I just received my copy of the latest Seed, and although I feel a bit reluctant to say it because it may be interpreted as sucking up to the corporate masters who provide my bandwidth, it really is a very good science magazine—I’d be subscribing even if they weren’t sending it to me for free. Take a browse through it sometime, there’s a lot of the content available online.
Anyway, of course the first thing I turn to in the magazine is Chris Mooney’s article on Learning to speak science. It’s good and has some productive suggestions, and I agree with Mooney on 90% of what he says in it, but…
(Oh, yeah, you knew that was coming. Scientists and liberals cannot possibly have a conversation without finding something to disagree on, and then thrashing over that minute point over and over again, until both sides are thoroughly bloodied and stagger back in exhaustion. Since I’m both, it’s just the way it’s gotta be.)
…but there is one point on which we disagree, and I suspect he’ll know what it is before I even say it. It’s this comment:
When it comes to defending evolution, another communications thinker—the celebrated Berkeley cognitive linguist George Lakoff—has other useful suggestions for the scientific community. The United States is, of course, a very religious country; one in which many fundamentalists attack evolution but also one in which many moderate Christians support it. In this context, Lakoff explains that scientists ought to be defending evolution by highlighting scientists who are able to reconcile evolution with religious faith. The ideal messengers to reach the public on this issue, then, would be evolutionary biologists who are also practicing Christians. People, in short, like Brown University evolution defender Kenneth R. Miller, a practicing Catholic and author of the book Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll).
Why, sure. And the ideal messenger to reach the public on Democratic ideals is a moderate Republican. The way to win friends and persuade people is to dilute your message so much that you sound just like them. Baa-aaa-aa-a.
I disagree strongly with this whole idea of an “ideal messenger”. Ken Miller is one messenger, a good one I will agree, but I object to the notion that the best representative of science is one who holds a set of non-scientific ideals.
I also confess to a bit of Miller Fatigue. He’s a good guy, don’t get me wrong, but whenever the conversation turns to how to get the scientific message across, it’s his name that gets brought up. Why not mention Collins of the HGP, or Ayala, or…and there’s another problem. These paragons of Christian thought aren’t that common in science, and actually aren’t very representative. If you want an “ideal messenger”, it should be someone who really doesn’t give a damn about religion, someone who rejects simplistic fundamentalism, someone who thinks the answers are found by looking at the world, not praying for a revelation. Fishing for the rara avis with notions peculiar for a scientist is not convincing to me, or most importantly, to the people we need to convince…unless they’re so stupid they can’t see through our façade.
Not to be entirely negative, though, I agree entirely with this:
Similarly, Lakoff agrees that scientists did a poor job dealing with the Kansas Board of Education. What they should have done instead, he suggests, was to launch a comprehensive national campaign to explain evolution to the public, emphasizing how “converging evidence” from a wide range of areas—the fossil record, radioisotope dating, genetics, and many other disciplines—all independently confirm and strengthen the evolutionary account. In short, the scientific community should be promoting a positive message that teaches the public why evolution is such a powerful scientific theory, and about how scientists weigh evidence.
Hmmm…that’s exactly the topic of my Darwin Day lecture (titled “What Darwin Didn’t Know”, 1:00 Friday, the Bell Museum Auditorium at the UMTC campus), a too-short summary of a few examples of the recent explosion of evidence for evolution. So I have to think Lakoff and Mooney are incredibly insightful on this one thing.