Addressing skepticism and mistrust of science.
Climate change skeptics often complain that their disbelief and concerns are met with condescension. They are right. We see some scientists and science fans (albeit frustrated with a perceived lack of respect) attempting to shout down dissent. Personally, I am sometimes faced with immediate antipathy resulting from a heavy-handed, results driven outreach approach.
In an attempt to better tailor my personal public outreach attempts, I am soliciting information from those of you who fall into the climate change skeptic category. I would like to know the following:
A three part response will follow. First, I will collate concerns in a concise (and anonymous) manner to be answered in a second post detailing answers with appropriate information on credible sources. The final response will be a qualitative analysis of concerns with suggestions for both skeptics and supporters in further conversation.
Hard and fast conclusions are rarely reached, and I expect this discussion to both fluid and repetitive. Bear with me and I think we will all learn something. I do request that those of you have been convinced climate change is a "thing" refrain from condescension, harassment, and derogatory conclusions in the comments section. If you would like to assist with answering questions, please feel free to hit me up on my contact form.
After several weeks of involvement, I am publicly announcing the withdrawal of my support for the currently organized March for Science in Sacramento. The extreme politicization of this local march is something I cannot personally support, and is a professional liability for myself and the two federal agencies I worth with.
To deny that the March for Science doesn't have a political goal is disingenuous. The March does have a bipartisan political goal: to end the prioritization of unsubstantiated opinion over scientific evidence in legislation. This goal reaches deep into agricultural communities in the Midwest, inner city health development, protection of resources we consider uniquely American, and into poverty stricken areas nation-wide.
The March for Science has several other stated goals, the first three being to humanize science, to partner with the public, and to advocate for open, inclusive, and accessible science. It has become apparent that the Sacramento organizing team has no intention of presenting an event that supports these goals.
Over the past few weeks, I have (admittedly aggressively) raised opposition to several aspects the team is moving forward with:
Fear and anger are great motivators, but they are also divisive segregationists. Scientific evidence indicates that positive motivators are more successful in Western societies. This is why celebration is key to the overall success of the March. Attendees who experience a rise in dopamine levels during the event are scientifically more likely to be motivated by the experience. The notion that all attendees want to be activists is just as improbable as assuming all attendees want to wear giant dinosaur costumes. Not all of us are interested in aggressive activism or political rhetoric; some people just want to share their love of chemistry, physics, and biology. The science sharers will bring their families, their friends, and their children. After 17 years of being a child, and another 17 years of reaching out to children, I can tell you that political lectures and activism aren’t going to produce dopamine releasing smiles.
We need to talk about those children, and their prospective education. Education is the foundation on which we build our society, and it has increasingly been devalued and perverted by attempts to ignore both science and history. The educational system is the grand unifier for American parents: we want our children to have the best chance to succeed in life. By front-loading a discussion for science with the impact it has on education, the March is more likely to unite the community as a whole.
Education discussions are also the first opportunity to address intersectional issues that must be overcome. The science community is discriminatory towards women and minorities: it is with education that we not only acknowledge the crippling situation, but start overthrowing the notion that all scientists are balding white men who wear glasses and white laboratory coats. Diversity strengthens the community.
While we are in desperate need of strength, not everyone can provide that diversity in an inclusive manner. The content committee, despite serious opposition by myself and others, has elected to invite Dr. Cornel West to speak. For those unfamiliar with perhaps one of the more brilliant philosophical minds of the era, I suggest a Google search of his work and quotes. Brilliant humans exist rarely without controversy. Dr. West is unabashed in his criticism of race relations in the United States, and should not be apologetic for it. His voice is one of many who endeavor to improve outcomes for minority lives.
He is, however, not involved in the scientific community, nor has he spent any particular amount of time addressing or speaking about science, even as it relates to his work. He frequently uses inflammatory language and his opinions, correct or not, are extraordinarily controversial even within the black community. Dr. West is being considered as a keynote speaker by several organizers who also told me I was being offensive for sharing the content of his direct quotes. (The disconnect is mind-boggling.) I am not qualified to address Dr. West's political and philosophical works. My expert opinion as a science communicator is that he is not conducive to building bridges between the scientific community and the public at large.
The lack of consideration the Sacramento team has shown for these concerns is extremely disappointing. Despite repeated internal efforts (by multiple individuals) to bring the local March into an inclusive balance that reaches all citizens, the organizers have refused to bend on their desire to demand activism of the attendees despite the likely further alienation of large segments of the population.
I remain in support of the guiding principles of the national March for Science, and will continue to share science with all communities in a manner that highlights the very best of scientific principles. I sincerely hope the Sacramento March for Science succeeds in winning more friends than it alienates.
Quit Yelling About Facts
We have been railing for the last 200 years about the public’s lack of support for scientific endeavors. Has this worked? I will give you a hint: if being angry and yelling about facts had changed anyone’s minds, we wouldn’t be organizing this march.
There is a volume at which you cannot be heard, and a tone in which you will be ignored. We cannot insist our voices matter more than others. This march absolutely must demonstrate that science is a welcoming community for all people, not just those we deem “smart”.
Facts are not making a difference, and if they are not, why do we continue to ram them down our audience’s throat? Let’s start with the concept that nothing is an absolute, that as scientists, we deal in probabilities. Absolute truth does not exist, so quit pretending it does.
The best way to get someone to listen to you? Listen to them. Do not insist they change their moral framework to understand what you consider important. Instead, couch your argument in terms they will relate to.
