Advertisement

Wanted: Another Scientific Revolution

By Laura J. Snyder Wanted: Another Scientific Revolution In the 19th century, four friends changed the way scientists viewed themselves. It’s time for another shake-up. Broadway Books, 2011 When H.M.S. Beagle set sail from Plymouth Sound on December 27, 1831, the ship’s young naturalist, Charles Darwin, was a self-proclaimed “natural philosopher.” By the time he disembarked the ship about five years later, he was a “scientist”

By | May 1, 2011

Wanted: Another Scientific Revolution

In the 19th century, four friends changed the way scientists viewed themselves. It’s time for another shake-up.

Broadway Books, 2011

When H.M.S. Beagle set sail from Plymouth Sound on December 27, 1831, the ship’s young naturalist, Charles Darwin, was a self-proclaimed “natural philosopher.” By the time he disembarked the ship about five years later, he was a “scientist”—a word invented in the intervening years by fellow Cambridge University alum and polymath William Whewell.

Much else had changed as well. Whewell and a group of his friends had begun to modernize the concept of the natural philosopher, a project first hatched in 1812, when they met as undergraduates at Cambridge University

Each of the four men was brilliant, self-assured, and possessed of the optimism of the age: Whewell, who later created the fields of mathematical economics and the science of the tides; Charles Babbage, a mathematical genius who would invent the prototype of the first modern computer; John Herschel, who mapped the skies of the Southern hemisphere and coinvented photography; and Richard Jones, a curate who went on to shape economic science. The four composed what I call the “Philosophical Breakfast Club,” also the title of my latest book, which chronicles the way they transformed the “man of science” into the professional scientist.

At “Philosophical Breakfasts” held on Sundays after compulsory chapel services, the four students cast their young, critical eyes over science as it was then practiced, and found it wanting. They pledged to bring about nothing less than a scientific revolution—and in large part they succeeded.

Because of these men, science was transformed from the province of the amateur—the clergyman collecting fossils or beetles in his spare hours, or the wealthy gentleman conducting electrical experiments at his country estate—to the career of the professional: trained at the university, published in specialized journals, and admitted to associations open only to fellow professionals.

Darwin’s career was thus framed by the revolution brought about by these men. But he was also influenced more directly by the members of the Philosophical Breakfast Club. At Cambridge from 1828 to 1831, Darwin attended John Henslow’s botany lectures with Whewell, who—probably during their strolls to the class—suggested that Darwin read his friend Herschel’s new book, A Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy, which appeared the month that Darwin was taking the exams necessary to complete his degree.

Herschel’s book, aimed at a popular audience, promoted Francis Bacon’s inductive, evidence-based scientific method. “Scarcely anything in my life made so deep an impression on me” as the book, Darwin later wrote to Herschel. “It made me wish to try to add my mite to the accumulated store of natural knowledge.” In short, it sparked Darwin’s transformation from amateur naturalist into scientist.

One of the unintended consequences of the revolution wrought by the Philosophical Breakfast Club has been that the professional scientist is now less interested in, and perhaps less capable of, connecting with the broader public, sharing the new discoveries and theories that most excite the scientific community. Although there are some notable exceptions, today’s researcher has been less adept than the Victorian-era natural philosopher at engaging the public—and this estranged the general public from science. In part this is because the scientific establishment discourages its members from writing popular books and articles, considering these projects unserious, even frivolous, diversions from the real work of research. But this attitude has to change in order to mend the ever-deepening rift between science and the rest of modern culture. Today’s scientist should strive to be more like the 19th-century natural philosopher—ironically, more like those very men who created the modern scientist.

An expert on Victorian science and culture, Fulbright scholar Laura J. Snyder served as president of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science in 2009 and 2010. She is associate professor of philosophy at St. John’s University, in New York City, and also the author of Reforming Philosophy: A Victorian Debate on Science and Society. An excerpt from her new book can be accessed here.

Advertisement

Comments

Avatar of: Lundy Pentz

Lundy Pentz

Posts: 1

May 6, 2011

The writer seems to place the whole burden on the scientific community and its supposed pressure to avoid popular writing, but we also have a huge cultural shift to deal with. Screaming sensationalism and over-the-top claims seem to be required to get the public's attention, and scientists are trained to make conservative, data-based claims. Most of the really interesting material in recent science cannot be communicated effectively to a public with the profound scientific illiteracy we see today. Most fundamentally we are challenged by a popular culture that is increasingly self-absorbed and obsessed with trivial social pursuits. Creative and radical changes in how science is taught at the lowest grades, and perhaps more far-reaching social changes, not just having researchers write attention-grabbing op-ed pieces, will be required to turn this ship around.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 24

