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

Elizabeth Sherman sherman at bennington.edu
Tue Aug 23 19:30:51 EDT 2016

The issue of public mistrust and ignorance of science has plagued this
country for so long, at such great cost. A few years ago I wrote an article
for the general public called: "Science and anti-science in America: Why it
matters." In all my years of teaching, talking and listening, and writing,
I always think I am preaching to the choir. I wonder if I have ever
persuaded anyone who wasn't already predisposed to accept science.


Betsy Sherman
Bennington College

On Mon, Aug 22, 2016 at 8:51 PM, Douglas Fenner <
douglasfennertassi at gmail.com> wrote:

> Steve,
>     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'
> https://www.yahoo.com/news/m/a465bdcb-fd72-30c8-86e1-
> e6993d007ff0/nasa%3A-sea-ice-settling-into.html
> 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.
> https://www.yahoo.com/news/climate-just-phoning-now-may-193634823.html
> website:  http://independent.academia.edu/DouglasFenner
> blog: http://ocean.si.edu/blog/reefs-american-samoa-story-hope
> _______________________________________________
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Elizabeth Sherman, Ph.D.
Bennington College
website: http://faculty.bennington.edu/~sherman/
*Save the world. Save a Coral.*

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