America’s Unrequited Love of Scientists

| 7/15/2009 12:40:07 PM

Loving ScientistsThe American public loves science, but scientists don’t love the American public back. The Pew Center for People & the Press reports that Americans hold scientists in high esteem, while “many scientists offer unfavorable, if not critical, assessments of the public’s knowledge and expectations.” (The Pew Center offers a test to see how you well your knowledge stacks up to the rest of the American public.)

The admiration given to scientists is also mixed with fear, Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum write for Salon. Americans tend to view scientists “as idiosyncratic nerds or actively the villains,” in the words of Hollywood director James Cameron. That’s an unhealthy place for science in American culture. Kirshenbaum and Mooney write that the wide canon of movies depicting mad scientists hell-bent on destroying the world has fostered a deep mistrust of scientists in real life.

Many scientists blame the media for the science’s image problems. Almost half of scientists polled by the Pew Center believe that media oversimplification is a “major problem.” The flaw in that view, according to Kirshenbaum and Mooney, is that real science would make for really boring movies. Scientists need to “connect with Hollywood on its own terms,” Kirshenbaum and Mooney write, and help them see that science doesn’t need to be the enemy to make a good film. Then, perhaps, science in the public could live happily ever after.

Sources: Pew CenterSalon 

Image adapted from a photo by pfala, licensed under Creative Commons.

7/17/2009 9:44:01 AM

Sure, many people love science, but many people also fear science, fear the change that it can bring. This is easily observable in the Terminator series of movies, for a ready example, or any Michael Crichton movie or book. In these dark pop stories technology is seen as the progenitor of some kind of catastrophe, generally of a 'What hath man wrought' plot line - Man creates some technological marvel, only to disastrous consequences. Other entertainment, such as the Star Trek or Star Wars franchises, can show technology as friend or foe, assisting or frustrating the protagonist as the story demands, though technology run amok again takes on a life of it's own, as demonstrated by Star Trek's Borg or Star Wars' Darth Vader, until humanity is either reclaimed, or Man is successful in defeating it. Science, without humanity, is indeed inhuman.

7/16/2009 7:11:37 PM

Science needs to be presented to audiences ages 2 to 102 as a process which requires evidence, and in an engaging fashion, as hands-on or model-oriented as possible. And, perhaps, to defuse those whose religious views would deny the evidence, the rhetoric would do well to be adjusted to "accept" rather than "believe in." As a science teacher, I can't tell you how many students have asked me if I "believe in" evolution. My answer: Let's accept the clear, unrelenting sources of evidence, and focus on what we can do to preserve our beautiful, shared creation!

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