Re: [asa] Communication science

From: Merv <>
Date: Sun Mar 02 2008 - 22:52:46 EST

Randy Isaac wrote:
> Ken Miller is quite an engaging speaker and spent his allotted 20
> minutes urging evolutionists to reclaim the term "design" and to use
> it to refer to the design of nature based on natural selection, etc.
> Barbara King decried the tendency for any scientist to reveal his
> spiritual bias, taking to task not only Stenger, Dennett, et. al. but
> also Collins. (she said she wouldn't even talk about Dawkins). She
> felt it was irrelevant and inappropriate for a scientist to reveal
> such a position let alone advocate it.
> There was a good discussion about communication techniques. One
> observation that I thought was relevant was that scientists too often
> make the fallacious assumption that "if you knew what I know, you
> would think what I think." That usually works in a scientific setting,
> though not always, but seldom works in the public arena. It's simply
> not enough to present the facts and expect the public to draw the same
> conclusions that we do.
> One good piece of advice was to first reassure the audience in some
> way that there is no hidden agenda to undermine their faith. Easier
> said than done, however. One of the communication experts focused on
> the need to help the listener "frame" the situation. That is, help
> them understand the bigger context and implications for them and not
> just the bare facts. Communication of science to non-scientists needs
> to be a two-way interaction and cannot just be a process of throwing
> out the facts.
> The net was that there are no easy ways of communicating science to
> the public. But we need to make more use of communications expertise
> rather than simply behave as typical scientists.
> Randy
I'm not sure I would completely agree with King about keeping a
spiritual agenda out of any scientific setting. I mean -- I can see her
point, but we need to be careful here or it all just backfires. John
Q. Public is of the opinion (& correctly so) that everybody has an
agenda --none of us leave home without it. And keeping that agenda
unmentioned then makes it into an "hidden agenda". But it is still
there and just as real -- so I would just as soon have a respected
authority figure give "straight talk" to me about his agenda whenever
the consideration of it is relevant. And his agenda may require him to
be an extremist or activist or engage in the most vitriolic snubbery
against whatever --- BUT his *sharing* of his reasons for being that way
need not involve giving any disrespect whatsoever to that audience; even
if he knows they are hostile to his agenda. That is what I would
admire and respect about somebody setting aside their agenda long enough
to connect with a group. Even Richard Dawkins could do this if he set
his mind to it (maybe he does). He should be able to give a rational
and respectful talk to a group of Christians without necessarily being
provocative in his presentation and in such a way that a reciprocating
and rational Christian listener could give a fair hearing, and neither
speaker nor listener would have to have compromised their agenda one
whit to achieve a respectful exchange. But the moment John Q. thinks he
is being manipulated or given a "spin", the walls go up. "Easier said
than done" is exactly right. No matter what nice sounding words we
choose for it (i.e. helping a listener "frame" the situation), the
moment an audience detects any thing like a spin, then the game is on.
It is just plain messy and there is no way around it. But I think
giving any audience the benefit of the doubt regarding such things as
their intelligence goes the longest way -- i.e. not talking down to
anybody, and trusting them to find their own appropriate frames for a
body of facts; although there is nothing wrong with a scientist openly
sharing his/her frames to be borrowed by those who will.


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Received on Sun Mar 2 22:54:54 2008

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