This is an interesting yet somewhat misleading conundrum. I certainly believe we as social and biophysical scientists have real issues in how we communicate with society. In some cases we have failed to gain the trust of many, and even have failed in demonstrating our competency by being too timid about describing what our research has shown in the past. We simply have not taken a step forward to talk with people about their issues and concerns.
I can certainly concur with Fourat from Random Rationality that there have been multiple developments in society which should have triggered a response in terms of our own science communication paradigms. Yet, this has not happened in many of the science and scholarly circles that I am aware. We continue going our own merry way thinking that if we produce high quality publications everybody will be happy. We better change this fast or we risk becoming irrelevant.
Please don’t get me wrong. We need to continue producing the highest quality scholarly output that we can. In fact this is directly related to the point that Fourat in Random Rationality makes in his blog entry. We need to adhere even more to the highest science standards which will determine the strength of evidence and our course our own competency as “experts”.
What I am arguing here is that we do need to actively engage society, even those that may be categorized as “downers” in Fourat’s entry, so that we effectively communicate with those who honestly want to communicate. This is of course a two-way and multiple-way communication process. We do need to hear and understand people’s issues and concerns while building trust relationships over time.
There will be of course, many groups who are not willing to communicate, examine the evidence, nor have a meaningful dialogue.These groups have already defined a position towards an issue and will not bulge nor negotiate. In this case, we can only continue producing great quality science, robust evidence, and then hope that maybe at one point these groups may be willing to even consider other alternatives than their own.
Not all scientific statements have equal weight as Carl Sagan once wrote, and there are differing degrees of evidence. The odds of an answer being correct in the absence of empirical verification—as is the case with the downer hypothesis: vaccines induce autism—are quite small. Science increases the odds that we are right and constantly course-corrects to get closer to the truth until such a time as people couldn’t imagine any other way of thinking.
Science is awesome!
Fourat Janabi –Random Rationality