I LOVE/HATE Science

I’m still collecting my thoughts from the World Conference of Science Journalists. I have a lot of them. Here’s one of (perhaps) several posts that relate to those thoughts.

When we launched the Uncertainty issue for Nautilus Magazine, I added a column to my TweetDeck that searched for any Tweets with the word “uncertainty” in them. I thought I might find some interesting links or discussions about uncertainty in our lives that I could use or retweet. And while I didn’t really find anything usable for Nautilus, I did find that I was totally mesmerized by that column. I checked it all the time. It was so incredibly different from my usual Twitter feed – full of people completely different from me who were worrying about relationships and death, God and their parents, taxes, bills, whether they were going to have to go to court again, whether they were pregnant and whether their boyfriends who got them pregnant still liked them.

In journalism we talk a lot about our “audience.” And for most of us, we have no clue who those people actually are. I picture some of my friends from high school – people who are curious and smart but skipped class when they could get away with it. Other journalists I know picture their uncle or their mom. But all these people leave us with the same problems: they’re people we know, they’re people more or less like us. This is a huge problem (I think) with science communication in general. We’re really good at talking to people like us, and we’re really bad at talking to anybody else. (I’ll have more thoughts on that point later, but for now I’ll leave it at that).

Since stumbling upon the uncertainty search in Twitter, I wondered what it would be like to apply it to science. So, here’s a little site. It shows you who you need to win over, and who is already on your side. (Yes, I know that not everyone in the world is on Twitter and that using this ignores large underrepresented portions of the population. We should talk to them too. It isn’t meant to be a cure, just a little window into a slightly different world than your own.)

Let me know what you think. Does this help? Are you learning anything? If so, share!

In case you missed the link up there, here it is again.

 

8 Thoughts on “I LOVE/HATE Science

  1. Kathy K. on June 29, 2013 at 4:16 pm said:

    I’m not a writer, so I know I’m not the intended audience for this blog. I fall into the middle-aged audience that you referenced in this post. I have read some of your writings on Smithsonian mag.com and I have also seen your presence over at Nautilus mag. I think that your idea here is a good one, and the love/hate feed is very interesting, especially since I am involved in Middle School science education.

    • Hi Kathy,

      Thanks for your note! I’d love to hear more about what your students love/hate about science. I also work with TED-Ed (http://ed.ted.com/), where we make educational videos about all sorts of things – including science – so reaching kids is also something I’m really interested in.

      Rose

      • Kathy K. on June 29, 2013 at 5:12 pm said:

        Thanks Rose for your quick reply. I work with students in a school that has a large diversity of students. I mainly work with students with learning disabilities, and ELL students (English is not their first language) within a general education setting.
        Many of these students struggle with the required math, and understanding the nuances of language. Many have a weak language base of vocabulary and reading comprehension. But, they are interested in life and stories and how science affects them in their daily lives. They love their prized phones and electronic devices and social media, so that is definitely the way to go.
        Good Luck in your mission.
        Kathy

  2. So captivating. It’s definitely a reality check, to peek out at the broader Twitterverse other than the one constrained by your interests and, often, language & age group.

    It’s interesting to notice that a lot of the “I hate science” folk seem to be referring to the school subject rather than science as a way of thinking. And it’s also interesting to see that some of the “I love science” folk are clearly tweeting the phrase to get onto this feed :)

    • I think many people aren’t aware that a difference exists between “science as a school subject” and “science in practice”/”science as a way of thinking.” If the only exposure you have to a topic is in a classroom, it makes sense to believe that what you learned is representative of that topic as a whole. So when students memorize terms and discrete bits of information (as one Twitter user said, ” i hate science too many stuff to memorize and words hard to pronounce ((and spell)) i qUIT”), their take-away message is “This is science, and this is the kind of thing scientists do, and that sounds horrible.”

      The same, for example, is true of history. In tenth grade, you memorize a bunch of dates, so from there on out, you kind of assume that that’s what historians do all day and you wonder why anyone would pay them.

      I think that if science journalism is going to change any minds, writing has to directly address that misperception, because the misperception has been imprinted since approximately 1st grade. Before I worked in journalism, my job involved curriculum development, and educational research shows that you can’t just plop contradictory (but correct) ideas on top of the incorrect ones that were there first. The reader will interpret the new information through the lens of the old, and the “point” of the new info is lost, while the longstanding, entrenched ideas remain. The way to change a mind–and to encourage a reader to think about science as a mode of thought–is to write metacognitively, in a way that makes readers think about their own thinking. Whatever you write has to cause the reader to examine her negative perception of science and decide that it is wrong for x, y, z reasons before she can have a positive perception.

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