May 6, 2011

Perhaps scientists should try to connect with the real world and stop being so isolated from what actually matters to people. Be more humble and less arrogant, rather than assuming that what you do is the most important thing in the world. Be helpful and give back more to those who pay your wages. \n
Avatar of: sylvain GRIGNON

sylvain GRIGNON

Posts: 1

May 6, 2011

typically anglocentrist view of the development of science in the 19th century ...
Avatar of: ANIL CASHIKAR

ANIL CASHIKAR

Posts: 1

May 6, 2011

The burden of science communication cannot be placed squarely only on scientists. As science has progressed over the past 200 years from the Breakfast Club to modern science, one must not ignore the fact that we have accumulated a great amount of detail in every field of science. Communicating these details and retaining the interest of general public while doing so, take significantly longer than the science that directly affects everyday life. An additional challenge for scientists and science journalists is to compete for the very small amount of time that people can afford to spend learning about a newly discovered gene or the large hadron collider. People's minds are filled with things like the next blockbuster cell phone to game schedules and TV shows. Even the "Breakfast Club" scientists may not have effectively conveyed the details of their findings - evolution debate, anyone?
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 107

May 6, 2011

Thanks for this informative and stimulating posting. I agree that modern professional science doesn't connect very well with contemporary popular culture (and vice versa). Lots of room for improvement. But I question whether this disconnect was any less severe 150 years ago, in the era of amateur "natural philosophy". It's hard to imagine a man more out of step with the popular beliefs of his day than Charles Darwin. We tend to forget how rock-solid was the belief in the literal truth of the Bible, in Darwin's England. It's not a question of professional vs. amateur. It's a question of how well the general populace has been educated in scientific thinking. Today, poorly; back in the day, not at all. Scientific thinking is counter-intuitive; superstition is the natural tendency of the untrained mind. Popular science writing isn't gonna get the job done. The revolution has to be in our education system. Politically, it looks unattainable, but I suppose that's been true of all revolutions.
Avatar of: Mike Waldrep

Mike Waldrep

Posts: 155

May 6, 2011

Interesting! I hope hat everyone had a great Cinco de Mayo yesterday and I hope that they have great weekend! I'm sorry that I haven't said anything about this yesterday,but "real life" happened.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 10

May 6, 2011

A typical academic scientist in the US has many duties including, teaching, doing the research, getting funding to do the research, managing a lab, institutional administration, publishing the science, and anything that comes along. So, is it outreach to educate the public also making it to the list ? I don't think so, someone specilized on that should be in charge.
Avatar of: Richard Patrock

Richard Patrock

Posts: 52

May 6, 2011

Three points. First, there can never be enough encouragement to have people see the world clearly. This is the same now as it was then. I appreciate your call to action.\n\nSecond, there is a ton of lay literature now complete with exquisite photos. We have Nature programs on TV and in the theatre, we have podcasts and informal classes every field of our universe. We have so many more lay books than any other time in history so it is difficult to say how much more the market can support. Let us hope we are underestimating the curiousity of the world because of the pessimism of publishers.\n\nLastly, once you get past a general idea of the scientific process, complete with photos, you lose much of the lay audience. What proportion of the scientific audience reads books outside of their own field, either for of lack of interest or heaven forbid because it is outside of their experience and understanding. I read twice 'The Grand Design' by Hawking and I'm afraid, I'm still a bit confused. This is my short-coming and not Hawking's so what happens when a non-scientist is presented with a less clear writer. Or even a wonderful writer: For instance, I had so many friends who couldn't get past the first 50 pages of 'Emperor of all Maladies' (a great book) because it had way too much new information to keep straight.
Avatar of: Alec Schaerer

Alec Schaerer

Posts: 4

May 6, 2011

The debate on the qualities of science reveals a remarkable blind spot as to where the real problem is about a truly scientific understanding of reality in a complete way. Few if any of the debaters have noticed as yet the essential problems: \n(1) the ?blind spot? induced (naively hoping for objectivity) by relying on a separation of subject and object by means of distinguishing, observing, describing, measuring, prodding (in experiments), etc., which leads on principle to a self-limitation in the possible understanding: e.g. no observer can observe his act of observing, no measurement can measure the characteristic of measuring, etc.; the widespread belief in things consisting of ?pieces?, and in limits such as the ?speed? of light, or object granularity, is a result of remaining stuck in blind spots;\n(2) more generally the relevance of fundamental attitudes, such as setting out on basic assumptions (axiom, definition, hypothesis, postulate, premise, etc.), which inevitably constitute a way of ?talking into? the subject matter before it has had a chance of revealing itself completely to awareness;\n(3) an ignorance concerning the organic interplay of perceptual and conceptual structures as such ? forgetting that on the one hand concepts are formed via experience, and then on the other hand constitute the means for steering one?s action and selecting further experiences.\nIn general, self-referentiality escapes scientific understanding ? which is why the public at large is not so wrong in challenging the prowess of today?s science, even though the public at large does not have the means for proving where the essential problems are and how to solve them. Just a hint: they are solvable ? but here is not the place for getting fully into that. What is at stake is the complete self-understanding of the philosophical and scientific mind. It requires completely open dedication and needs a special type of universally applicable concepts that allow a mediation on principle between perspectivity and universality, and the coverage even of the actual mental act. But who wants that nowadays?
Avatar of: David Hill

