[Coral-List] getting science to the public clearly and unambiguously is difficult
douglasfennertassi at gmail.com
Tue Aug 23 22:18:11 EDT 2016
Thanks, Michael! One of the problems with communicating modern science
is that the evidence and methods are often extremely complicated and
technical. It is a struggle often for even the scientists to understand
it, and you have to be in the same very narrow specialty in order to
understand it. In addition, there is little incentive for scientists to
figure out how to make the methods and/or results understandable to the
public, and lots of incentive to use lots of fancy jargon to impress your
scientific colleagues. Make it as un-understandable as possible, that may
help publication. Gene Shinn tells the story of his first paper. It was
rejected. His adviser said you didn't put any technical jargon in, put
some in and submit it to a different journal. He did, and it was
accepted. We all know that what counts in a scientific career are the
peer-reviewed publications. Not communicating with the public.
That won't help us in getting public support for saving reefs.
Luckily for us, coral reefs are charismatic, and many photos are gorgeous,
and there are a lot of snorkelers and divers who enjoy them, and the dive
industry provides a lot of income for countries and businesses who ought to
want to save the reefs their income is based on.
On Tue, Aug 23, 2016 at 2:58 PM, Michael Newkirk <michaeljnewkirk at gmail.com>
> Hi All,
> I have read many good points. What sticks out to me is Doug's last email,
> which highlighted discourse.
> I am not a coral scientist. My academic training is in kinesiology and
> applied linguistics and will hopefully soon be moving into biomechanics in
> a research capacity. During my master's training, I became quite fond of
> discourse analysis and sociolinguistics. Overall, I do believe that much of
> the problem is a discourse problem, and unfortunately, the media (and other
> factors and bodies) don't give sound science a fighting chance in the minds
> of "everyday evening news watchers."
> Doug hit the nail on the head with "Scientists believe...," which injects
> the idea that scientists could choose not to believe something. I am from
> the Southern U.S., so I've heard people say a world of things about
> scientists. Likewise, because scientists are thought to *believe* in
> science, it is also thought that they must believe in their results.
> Separating the interpretation of data from belief is essentially the key
> battleground for scientists today, particularly those trying to address
> issues that impact our lives---like coral scientists.
> The mistake that the scientific community makes, in my opinion, is that it
> appears that some feel that fine-tuning methods and creating more robust
> data and modeling will finally win the public over. My experience teaching
> research methods, research communication, and other subjects elucidated for
> me the simple fact that not everyone can grasp the methods employed to
> arrive at the data on which scientific conclusions are based.
> Whenever there is an evening news segment that has a scientific debate, I
> often can't decide whether or not I'll watch it. I almost always end up
> watching it just to analyze the discourse. Invariably, the segment starts
> with "Scientists believe," but then state that "But other scientists
> believe that..." Of course there is no context. So, many people are led to
> think that the world of science is at a halt on a particular issue when in
> fact, most scientists on the topic might be in agreement, and very few may
> have contradictory evidence. I know that I'm not telling any of you
> anything new when I say that how the "naysayer studies" (as the media
> portray them) are designed and the data collected is rarely discussed, if
> at all.
> What doesn't get debated as much---it seems---are findings with physical
> evidence that everyday folks find "tangible." This type of evidence is
> often encased in other discoursal structures like "Scientists have found,"
> "Scientists have discovered," etc. The tone of delivery can sometimes be
> different, and there is usually little commentary from newscasters, which
> tells viewers that it is not "debatable." The sequence of reports in a
> newscast can also influence viewers, which perhaps should also be taken up
> in research.
> Another area that seems to trip people up is the field of medicine, as
> health and healthcare are some of the primary avenues in which we engage
> science, and passionately so. The concept of a diagnosis is a touchy
> subject. Although diagnostic equipment is amazing these days, we can
> imagine how hurt some people feel when they have the scare of their lives
> only to find out that the diagnosis was incorrect (no disease, different
> disease than previously thought, etc.). They spread their story and their
> distrust of the medical profession to others and to other areas of science,
> which I have seen and heard myself. Coral science is likely one of the
> branches of study caught in the middle, painted unfairly with the same
> brush of some other type of experience with science/scientists.
> I think that a good strategy for the scientific community is conducting
> multi-disciplinary studies with linguistics and education to change the
> present narrative. If any of you find this research direction interesting,
> please feel free to contact me.
