[Coral-List] getting science to the public clearly and unambiguously is difficult

Douglas Fenner douglasfennertassi at gmail.com
Mon Aug 22 20:51:05 EDT 2016

    One small thing that might be part of the problem is that way too often
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 out
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 faith,
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 say
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 that
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 possible
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> wrote:

> Hi Peter,
> Interesting thoughts on what is characterized as a significant level of
> ineffectual communication on the part of the scientific community in their
> attempts to explain science (including coral science) to the broader public
> 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 we
> are focusing on the wrong point of contention. The science by now is clear,
> 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 most
> 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, well-educated
> individuals who simply reject scientific opinion because they are
> influenced more by other forms of cultural pedagogy. To me if this analysis
> holds true, we are really confronting a different problem requiring a focus
> not so much on getting the message out, but on re-establishing the
> authoritative nature of the source itself (science). As writer Shawn Otto
> 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 a
> 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 Valdivia
> 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 help
> clarify!)  Cinner et al, evaluated global patterns in reef fish biomass and
> concluded there were some 'bright spots' around the world where reefs were
> 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 zero
> effect on reef quality, which was overwhelmingly being determined by global
> 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 identifying
> some of the issues (beyond deliberate distortion or obfuscation) that play
> a role.  In Part 1, I talk about the nature of science, and the nature of
> the way humans think.  Part 2, which will be up in about 10 days looks at
> the changing nature of the scientific endeavor, and the role of the media.
> Both of these contribute to the distortions, the exaggerations, and the
> general air of confusion that surrounds stories about science as received
> by the public (including other scientists).  I've illustrated with examples
> 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 of
> 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 make
> 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 facts."-
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 did
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

More information about the Coral-List mailing list