David Hill

Posts: 41

May 6, 2011

The old style of Natural History, so popular in the 1850-1950 time frame, is re-emerging in the arena of amateur observers. This is the result of two trends. First, new technology such as digital video and photography in concert with the internet, allows the serious amateur to disseminate original observations quickly, to a world-wide audience with common interests. Second, formal institutions have largely abandoned this area of inquiry, and formal publications in the area are stilted because of a professional need to turn all observations of nature into a "model system" for the investigation of some "extremely important" principles of nature. Related obfuscation can challenge the thinking, and the enjoyment, of the serious amateur. Amateurs are more common that you think. Many professionals, for example, do their amateur work on the side.
Avatar of: john toeppen

john toeppen

Posts: 52

May 6, 2011

Science is currently presented to the public on television on PBS, Discovery, and the Science channel. If we think that the public will read white papers we are delusional. Mass media is the most effective way to educate the public in science as well as the only effectively way to accomplish education on a global scale. Between You Tube and HDTV there are great new venues for modern science and we would be blind to not embrace this trend. Infotainment is the trend for public science and is also the core of any passionate scientific pursuit (we enjoy the intellectual engagement induced by exposure to new information).\n\nScientists need to engage in social entrepreneurialism if we want to change the world for the better. The world would be a far better place if people were to use scientific methods to evaluate their choices. Religion and politics depend on assumptions, and we are all too familiar with the results of that approach. If we could get people to realize that our assumptions are merely hypothesis we would be better off. Or we could remain content with mediocrity and complain about the consequences of our own inactions and inability to excite people about science and our options for the future.\n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 42

