In my mail today, I received a copy of the Bell Museum’s quarterly, Imprint, which contained a fine article on the Bell’s strategy for addressing the creationists. After summarizing some of the museum’s efforts and recent national events, it concludes this way:
Bell Museum programs are one way that University of Minnesota scientists are reaching the public–not through spin, but through thoughtful presentations about science and research, such as the lively Café Scientifique discussion held recently on the subject of evolution. To support science educators, Borrello, Lanyon, and several other scientists have teamed up with local parents to found Minnesota Citizens for Science Education (www.mnscience.org), which provides resources for teachers, students, and parents. “As a society,” says Lanyon, “we can’t afford to let a religious argument dominate the critical subject of how we teach science in our schools. The fact is, life evolves. We ignore–or choose to deny–this scientific fact at our own peril.”
After all this discussion of “framing”, I find that so refreshing and reassuring. There is a slow change occurring in the scientific community, a growing recognition that stepping out of the lab and engaging the public in open and entertaining discussions about their research is an important activity. We don’t need to spin the story, we don’t need to dumb things down or hide the troubling implications — what we can do instead is meet with people and talk and explain. Not just lecture at them, but take questions on the spot and try to deal interactively with their concerns. That’s what Café Scientifique is about, for instance: informal discussions in a casual setting where people can just ask any question that pops into their head. Citizens for Science Education groups are also organizations that aren’t about dunning people with facts, but about outreach and providing resources to concerned teachers and parents.
We don’t need any new jargon or buzzwords to do that. Just talking. Informing. Educating. Being honest about our positions and letting people say what they think, too. That’s an approach that will feel natural to scientists, far better than artificially hedging our words and trying to say what other people want to hear, rather than stating what we actually think.
That’s what I want to do, and that’s what I will do. If others want to practice spinning and pandering, feel free. I doubt that you’ll find many scientists who want to join in that game, though.