Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I'm a scientist, get me out of here!

As I posted recently, the public want scientists to communicate more. This is one of the more inventive ways of doing it. Based upon the reality TV format, students get to get to know and quiz a panel of working scientists before voting for their favourite and evicting the rest.


Christian June 25, 2010 at 9:19 AM  

Hi SW,
Just found your blog. Well done. I am a practising scientist in geology.
This article touches on something that has been obvious for some time. Science research is dominated by grants awarded by industry AND government. Science research today must be seen as useful. Fair enough, but this means that the only criteria for grants are money or politics. Impartial science is compromised. I think this is the root of the problem identified in this survey.
My own concerns centre on 'perceived wisdom' dictating what science should be concluding. For example, The use of 'Body Mass Index' to define obesity. What is the scientific justification for this? It's use in the UK has resulted in the government there classifying 1 in 4 people as obese and predicting a rise to 9 out of 10 by 2050 - the 'obesity timebomb'.
Today the image of health is 'young and thin'. Unfortunately many of us are older, and don't fit into this category. Conversely, we have a 'pensions timebomb' because we live longer, which suggests that normal people are doing OK. I think most people know how healthy they are, and when they get lectured using faulty science it is obvious.
If the practising scientists can't work without satisfying commercial, political or social pressures, it is hard to blame people for finding scientists flawed. To improve communication, we could start by getting the media to publish more skeptical reviews of science 'headline news'. We could start questioning the scientists publishing the next 'big thing'. We could make sure that all scientists use statistics correctly, the improper use of which distorts data.

A few thoughts on this interesting survey.

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