May 6, 2011

Although not in a science profession, I deem myself to be a supporter of science -- not science as a bastion from whence current consensuses must be defended vigorously against their detractors, but science as a perpetually self-upgrading coping tool of humanity, and as the enemy of dogma for dogma's sake. (Dogma for sake of trying to make sense of what lies BEYOND empirical testing is nothing more than pure fuzzy thinking at work toward arriving ultimately at rigorous testable thinking. Most advances in science have grown out of what was once pure speculation and fuzzy rationalization.)\n\nThe enemy of science is dogmatic insistence on a current model, as if to prevent its disparagement by an enemy of "truth." And thus the enemy is not merely the riff raff ranting outside the gates of research but, also, the enemy WITHIN, qua those who too enthusiastically and too successfully disparage any opinion but their own. \nDoes that happen? Read blogs among people in the science schools and professions and see for yourself.)\n\nOpenness to adopting a working hypothesis, for sake of some baseline from which results may be evaluated from a standard view is both practical and necessary; but insisting upon the presumption that any other hypotheses is automatically nonsense, is a phenomenon to be pondered. Taking alternative rationales off the back burner and treating them as inimical to reason, or protesting against monetary support for them, is historically established folly. Does anybody actually exercise such squelching? Well, there are some who believe their perception of reality is all there is to reality. And there are some in that set who believe that weighing any evidence or reasoning outside that perception is, well..., not worth wasting time on. But, if you look around without blinders... see for yourself. \n\nNo sense of "loyalty" on part of any "scientist" to any current model hastens the day when that model will be, as it must,replaced by another that fits future data better. And, granted, every possible alternative rationale can't be funded. But some projects are categorically denied funding, on grounds they would test things the reviewer knows are a waste of time. What if the reviewer is biased? Wait a century. Maybe then... \n\nMeanwhile, who is the greater enemy of scientific progress? Is it the intractable disbeliever who never saw the inside of a laboratory, or took a microscope to the field, and objects to a current model on grounds it fails to comply with his/her untestable dogmatic beliefs? Or is it the intractable science-literate, objector against any alternative line of research that don't fit his/her not-yet-tested predilections about where progress is headed? \n\nFrom the amount of emotion directed at any untestable beliefs that do not conform to an insider's OWN untestable beliefs... it would seem that a shouting match is underway between one individual's untested, or untestable beliefs, and another's. And then, when scientists want the public to know that they do have hard evidence for or against a particular thing, is it any wonder that the public -- conditioned to expect heated opinions of untestable things -- is not sure the evidence is really there? \n\nThe history of scientific progress is a trail marked not by compliance with the current wisdom of one's time, but by upendings of conventional wisdom apple carts. Saying so is not intended to take away from the reality that it is the rank and file of researchers, plodding away at their work benches, or diggings, or super-colider squiggles, or whatever... trying to find data to support existing hypotheses, and FAILING, who lay the groundwork for some darned synthesist to come along and, as it were, build a new city on the ruins of the old. \n\nSome articles in peer reviewed publications, as well as more, perhaps, in pop-science publications, seem to hold that it is necessary to fight fire with fire, and argue with non-scientist detractors in an emotional way, lest some hypothesis about something they cannot prove or disprove, other than their own, make its way into a schoolroom. Doing so, however, pits their own beliefs about \n\nDoes learning a lot about a given subject, better qualify a person to know things he can neither prove nor disprove? Some seem to think so. \n\nIn every age, some of the best minds have fallen into the trap of protesting too much against any assumption that would tend to insult that day's veritas accomplii (sp.?) A common fallacy, by the great thinkers of any time, seems to be that their culture has ARRIVED, if not at a point from which ultimate truth may be known then, at least, at a point from which the direction and height of the pennacle are predictable. \n\nHas today's conventional wisdom done something that of no prior age achieved? If so, it's the first time in history. And, if history is any indicator of probability, then probably not. In fact, not only do we not yet know everything, but we probably don't have a clue where empirical evidence goes from here. \n\nHow adamant were Euclidean geometers that there was only one geometry, before it was realized another better explains certain phenomena, and that these could co-exist without the one contradicting what another can apply to. \n\nEver have a kid in the back seat asking, "Are we there yet?"\n\nNope, not yet.\n\nCould it be that one reason non-scientists of Earth today might wonder if some experts are objective is because some of them (and some pop-science writers) have hotly treated their owm personal predilections as self-evident (as dogma).\n\nWell, this old SUPPORTER of science, believes research should be as open as it can be to things that cannot be rule out nor in, and avoid getting steamed or hostile if the unfalsifiable ideas of another conflict with their own unfalsifiable opinions.\n\nMaybe revolution is not the right word for letting forthcoming evidence lead the way, and letting data speak for itself. \n\nThere is an attitude that fits this old f--t's idea of what is science at its highest and best; and that attitude is:\n\n"There are lots and lots of things I don't know. However, I can tell you what I think. I won't take offense if you tell me what you think, even if I feel very, very strongly that you are wrong. I think the odds are very good that I'm right. But let's see what evidence turns up in the future."\n\nAw shucks! That'll never happen.\n\nBut, hey, it was a nice thought while it lasted. (:>) \n\nA. Jeenious\n
Avatar of: Mike Breeden

Mike Breeden

Posts: 4

May 6, 2011

The point of science is to explain things. If you don't communicate them, what success is that?\nI wrote an amazing book, to describe an entirely new philosophy based on Darwinian principles. It was brilliant, revolutionary and inaccessible. I understood that, so I took advantage of the media of the day. See what I did. Offer an opinion. PastToTheFuture.com. I think I explained things that demand explanation and I have more that might explain things you never thought could be explained.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 2

May 6, 2011

...ABOUT "INVENTED WORDS"...IS IT "ALUM" FOR "ALUMNUS" ?
Avatar of: Shi Liu

Shi Liu

Posts: 32

May 6, 2011

I posted the following comment earlier:\nSuch a Revolution Has Already Been Started\nSee the links below: \n\nhttp://im1.biz/albums/userpics/10001/P2007V2N1A1_Declaration.htm \n\nhttp://im1.biz/albums/userpics/10001/P2007V2N1A2_Statement.htm \n\nHowever, my post was removed. Why?\n\n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 42

