the number of students who show up with the idea that they don’t like writing, so they’d like to do science is kind of terrifying
I totally agree Lucy. Now when I talk to school-kids who come through our institute one of the things I emphasize is how important English is to their ability progress in science.
But having good skills at English still won't necessarily help with communicating science to anyone other than another scientist, in your field.
The problem is that most fields in science use a language that is almost unique. Even when English words are used their meaning is different from field to field. I liked the idea of appreciating science the way you appreciate art but the problem is in this case the art is in another language. Think of it as a great piece of literature written in Arabic. If someone shows it to you and says "wow this is amazing" you look at the scribbling and nod and smile. If you want to appreciate the art you'll need to learn another language first - or you could watch the rugby.
It's even more difficult than simply the language. In any field the cutting edge stuff - the really exciting cool stuff - is built on a foundation of assumed knowledge. It's like trying to explain why Jonah Lomu's try was so cool to someone who has no clue about the rules of the game.
"Why didn't he just around the Englishmen?"
"Because he would have gone out"
"Out? Oh and why was he carrying that funny shaped ball anyway?...."
Yes the rock stars are often not the best scientists in their field, but they combine good scientific skills with skills that allow them to explain a game no-one knows the rules of, in a language no-one understands. They may have flaws but they deserve credit for doing someone that I know from experience is very hard.
I wonder what our nation's woeful private sector contribution to research and development does for science's perceived value?
And for the relationship between that value and the funding of particular work. The current government is more explicitly focusing on applied research - or in other words, what business thinks is valuable rather than what scientists might choose to pursue. Government and business decision-makers seem like relevant audiences to consider as well as the general public.
And if it's anything to go by, a very close friend of mine, despite graduating with a PhD in organic chemistry from the University of Auckland, couldn't secure a single job here. Not even in Australia or Europe either. So he's basically gone freelance and promoted himself, writing scientific documents. While he's not earning to his full potential, it's a start for him.
Think of it as a great piece of literature written in Arabic. If someone shows it to you and says "wow this is amazing" you look at the scribbling and nod and smile. If you want to appreciate the art you'll need to learn another language first
Or appreciate it in translation. That's still worth something, indeed I've been appreciating a famous Arabian classic on and off for years, any time I can't sleep - 1001 Tales of Arabian Nights.
It's even more difficult than simply the language.
Yes, I remember a poignant example of this, when a friend was telling me he had been studying fast Fourier transforms and saw the applicability of them to voice communication over low bandwidth connections. I asked him to explain these transforms, so he began with "OK, so you get what a vector space is, right?". I had to confess to only having a hazy idea of this, at which point he simply gave up, telling me that until I grasped them in some detail the explanation would be impossible, and that grasping would take quite a while (he was also tutoring people in maths, I think, so he knew roughly how long it would take a motivated student to click to the ideas).
I felt annoyed by this, that it was as much a failing of him in being able to describe the idea via a metaphor as a failing of mine to have not been diligent in stage 1 algebra, and it was highly likely that the result he was talking about would have been very useful to me in computing. But, on the other hand, I can't be sure that he wasn't right, and no explanation of FFTs would have conveyed more to me than what he had already told me, that it was a compression method that was highly applicable to pattern rich soundwave-like data.
ETA: I raise this example since mathematics and computer science are very closely related disciplines, and yet the communication of ideas between them, that are to the practitioners quite basic and simple, can be very difficult indeed.
Creation myths have a legitimate cultural aspect, and tell you a lot about how people perceive the world around them.
I dont doubt that for a minute. So….does that lead anywhere apart from round in circles?
Taking that into account when dealing with the ethics of scientific sampling and practice is quite different
I’ll just have to take your word for that.
Well the magnate seems to 'attract' followers. Maybe that's what I was getting at.
Have you listened to 'that' Kim Hill i/v with Robert Winston? IIRC it was characteristed by Winston, probably justly, refusing to answer questions in Hill's terms - but not proposing terms of his own. (And a couple of cases of flatly denying controversey around historical controversial issues.)
Anyway, only an informative chat for certain values of informative.
1001 Tales of Arabian Nights.
Currently in progress on my phone. I read there's a new translation out, too.
And meanwhile, the Herald runs this weird "balance" column featuring the respective views of Chris de Freitas and Keith Hunter.
At least the Herald hasn't degenerated into The Australian's War on Science. Not yet at least
For anyone interested, that same blog has made mention of our Mr De Freitas a few times as well.
“Why didn’t he just go around the Englishmen?”
“Because he would have gone out”
“Out? Oh and why was he carrying that funny shaped ball anyway?….”
"It's a Haggis, he was going to a barbie after"
"Does he know Ken?"
"Do ye nea ken?"
The rock stars of er, rock aren’t necessarily closely related to the good musicians, either.
A one hour Media7 special on that topic might do better in the ratings too.
The communication of scientific knowledge to laypersons is generally heavy on metaphor and simile in order to reduce the complexity to a level that has some chance of being accepted. It is like the translation of Ben's Arabian Nights from the Arabic (scientific jargon) into English (something at a level that laypersons can hope ot comprehend).
So translators of science need to be conversant with the scientific/Arabic realm and be able to parse this knowledge into 'easy speak'.
I wonder what our nation’s woeful private sector contribution to research and development does for science’s perceived value?
And for the relationship between that value and the funding of particular work. The current government is more explicitly focusing on applied research – or in other words, what business thinks is valuable rather than what scientists might choose to pursue. Government and business decision-makers seem like relevant audiences to consider as well as the general public.
