weight. People celebrated the news over tiramisu, saying to each other, "Those darned scientists! When will they figure this stuff out?"

As you might guess, the story behind the adjustment of the scientific read on what weight is healthy is complicated. The linked story does a beautiful job working through the complications. This is the kind of explanation of science people can use. Sure, you have to read more than a headline, but it might give you something to look at while you're on the stationary bike.

Next, have a look at this post at Philosophy of Biology about why teaching Intelligent Design Theory arguments against evolutionary theory in the high school biology classroom isn't actually a great idea. (Read the comments while you're there.) Michael Sprague lays out a very persuasive case here, making it quite clear what ought to be on the table in a science classroom. He writes:

As a general principle, before you can effectively criticize a theory, you must first learn what the theory is.

The common sense is starkly beautiful. Add to it this comment from Chris:

If you ask me, the "teach the controversy" movement is dangerous not because it threatens justified scientific orthodoxy, but because it threatens the very foundations of science education. Those foundations are not particular theories, empirical findings, etc. They are the basic principles of scientific investigation. They involve teaching the concepts of "theory," "evidence," etc., in ways that are consistent with their actual use in the practice of science.

If we can get the public to the blogosphere, maybe there's hope.

And someone at The Daily Show must have heard my plea for more fake-news coverage of science. Tonight, in coverage of legal doings in Texas, Jon Stewart examined an exchange on CNN where one woman claimed that a study of children in foster care in Illinois in the homes of gay couples were 11 times more likely to be sexually abused than foster children not in the care of gay couples. Quoth she, "It is a proven fact, and that was a research study done in the State of Illinois." Well, Randall Ellis, a LGBT rights lobbyist involved in the CNN exchange, responded by noting that he was unaware of such a study. (As a lobbyist, my guess is he'd be pretty up on the literature so he could respond to it.)

Did Kyra Phillips, the CNN anchor, cut through the spin to get to the truth of whether any credible studies showed the alleged higher rates of abuse? "It's an interesting debate, a good debate. Thank you both very much."

Jon Stewart: "Really? Good debate? Cause it kinda seemed like the one lady was lying. ... Why don't you call them on their bullsh*t on the air? You're an anchor, for f*ck's sake!"

I retract my earlier concerns. I like The Daily Show's science coverage just fine.


At 1:51 PM, Blogger David R. Mark said...

FYI: A transcript of Jon Stewart's take on the CNN debate, with commentary, is available at JABBS, at http://jabbs.blogspot.com

At 2:41 PM, Blogger Rob D said...

You'll never see the public completely understand science. Why, for example, do so many people think that the north star is the brightest star in the sky? Its actual rank is 49; how has this myth been propogated?

Because people don't care. And that explains a lot.

At 11:59 PM, Blogger Doctor Free-Ride, Ph.D. said...

OK, but this is where the smoke starts curling out of my ears ... Why don't people care?!

Do they think that science had nothing to do with the things they care about (like, say, eating non-poisonous food or breathing non-poisonous air)? I suppose if one has a very narrow range of things one cares about, I suppose that's possible.

But here's the thing -- I don't think you can take that stand and still invoke "scientific studies" to support your preferred policy position. At least, you can't without looking kinda dumb.


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