May 6, 2011

Not to show any disrespect for greatness and celebrity, but let us dare to question a quote attributed to the late great Dr. A. Einstein, indicating one does not understand something unless he can explain it so as to be understood by a barmaid. More correct in my humble estimation are the words of Lincoln Barnett, written in the 1950s, to the effect that... as technology allows us to probe phenomena farther and farther beyond the reach of our meager senses, as the data they provide access to presents more contradictions, as concepts are stretched thinner and thinner to reach around those data... our findings and our efforts to make sense of them become ever more remote from human experience. (Not a direct quote, but the jist of it.) If there is a barmaid somewhere out there in the night to whom can be explained the significance of how light travels at the same speed in EACH frame of reference, but is not the same for an observer inside a given frame of reference as for an observer in any other... and a bar patron who can find the words to communicate that to her with clarity, let me take my hat off to each.\n\nOr, take microbiology's recent evidence that a retransposon, in happening to land next to a gene, though it be methylated, may be released from methylation, along with that gene, and thence alter the timing or the degree or the rate of that gene's expression, not only in germ line cells but also in somatic cells and, not only prior to or during gestation or maturation, but at any time in an organism's life... but that only accounts for how some mutations may occur, and not how any can account for knocking down the odds against a BENEFICENT phenom change. It helps to explain why identical twins and clones of complex eukaryotes differ, but it still falls short of leading us to a mechanism yet to be discovered whereby a species may come up with a "challenge appropriate" mutation, as opposed to a deleterious one, as opposed to a random INAPPROPRIATE one. Who knows? Maybe a year from now, or a decade, or a century from now, someone will come up with hard evidence to show that retransposons gravitate, at some statistically significant rate, more toward genes correlating to specific environmental stresses, or food availability niche changes, than to random landing sites. There has to be such a mechanism, or all the IMPLICIT wording of statements saying species "adapt" might suggest to our precocious barmaid that we KNOW of, and can EXPLAIN, the mechanism, or the set of mechanisms, that enable a species to INTERACT with its environment in a proactive way. We do NOT know of any such mechanisms. And no evidence, nor testable model to date has given us an inkling of what how the ODDS allow that any species should come up with "situational stress appropriate" mutations that solve problems such as not having a heavy enough coat of hair, when an ice age begins. What are the odds that random chance would not come up with myriad inappropriate mutations, and just not that one that is needed.\n\nExplaining a model that has been invented to explain the data and observations and experimental results we DO have, to date, is NOT the same as coming up with THAT data. And if, when that is pointed out to a microbiologist his response is to accuse the "messenger" that the messenger is too naive and too stubborn to accept that the model is "obvious"... Is that a scientific response?\n\nHow refreshing it would be if no scientist would pretend he/she knows MORE THAN HE/SHE ACTUALLY KNOWS!\n\nWouldn't that be a great way to break the ice and start an objective dialog. \n\nWe know a lot. But we don't know EVERYTHING quite yet. And any explanation that begins with how things appear to be shaping up, rather than styled as an accounting for "how things are," or "how things work," would be... what... an admission of weakness? An insult to ourselves and all others seeking answers?\n\nCould it be that there is a lot of glossing over, a lot of bigotry, a lot of chauvinism going on that, yes, even a barmaid might see through... even if her IQ is not at the top of a bell-shaped curve.\n\nCould it be that the first step in being honest with others is to begin being honest with ourselves?\n\nOur brightest and best minds but push the edges of an envelope constrained by our lack of ability to experience all that is, directly or indirectly, and our lack of ability to recognize EVERY pattern in the universe (or multi-verses, even if it bops us in the nose.\n\nYes, we have come a long way, we humans, in a mere blip in time. But how far have we not yet gone?\n\nHow many of us have the intellectual courage to admit how limited we are, and how much we rely upon best guesses to explain even what we know?\n\nJust explain it so outsiders can understand?\n\n\nThat'll work. Just as soon as we have enough pieces of many puzzles to come up with an explanation we can understand,ourselves. \n\nA. Jeenious
Avatar of: Alec Schaerer

Alec Schaerer

Posts: 4

May 7, 2011

Thank you dear anonymous In-Jeenious person for once more reminding the scientific community that the Art of Knowing Everything starts with knowing fully oneself and hence one's way with dealing with the universe. Indeed, even a barmaid can understand this. She might even understand that this means understanding fully one?s own way of thinking while actually thinking. Concerning the principle this is merely a question of being interested in the topic ? while the realization of this principle is a question of a mental discipline that few want to venture into. They prefer to talk endlessly and often arrogantly about reality 'out there' as if that was the essence of reality. Yet the reality to address is totality in it's complete sense - for example the observed plus all of the observer and his conceptual and hence mental activity, before starting to expound predicates about the world 'out there'. I pointed out as an essential point in a post yesterday (2011-05-06 13:19:07) that on the one hand concepts are formed via experience, and then on the other hand they constitute the means for steering one?s action and selecting further experiences. Humans should (and could) understand the fully self-referential character of their way of being, and then they can easily understand the fully self-referential character of reality in it's complete sense, as it appears in statements such as 'actio=reactio' in classical mechanics or entanglement and non-locality in the quantum approach. Level-headed and open-minded barmaids understand in a fully self-referential way, they are keenly aware of human traits - which is why they can deal with men as efficiently as they do ?
Avatar of: Laura Snyder