Leave Religion Out of It
Do not make this March confrontational. There are hundreds of thousands of scientists that consider religion an important part of their lives. Do not marginalize anyone’s intellect on the basis of religious belief. We cannot afford to continue the ridiculous battle of science vs. religion. These concepts are not mutually exclusive. For example, Richard Rhodes describes in Making the Atomic Bomb how Neils Bohr was guided by Soren Kierkegaard's theological existentialism when he formulated his model of the atom.
Showcase Women and Minorities
The scientific community has continually marginalized the contributions of women and minorities. This is a chance to take the moral high-ground, and stand up for our fellows. While we moan about the lack of scientists, we seem to have missed that our hallowed institutions have not been receptive to retention and recruitment of female and minority scientists. If we are asking for the public to support us, we need to support our public.
Ask Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson to take a smaller role.
I love Bill and Neil. They are hard-hitting, take-no-prisoners advocates for science.
My conservative friends hate them. They’re “smug”, “arrogant”, “condescending”, “anti-religious.”
Don’t let their rhetoric overpower inclusivity. They have great energy, and can speak to a large audience, but this March cannot be just for those of us who understand their snark and gleefully revel in their obviousness. This March has to reach legislators who view science as a liberal cause and who do not fully comprehend the impact our research has on their constituents.
Nye's visible frustration and condescension during his debate with the creationist Ken Ham was incredibly distressing to many viewers. His enthusiasm is undeniable, but having him headline the March would be a demonstrable act of our lack of respect for those who do not understand science. Likewise with Neil. Choosing Christmas Day to tweet about the birth of a remarkable man (Isaac Newton) was designed to do nothing more than flippantly criticize Christianity. That kind of communication has no place at a March designed to change minds.
I know I said there are no absolute truths. However, turning this March into Revenge of the Nerds will destroy any good will we have built with the general public. Please do not shoot us in the foot.
She kicked ass, took names, and made no apologies. What Lucas missed in her further feminist character development may be seen in The Force Awakens, and carried forward with the character Ren. Still, Princess Leia broke boundaries women felt in the real world.
Whether or not Carrie Fisher appreciated that all her other roles diminished in comparison to a sci-fi blockbuster trilogy, a generation of women are grateful. Arguably, her definitive role may have surpassed her wonderful mother’s extensive portfolio. Debbie Reynolds was the quintessential Hollywood starlet of post-war America. Her singing, dancing, and light-hearted sunshine made America seem whole again. She cast a long shadow for a child in show-business.
Carrie struggled mightily with bipolar disorder and drugs, but she was unflinching in her very public self-evaluation. As I got older, I realized that perhaps Carrie’s most important role was that of herself. A generation with a code of silence about personal issues, who stigmatized mental health and drug addiction, and mightily misunderstood the necessity of failure in a successful life was confronted with one of their own. Here, perhaps, was not the hero they thought they deserved, but the one they needed. For my generation, the children who had grown up with misguided parents, Carrie’s self-reflection helped remind us that we weren’t crazy. Our parents weren’t perfect, and we wouldn’t be, either.
As she wished, I will pass along her self-prepared obituary: "I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra." Thank you, Carrie, and may be the force by with you.
"Has anyone yet suspected they had detected neutrino-antineutrino interactions?" - Mom
I think this is in reference to the Stanford (etc.) Enriched Xenon Observatory that looks for neutrino-less double beta decay, as she included the link.
The quick answer is,"not really, but..."
My JPL Caltech Solar System Ambassador page is now up!
If your museum, class or club would like a personal visit to talk about NASA JPL programs (like robots on Mars!), please connect with me.
I speak with all age ranges, and am also able to provide educator and parent workshops that highlight NASA JPL resources and opportunities.
Update: had a wonderful series of conversations with Ben Guarino, a committed science journalist. Perspectives shift based on experience: do yours? I encourage you to follow his reporting at the Washington Post.
"...so rich [we] can throw money away on joyrides to space."
"...rich so [we] obviously do not care about the environment or social causes or education."
"... simply enthusiasts, and know little about spaceflight, or engineering or science."
"...just a bunch of rich men who want to show off."
I hate stereotypes; reality is easily obfuscated enough without unsubstantiated opinions negatively directing awareness. With the rise of commercial space to the front page of media coverage, curiosity has driven for more information. The proprietary nature of the business and measured PR interaction by corporations has partially developed the media speculation surrounding the entire experience. Holes will be filled with information where possible, and opinion when motivated.
NASA runs this great site called EarthData - Worldview that allows you to view satellite photos of the globe. In addition, you can overlay different data sets also collected by satellite. You can check out air quality and emissions, moisture content, rain patterns...and fire.
Usually I just enjoy entertaining myself with what is essentially Google Earth for science freaks. However, the fires in California are particularly nasty right now, and I wanted to check out their progress with a direct overview. Thankfully, there was some nifty data from NASA to see. The image below is from NASA. The red dots are NASA's data overlay of the Butte Fire and the Yosemite Fire. I've labeled major locations in the area. As you can see, it is fairly smokey right now in Sacramento.
Satellite data for Earth observation is incredibly important. Weather predictions and natural disasters can be readily mapped an analyzed to assist protection teams on the ground. Happy viewing!
Meet the Rolls Royce Trent 1000 Engine, powering Boeing's 787 Dreamliner (the big one).
Watch Rolls Royce build the Trent 1000 in this great documentary.
Opinions expressed are my own and do not represent the opinions of organizations I am affiliated with.