> Kind regards,
> Chief Editor, WordsRU
> Academic Research Editor
> Dept. of Mech. Eng., NCKU Taiwan
> Dept. of Greenery, Natn'l Univ. of Taiwan
> On Mon, Aug 22, 2016 at 5:51 PM, Douglas Fenner <
> douglasfennertassi at gmail.com> wrote:
>> One small thing that might be part of the problem is that way too
>> the media and many of us, refer to "scientific opinion" or "scientists
>> believe that." Both of those statements are compatible with a world view
>> that scientists are just like everyone else, they have their own opinions
>> or beliefs, and theirs are no better than anyone else's. That manifests
>> itself in the frequent statements of climate deniers that scientists just
>> have a different religion than other people, and that they stick to their
>> beliefs no matter what (just like deniers, though they don't point that
>> about themselves). All this omits a critical difference between science
>> and other ways of knowing. And that is the role of evidence, and the
>> quality and quantity of evidence. Science isn't just based on blind
>> it is based on hard empirical evidence, and the testing and rejecting of
>> alternative hypotheses. It has a long history of the refinement of the
>> logic of understanding the strength of different kinds of evidence,
>> including hypothesis-testing and the use of statistics. This is not to
>> that there are no other ways of knowing that have value, far from it.
>> There are lots of things that science can't test, or for which evidence
>> available is limited in various ways. There are other ways of knowing
>> use different rules of evidence, such as the legal profession. BUT,
>> science is not just about opinion and belief, without a basis in evidence,
>> fact and logic. Testing ideas against the real world, instead of clinging
>> to beliefs in spite of all the evidence. Steve was just using the term
>> "scientific opinion" and there certainly is a role of "expert opinion",
>> that's one that is informed by the evidence and logic.
>> The important difference is that science is based on the strongest
>> evidence available, and many beliefs out there are not. Many are called
>> "pseudoscience", and there are many others as well, politics is often full
>> of them. I advocate referring to "scientific evidence" as much as
>> instead of "scientists believe" because otherwise the public easily
>> discounts the quality and quantity of evidence that statements are based
>> on, and that is a critical difference between science and many other
>> thought systems. I think we shoot ourselves in the foot when we say
>> "scientific opinion" or "scientists believe", we have a much stronger base
>> than that.
>> Cheers, Doug
>> On Mon, Aug 22, 2016 at 7:22 AM, Steve Mussman <sealab at earthlink.net>
>> > Hi Peter,
>> > Interesting thoughts on what is characterized as a significant level of
>> > ineffectual communication on the part of the scientific community in
>> > attempts to explain science (including coral science) to the broader
>> > at large. I seem to have come full circle on this one. After years of
>> > focusing on what coral scientists (and the diving industry) could do to
>> > convey science to the public more persuasively, I am now convinced that
>> > are focusing on the wrong point of contention. The science by now is
>> > well supported and to anyone with an open mind, quite convincingly
>> > articulated. I no longer believe that it would change anything even if
>> > every coral scientist suddenly became an activist dedicating their
>> lives to
>> > more effectively communicating "the message".
>> > An upcoming editorial in Scientific American perhaps points to the real
>> > problem at hand.
>> > http://www.rawstory.com/2016/08/scientific-american-sounds-
>> > alarm-on-trump-he-takes-antiscience-to-previously-unexplored-terrain/
>> > We have to recognize that a significant percentage of the population
>> > (American and elsewhere) is behaving as if The Enlightenment never
>> > happened. For many, tribal influences are supplanting science as the
>> > reliable sources of knowledge and wisdom. This is not just a phenomenon
>> > typified by the relatively uneducated. As the above mentioned editorial
>> > emphasizes, we now have a major party candidate for president who has to
>> > some degree successfully used anti-science rhetoric to gain popular
>> > support. On a personal level, I know of too many thoughtful,
>> > individuals who simply reject scientific opinion because they are
>> > influenced more by other forms of cultural pedagogy. To me if this
>> > holds true, we are really confronting a different problem requiring a
>> > not so much on getting the message out, but on re-establishing the
>> > authoritative nature of the source itself (science). As writer Shawn
>> > has warned, " . . . the new science denialism is creating an
>> > existential crisis like few the country has faced before".
>> > In that light, in order for coral reefs to survive, we may be in need of
>> > more than an effective scientific message. We may in fact be in need of
>> > full-blown campaign to restore the symbolic legitimacy of science.
>> > Regards,
>> > Steve
>> > -----Original Message-----
>> > >From: Peter Sale <sale at uwindsor.ca>
>> > >Sent: Aug 19, 2016 3:13 PM
>> > >To: "coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov" <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
>> > >Subject: [Coral-List] getting science to the public clearly and
>> > unambiguously is difficult
>> > >
>> > >Hi all,
>> > >A lot of comments on coral-list lately, spurred initially by the recent
>> > papers by Josh Cinner et al in Nature and by John Bruno and Abel
>> > in Scientific Reports that seemingly contradicted each other, and the
>> > attempt to explain them by journalist Johnny Langenheim in The Guardian.