Laura Snyder

Posts: 2

May 7, 2011

Thank you all for your interest and thoughtful comments! I would just like to add a couple of quick points. I do not mean to suggest that each and every working scientist must make the effort to communicate his/her results to the general public. However, I do feel that one problem in our society today is a pervading scientific illiteracy; few in the general public know,or even care to know, about scientific developments that will, inevitably, be influencing our lives in the coming decades. The public education system in our country must play a role in fixing this problem, obviously. But also the scientific community should do more to raise awareness of science among the public (and not only scientists, also members of my field, the history and philosophy of science, can help do this as well). Otherwise, we are leaving a big gaping hole of ignorance that certain ideologues are more than happy to fill. Think of what happened with "intelligent design." Evolutionary biologists felt, a bit understandably,squeamish about "debating" the merits of evolution with creationists in the light of the public press, and this allowed the creationists to make inroads they would not otherwise have been able to make. \n\nAs for the point about a "typically Anglocentric" view of science in the 19th century: in THE PHILOSOPHICAL BREAKFAST CLUB, I do compare the situations in England, France and Germany in the early 19th century. The fact that England seemed to be falling behind in the area is partly what motivated the four members of the group to revolutionize science in England; I also argue that parts of their transformation of "the scientist" then filtered back to the Continent as well.
Avatar of: Laura Snyder

Laura Snyder

Posts: 2

May 7, 2011

I am blogging about related topics on my website at www.laurajsnyder.com and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/authorlaurajsnyder, for any who are interested in joining in the discussion there!
Avatar of: MADHU THANGAVELU

MADHU THANGAVELU

Posts: 8

May 7, 2011

\nGreat article !\n\nI agree that modern scientists need to do much more to communicate their findings to a much, much broader audience. This helps not only in the efficient flow of knowledge, but serves a much more practical purpose. Besides inspiring a new generation of thinkers and doers, communicating findings in an inspiring way attracts the attention of potential sponsors from the most unlikely fields of endeavor, not to mention philanthropists from around the globe. \n\nYes, many of the concepts are hard to put into words that inspire for the layman, but then that's the rub, I suppose ? \n\nI like to think that media like dynamic webpages, Youtube and mass marketing portals, while taboo for the traditional "aloof" traditional personality of the serious scientist, is fast finding a prominent niche in the good lab worker's portfolio.\n\nGood and skillful communications and marketing stoke the "fire in the belly" of active researchers, and the feedback from non-traditional sources bring fresh insight to imaginative and creative minds working on difficult problems, while simultaneously helping fetch megabucks to the table.\n\nOne of the great sins of our time, as Mohandas Gandhi aptly phrases in his autobiography is doing "Science without Humanity", and perhaps modern tools allows us to open up our minds to the world in ways never before possible.
Avatar of: Ruth Rosin

Ruth Rosin

Posts: 117

May 7, 2011

The idea that a scientist should explain his most complex science to the general public is a beautiful utopian dream, perfectly feasible in theory, and utterly impossible in practice.\n\nAssumingthat we are dealing with a literate general public, that is well-versed in everything taught about science in pre-college courses (which is usually not at all the case), the scientist would have to teach that general public everything he learned about science, and used in his work, in college, starting from the first college degree and continuing through graduate school. The scientist should, of course, not undertake to reach all that himself, or he would never be able to do any more science, but send the general public to college to study all the necessary course-work. He should, then, send the general public to study all the science books and publications, he had himself learned from, after obtaining a graduate, and possibly, post-graduate\ntraining.\n\nTen, or twenty years after he starts from scratch his project to educate the general public, he can attempt to explain his most complex scientific work to this general public.\n\nOnly those scentists who cannot see how utterly stupid this whole idea is, need to try and implement it. I suspect that they cannot be very good scientists in the first place. But I wish them the best of luck!
Avatar of: Alec Schaerer

Alec Schaerer

Posts: 4

May 8, 2011

It is fairly obvious that explaining the complex findings of science to the public at large is problematic. But this aspect too is beside the point when viewing all interconnections. At any time in history most explorers were so engrossed in their view that they thought their findings were utterly important and could not easily be explained to others. A few centuries or even decades later they were utterly put into new perspectives. The really relevant point is not in the results, but in the methods, which can at times be utterly off track concerning a complete understanding, but can be utterly attractive to the vast majority of scientists and financing politicians - for example because they provide gadgets for manipulating materials, as is the case today. A capacity in this direction does not necessarily mean that this kind of scientists really understand the nature of matter, but only that they can manipulate it very cleverly. Even some animals can manipulate matter according to their expectations. But this is no proof of anything like a complete understanding ? and as mentioned the point is in method, while the nature and principles of method can indeed be explained, even in school or to the public at large. Yet one of the deep problems today is that scientists and even many philosophers do not bother about a complete understanding of their subject matter; most prefer to believe that it is an impossible endeavor. But if that were true, then their assertive suggestion could not be true since it stems from an incomplete understanding and can thus not ensure it?s own validity. So the essential question remains and is worth being pursued. As mentioned in my earlier posts, it is by far not as unpromising as the average scientific mind must believe.
Avatar of: Alexandru Cosciug

