My fellow academics, have you ever noticed that when our science students have problems with writing, we send them off to get tutorials from the people who know better, over in the English department? Our campus has a writing room where students can get advice from experts before they hand in their work to the science nerds. Unfortunately, there is no reciprocal arrangement: when English majors write about science, almost any claptrap can pass muster, we science nerds don’t provide remedial science education, and they don’t send their students to us to get their assertions vetted. This leads to distressing situations, like this account of a student who wrote a paper on evolution for a history class. The history TA marked up her paper with painfully stupid comments about the science of evolution. What can be done about this sort of thing?
Well, my first thought was that the next time I get a set of term papers (next week! Oh, no!) I’m going to grade them by insisting that “it’s” always gets an apostrophe, verb tenses are irrelevant and changing them frequently spices up a paper, and that anything written before the date of the author’s birth is old timey history and doesn’t need a citation, since they make it all up anyway. Sentences optional are. Speeeling ireluhvent. We is always at war with humanities and social sciences.
But no! Let’s acknowledge that both sides of the campus divide have essential contributions to make to one another! This is a case where Science ought to put on its best lab coat and stomp on over to History and set them straight, while recognizing that it would be a good thing for History (and Philosophy and English and Art usw) have grounds to tromp over and assail us over our philistine ways. Silence is the worst approach we could take.
Which actually makes this a nice segue into my announcement for the Café Scientifique, which represents an attempt to bridge the two cultures. It’s our last Café of the year, and we’ve got a couple of people from those buildings on the other side of the campus mall to join us in talking about how to communicate science. I’m really looking forward to this one; it’s not too late for the rest of you to book a flight and rent a car and make the trip on out to Morris for a splendid evening.
Consuming information: Translating science for the rest of us
Barbara Burke (Speech) and Tisha Turk (English)
“Consuming information: Translating science for the rest of us” describes and explains the journalistic practices that occur when research about science topics gets translated into headlines and news stories. By examining recent news stories about the dangers of coffee consumption, we illustrate the progress of information from an article in the American Journal of Ob/Gyn to a ten-second spot TV or a two-inch news story in a daily paper. Drink up while we discuss coffee research findings!
So, for that history TA who is ignorant of evolution, I’d say that one response ought to be that the science disciplines at that university make a routine effort to offer introductory lectures and discussions on core topics in the field, aimed at a general audience. I’d also like to see more explanations for us geeks on basics in other disciplines — if someone offered an evening “Idiot’s Guide to Post-modernism”, or similar grossly misunderstood topic, I’d go.
As always, the answer is more speech. Talk and share ideas.