[Coral-List] Dr. Shinn and YouTube

Ben Richards br at hawaii.edu
Fri Dec 18 13:33:18 EST 2009

Aloha All -

As a "relatively young" coral-lister, I found Dr. Shinn's YouTube postings excellent, and prime examples of how scientific knowledge evolves over time.  I vaguely remember talk of ice ages when I was very young, thinking it would be neat to get to see a mammoth!

I do, however, disagree with the sentiment proposed by some, that talk of ice ages in the 1970s somehow discounts talk of global warming in the 2000s.  One of the guiding principles of science has been to question previous assumptions and revise them according.  That is how knowledge moves forward.  Dr. Shinn will be intimately familiar with this through his study of geology.

It now appears that increases in the mean global temperature will result not in "hotter weather everywhere" as many have been lead to believe, but in greater extremes.  Colder cold, hotter hots, drier "drys" and stronger storms.  This is an evolution of knowledge.  It is likely that we still have not gotten it completely right.  However, that is no cause to throw up our hands and say that, because our ideas now are different than those before that we should not continue the research and raise alarms where they appear to be needed given our current knowledge.

Much of the problem seems to be in communicating the intricacies of scientific thought and the willingness to evolve that thought to a general public less familiar with this type of thinking.  In casual conversation, I have found many to be very uncomfortable with paradigm shifts such as those Dr. Shinn points out.  This will not come as a surprise. Laws and rules are comforting and provide stability.  Change, especially when it comes to our apparent understanding of the world around us, is uncomfortable and can leave us feeing vulnerable and/or despondent.

How can we, as scientists, help to increase comfort with uncertainty among the general public and especially among the media?  How can we temper backlash and distrust when alarms, raised based on the best available knowledge, turn out to be wrong based on new findings?  Has not a willingness to be incorrect also been a principle of scientific thought and progress?

"Hindsight is 20-20", but we cannot operate on hindsight alone.



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Benjamin L. Richards
Graduate Student
Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology
"Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought."  
				- Albert Szent-Gyorgyi -

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