Alexandru Cosciug

Posts: 16

May 8, 2011

A very interesting point of view!\nThe British company ESRC start up in 2009 a similar action but only for the small literary creation. The known sculptor Constantin Brancusi said: *the humanity can be saved by the art; the artist made the toys for the adults*.\nHuman resources to produce information may be defined as the total knowledge and integrating knowledge management in the life quality is a desire manifested by the German philosopher and mathematician Leibniz in his known "the certitude method". Descartes method of doubt is today known as the virtual faults configuration and is used as a management tool in the virtual flow chart strategies. Identifying weaknesses before the action of the natural or artificial feedback is the main purpose of the TQM, called *zero fault". \nThe accumulated operational knowledge during the entire human life can be assimilated with the management system design. We can recall worker's debate participation, known in the management as the brainstorming, as the soul and brain storming if we use the artistic capacity of the science man.\nEncouraging the science man to produce literature or another kind of the art can be a strategy to reach zero faults in the life quality. \nI will visit very soon your site!\n
Avatar of: Ruth Rosin

Ruth Rosin

Posts: 117

May 9, 2011

In a previous message I examined the problem scientists would face if expected to explain their most complex scientific work to the general public.\n\nLet's now look at the problem from the point of view of the general public.\n\nWe'll have to assume that the general public would be interested in seriously studying science (as well as the history, sociology and psychology of science), at the level of undergraduate and graduate college-courses, and that members of the general public would be able to afford devoting time to that, even though they usually need to work to support themselves, and their family (if they have one), and may prefer spending their free time in many other ways, shopping, watching light entertainment on television, playing computer-games, engaging in sports, chatting with friends, partying, devoting time to serious activities other than science, and much more; or just having a good time. You could not force such a general public to devote time to scientific enlightment. \n\nOn top of all that, science has by now become so vast, and often so highly specialized, that scientific experts in one field of science, rarely understand what is happening in other scientific field. But the general public is expected to be prepared to understand all scientific fields.\n\nBe realistic!
Avatar of: Bruce Carnes

Bruce Carnes

Posts: 1

May 9, 2011

The final step of the Scientific Method is to let others know the results of our work. This conversation has been and continues to be extended to the general public through vehicles like Scientific American, Science Friday on NPR, television programs like NOVA and by such amazing communicators as Stephen Jay Gould in their books.\n\nThe longer we scientists remain hidden behind the walls of academia, the more our profession will be mistrusted and marginalized.\n\nI would go even further and suggest that our profession has an obligation to communicate with the public. It is not credible to me that our work, regardless of its complexity, cannot be translated into images and words that can be understood by people without scientific training. It does not reflect well on us if it cannot.\n\nIn the absence of this conversation, how can we create and inspire the next generation of scientists?
Avatar of: Chris Cox

Chris Cox

Posts: 2

May 9, 2011

You posted this quote:\n\n"There are lots and lots of things I don't know. However, I can tell you what I think. I won't take offense if you tell me what you think, even if I feel very, very strongly that you are wrong. I think the odds are very good that I'm right. But let's see what evidence turns up in the future." \n\nRichard Feynman?\n\nI just received his "QED in New Zealand" DVD but haven't had a chance to view it.\n\nI agree with MS Snyder. We need popularizers of science in the vein of Sagan, Feynman, Kaku and others. Writers like Lincoln Barnett who's book, "The Universe And Dr. Einsten"(1957ed.), first introduced me to the Lorentz Transformation equation when I was in high school, can explain in laymen's terms the concepts scientists are working on. I was probably one of only a few students in that high school in East Tennessee who would have bought such a book. Most of my friends were more interested in cars and the opening of squirrel season. Introduction to science has to start in first grade.\n\n It would also appear to my uneducated mind that a major blow to interest in science started in the '50's with the aquisition of televisions by almost everybody, and the immediate proliferation of televangelists, a group of admittedly science-hostile believers. \n\nChris "Kit" Cox
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 42