I find policy makers difficult beasts to deal with. They have assumptions so vastly different from my own world view. For them the only value of science is economic gain and they are only interested in the most cost effective way to achieve that gain.
Sadly that has led to funding of science that is predicted to lead to economic gain and over 20 years that has only resulted in lower quality science being funded (because it had higher perceived economic benefit). Sadly it has turned out that trying to guess which science directly leads to economic gain is ... er ... difficult.
This isn't a result that is new, many countries have tried to "pick winners" and failed. In the end the only successful funding strategy has been to fund based on quality of science. Somehow by funding purely on quality you end up with greater economic gains.
In some senses because the bureaucrats are not excited by high quality science, because they don't see the beauty in an elegant experiment, because nobody has managed to excite them about the science, they have defaulted to simply managing the dollars. That hasn't been a good thing.
These things make more sense with concrete examples. I study snails, not medical science, so let’s say I decide i’m interested in flax snails and want to start a study of them.
Lots of people people value our native fauna, so i’d have to talk to DoC about how I was going to sample, and what results my research might produce. As it happens, some Northern iwi also value flax snails in particular have stories about them and consider themselves to be kaitiaki for these animals. I don’t see how it’s any more arduous or damaging to science for me to spend some time talking to these people, to understand why they value these animals and to explain to them what my result might mean. In fact, taking as many people on board as possible should be a goal for science
Fracking, magnates: how do they work?
magnates: how do they work?
They're magnates because they don't work.
Well, yes. But then the joke...wouldn't have worked.
Comedy, it's complicated.
Speaking of which time to go sow my petunia seeds
i think some of the hand-wrining about how hard it is to explain some concepts in science isn't really justified. Science isn't a collection of facts and impenetrable ideas, it's the method we've developed to understand the world and there's nothing hard about understanding that at all.
The LHC is massive and ridiculous feat engineering and science about which I understand almost nothing, and we shouldn't be do concerned if very few of us really understand the maths the underpins it. What everyone should know is that it's a machine that we built to test an idea. The models that best explain how matter works predict that when matter has this much energy something will happen, so we built a machine (did I mention it's colder than space...) that accelerates matter fast enough to create those energies so we can measure what happens. And that's all science really is: you've got an idea? Ok, test it.
That should really be the message of science communication, stories like the LHC other evolution of our species, or the origin of universe itself are awe inspiring examples that we can use as hooks to get the message across, but what we've learned about 1080, vaccines, GMOs and our climate system are all part of the same project.
geek alert -- FWIW it's worth, the title "Lord" is always concatenated with the surname, so he is Robert, Lord Winston [of XX], never Lord Robert or Lord Robert Winston. In contrast, "Sir" and "Dame" attach to the forename, so it is always Sir Ed or Dame Susan, never Sir Hillary or Dame Devoy. Actually, I guess to be really geeky, I'd need to understand the reason for this.
I don’t see how it’s any more arduous or damaging to science for me to spend some time talking to these people, to understand why they value these animals and to explain to them what my result might mean. In fact, taking as many people on board as possible should be a goal for science
Well that sounds like it was very enjoyable. And I think back to what has been trodden over in the race to colonise the continents by those insensitive to the local culture and environment. Not one of humanity's finest hours.
I just wonder, with our highly developed ability to self delude, especially if some otherworldly entity can be conscripted to the cause, we should be careful when it comes to the baggage of past generations. Especially now as these ancient knowledge systems are shown to be riddled with fictions and inconsistencies, virtually with each passing week.
Hey I don't really care, anyone can have whatever comforting fantasy they like just so long as they know and acknowledge it as a comforting fantasy to them and other don't have to buy into it, if they don't want to. I better stop now in case someone thinks I'm a lone nut. Or am I too late!
@ David Yes and No
Yes sometimes it is possible to easily explain the science, in which case you should. BTW most scientists (including me) really just want someone who will listen to them. The usual experience is people being bored spitless and walking away.
But some science is complex. And if you brush over the complex and say "it's a big piece of equipment we made to test and idea" then you verge on patronising and people really hate that and are really good at detecting it.
Yes you are right to some degree the important thing is the process of approaching problems using the scientific method. But some folks want to know more.
In my field if I'm given enough time I can usually explain everything about what I'm doing. But I don't have to deal with the math which can become truly impenetrable. But even then the person has to actually be interested otherwise it becomes really boring. Can I describe the exciting bits in lay terms? Sure, but some of the excitement comes from knowing some of the details.
But the one thing that has come to piss me off unbelievably about explaining science is the "So how is it going to make money?" question. Tips for young players - that question will make most scientists, especially me, grumpy. If that's the question you're interested in then I'd rather talk about the rugby thanks.
Now, convincing businesspeople to fund research in the humanities, that's a trick.
I've been having a great related conversation with Ben today (thanks, sir).
geek alert – FWIW it’s worth, the title “Lord” is always concatenated with the surname, so he is Robert, Lord Winston [of XX], never Lord Robert or Lord Robert Winston. In contrast, “Sir” and “Dame” attach to the forename, so it is always Sir Ed or Dame Susan, never Sir Hillary or Dame Devoy. Actually, I guess to be really geeky, I’d need to understand the reason for this.
I was wondering about this, but most people seem to called him "Lord Robert Winston". Where, then, does the "Professor" part go? I know it's full and correct to refer to "Professor Sir Peter Gluckman".