Sharon Begley on why scientists are their own worst enemies

I have been sort of collecting these essays about how scientists are mucking up our attempts to communicate with the public.  This is, so far, my favorite.  Sharon Begley is a longtime and very talented science writer who recently returned to Newsweek.

I love a few of her lines. Read the full essay here.

Another factor is that the ideas of the Reformation—no intermediaries between people and God; anyone can read the Bible and know the truth as well as a theologian—inform the American character more strongly than they do that of many other nations. “It’s the idea that everyone has equal access to the divine,” says Harper. That has been extended to the belief that anyone with an Internet connection can know as much about climate or evolution as an expert. Finally, Americans carry in their bones the country’s history of being populated by emigrants fed up with hierarchy. It is the American way to distrust those who set themselves up—even justifiably—as authorities. Presto: climate backlash.

One new factor is also at work: the growing belief in the wisdom of crowds (Wikis, polling the audience on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire). If tweeting for advice on the best route somewhere yields the right answer, Americans seem to have decided, it doesn’t take any special expertise to pick apart evolutionary biology or climate science. My final hypothesis: the Great Recession was caused by the smartest guys in the room saying, trust us, we understand how credit default swaps work, and they’re great. No wonder so many Americans have decided that experts are idiots.

1 thought on “Sharon Begley on why scientists are their own worst enemies

  1. Gone are the days when a scientist could delve into their own language and stay there forever. Scientists need to know how to communicate! What is the point of knowing if you can’t do anything about it.

    On the other hand, people need to know that they cannot trust only one source of information. The Courier Mail (daily Brisbane newspaper) is not going to give you the final answer! We, the people, need to research ourselves. Read books not opinion pieces. Find the answer for yourself.

    In summary, we need:
    1. Communicating scientists; and,
    2. Resourceful people.

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