>> > (Langenheim's conclusion - that they are both correct - did not really
>> > clarify!) Cinner et al, evaluated global patterns in reef fish biomass
>> > concluded there were some 'bright spots' around the world where reefs
>> > doing much better than expected, and therefore that local management was
>> > important for reef sustainability. Bruno and Valdivia, using a global
>> > analysis of coral cover and algal cover concluded that density of local
>> > human population (used as a proxy for local impacts) had essentially
>> > effect on reef quality, which was overwhelmingly being determined by
>> > impacts such as climate change.
>> > >
>> > >I have just put up the first of two posts looking at the wider issue of
>> > why it seems so difficult to convey science to the public and have it
>> > understood. I do not claim to be an expert, but perhaps I am
>> > some of the issues (beyond deliberate distortion or obfuscation) that
>> > a role. In Part 1, I talk about the nature of science, and the nature
>> > the way humans think. Part 2, which will be up in about 10 days looks
>> > the changing nature of the scientific endeavor, and the role of the
>> > Both of these contribute to the distortions, the exaggerations, and the
>> > general air of confusion that surrounds stories about science as
>> > by the public (including other scientists). I've illustrated with
>> > of confusion around ecology of coral reefs, including the
>> > Cinner/Bruno/Langenheim example, and make some tentative suggestions for
>> > what scientists might do to improve the situation. Mostly it comes
>> down to
>> > being better scientists by taking special car
>> > e
>> > > to communicate accurately and precisely, while still communicating in
>> > ways that are effective and interesting. This means less arm-waving and
>> > exaggeration, less effort to create effective sound-bites, and less use
>> > catchy jargon, coupled with a far greater effort to communicate in an
>> > engaging and interesting way. I admit that it may now be too late to
>> > these corrections - we all seem increasingly locked into a communication
>> > style that compresses every thought to 140 characters or a cute photo.
>> > Time will tell.. Part 1 is at http://wp.me/p5UInC-B4
>> > >
>> > >Peter Sale
>> > >Distinguished University Professor (Emeritus)
>> > >University of Windsor
>> > >
>> > >e-mail: sale at uwindsor.ca<mailto:sale at uwindsor.ca>
>> > >web: www.petersalebooks.com<http://
>> > www.petersalebooks..com/>
>> > >Twitter: @PeterSale3
>> > >
>> > >
>> > >_______________________________________________
>> > >Coral-List mailing list
>> > >Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
>> > >http://coral.aoml.noaa.gov/mailman/listinfo/coral-list
>> > _______________________________________________
>> > Coral-List mailing list
>> > Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
>> > http://coral.aoml.noaa.gov/mailman/listinfo/coral-list
>> Douglas Fenner
>> Contractor for NOAA NMFS, and consultant
>> "have regulator, will travel"
>> PO Box 7390
>> Pago Pago, American Samoa 96799 USA
>> phone 1 684 622-7084
>> Join the International Society for Reef Studies. Membership includes a
>> subscription to the journal Coral Reefs, and there are discounts for pdf
>> subscriptions and developing countries. Coral Reefs is the only journal
>> that is ALL coral reef articles, and it has amazingly LOW prices compared
>> to other journals. Check it out! www.fit.edu/isrs/
>> "Belief in climate change is optional, participation is not."- Jim Beever.
>> "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own
>> Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
>> NASA: sea ice settling into 'new normal'
>> Arctic sea ice has stabilized over the last 10 years or so. But then, the
>> average world surface temperature hit a high in 1998 (El Nino year) and
>> not break that for over 10 years. But now surface temperatures are
>> breaking all time records every year and in most months. So unless the
>> laws of physics and the melting temperature of water change, soon Arctic
>> sea ice will begin setting new lows.
>> Earth's hot streak continues with warmest May since at least 1880.
>> website: http://independent.academia.edu/DouglasFenner
>> blog: http://ocean.si.edu/blog/reefs-american-samoa-story-hope
>> Coral-List mailing list
>> Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Contractor for NOAA NMFS, and consultant
"have regulator, will travel"
PO Box 7390
Pago Pago, American Samoa 96799 USA
phone 1 684 622-7084
Join the International Society for Reef Studies. Membership includes a
subscription to the journal Coral Reefs, and there are discounts for pdf
subscriptions and developing countries. Coral Reefs is the only journal
that is ALL coral reef articles, and it has amazingly LOW prices compared
to other journals. Check it out! www.fit.edu/isrs/
"Belief in climate change is optional, participation is not."- Jim Beever.
"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts."-
Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
July was 'absolutely' earth's hottest month ever recorded.
More information about the Coral-List