May 9, 2011

Among the most unfortunate problems with quotes of celebrities is that they represent only one aspect of a highly nuanced context. Another is that the quoter almost always has an agenda in citing a quote that was not the agenda of the person quoted. Feinman indicated once (no need for his exact words)that a few hours spent by a student in trying to come up with an original idea, is worth far more than the same number of hours spent in memorizing what someone else already has figured out.\n\nFeinman did, indeed, rely heavily on transforms in attempting to explain concepts relating to conversions of matter to energy, and you do well to appreciate them.\n\nIf you like transforms (transformations) you will love Fourier's. Just as one of Gilbert's models did in regard to electricity, Forier's transforms enabled calculations relating to how heat behaves, without attempting to demonstrate what heat is. And nothing in thermodynamics actually does any better. Dictionary definitions can be made up, based upon how things behave, or what they do, without ever revealing what they "are." A bogdesaloressor is a zordeltic demalportal. We know as much about a bogdseloressor as we do about what light is, or heat, or magnetism, or the spin or color of a quark, or whether our (or the) universe is seamless or grainy.\n\nWe call things laws that we cannot test to confirm. Try finding a place where the vector of an object is conserved in a vacuum if no outside force acts upon it. Where do we find a place where there is no outside force upon an object? Try to create a perfect vacuum and strange things begin to happen in the container. If light is in a vacuum, it is not a vacuum. \n\nAll the thousands of things we humans perceive ourselves to be able to observe and measure, can be reduced to seven (See SI Units). And we do not know, actually, what any one of the seven actually is. We do have much evidence that those seven tend to scale up or down somewhat proportionately from one frame of reference to another. \n\nBeing the reader you are, you know what a fallacy it is, in the minds of those who think science deals only with material things (matter and energy). If we make a rule that we will not treat as science anything we cannot test, we rule out First Principles and Laws said to be self-evident. Self-evident is code for "we cannot test it, but agree to mutually ASSUME IT without question."\n\nTo first make a rule that nothing is valid in science unless it can be tested, rules out Newton's Third Law (as suggested above) and numerous other presumptions relied upon in scientific "work" every day.\n\nBut, of course, all your reading in lieu of TV watching, has led you to the realization of these mysteries already.\n\nA. Jeenious\n \n\n
Avatar of: Alexandru Cosciug

Alexandru Cosciug

Posts: 16

June 5, 2011

I suppose that is not so stupid that the science comes to the art and the art comes to the science in the humanity interest (see AAAS Annual Meeting - Bridging Science and Society)\nLet us take the Stephen Hawking example or Baba Brinkman and the art exhibit in New York City, The rhythm of biology, examples recently presented by The Scientist.\nWe could not neglect the stem cells crises caused by the microbiology.\nDo not forget about "the brain storming" method to solve the crises. \n"WHEN I FIND MYSELF IN TIMES OF TROUBLE\nIt doesn't matter who COMES TO ME\nSPEAKING WORDS OF WISDOM\nLET IT BE"\nWhat are you thinking about this abstract of "the brain and soul storming"?\nAbstract: "The necessary and sufficient processes to a well function of the human body are meticulous arranged by specific organizational cells, so called process bio-managers, using interconditioned procedures, transmitted through three ways of communication: chemical or ?protein channel?, electrical or ?ion channel? and mitochondrial or ?EMF wireless channel?. The third type is out of the visible and measurable spectrum and raises a new challenge to the scientists. For this type of bio communication we bring a new theoretical hypothesis, based on the managerial multidisciplinary analysis of a cybernetic model proposed by us, by simulating the human body function with the virtual computerized system based on the management of its total knowledge and its perfect quality way of function. The main bricks used for this virtual construction are: the brain, as main bio-processor, and Eve mtDNA and Adam mtDNA, as bio-antennas. This assembly of the total knowledge, build with ?brain reasoning, biological feeling, and unlimited soul feeling?, is called by us ?main decision triangle, IQ-EQ-CQ?. The main principle of the management of the total knowledge imposes us to not neglect any information produced by man during the time, even if it seems creasy at the beginning. Because in the natural fertilisation the spermatozoids are naturally equipped with the paternal mtDNA (a veritable main bio-GPS), we consider that the paternal mitochondria DNA have a very important role in the evolution of the human being life quality and we have developed a new hypothesis, ?Adam mtDNA theory?, in addition to ?Eve mtDNA theory?. Keywords: brain, mitochondria, maternal, paternal"\n

Follow The Scientist

icon-facebook icon-linkedin icon-twitter icon-vimeo icon-youtube
Advertisement

Stay Connected with The Scientist

  • icon-facebook The Scientist Magazine
  • icon-facebook The Scientist Careers
  • icon-facebook Neuroscience Research Techniques
  • icon-facebook Genetic Research Techniques
  • icon-facebook Cell Culture Techniques
  • icon-facebook Microbiology and Immunology
  • icon-facebook Cancer Research and Technology
  • icon-facebook Stem Cell and Regenerative Science
Advertisement
Advertisement
NeuroScientistNews
NeuroScientistNews
Life Technologies