When we set out to do this blog the main goal was to talk about science in a way that anyone could understand. Pretentious? It’s not so much that we think science is so sophisticated that it requires special effort to be understandable by the layperson, but more that it is esoteric. Science is esoteric in the way that any specialized job is.
Science is esoteric in the way that any specialized job is.
Regardless, there needs to be better explanation of most contemporary science for one simple fact: we’re getting it wrong. Us, the consumers of media. Us, the everyday Joe’s and Jane’s going about our lives reading things in passing. We’re getting it wrong. We don’t have time to brush up on our Bayesian statistics or differential calculus to understand cross-disciplinary scientific papers. So, we take a naughty shortcut: we listen to the news.
..we take a naughty shortcut: we listen to the news.
This story popped up on my Facebook news feed this week. The senate has apparently decided that climate change is not caused by mankind (in a 50-49 vote). If you’re not aware of how the senate works this would be akin to the senate declaring Chris Hemsworth the sexiest man alive. It is a meaningless vote.
The media coverage gives implicit legitimacy to this meaningless event. As casual consumers of news this informs our opinion on the matter of climate change.
Now to my point: Evolution is true. Why do I need to say this? Because that’s why I am coauthoring the EcoTome blog. I want to teach topics in evolution in a public forum so that people can better understand it and understand why it is true and why that’s an awesome and beautiful thing.
Evolution is true.
Unfortunately, Evolution is esoteric. People understand evolution in the Darwinian sense (survival of the fittest and adaptation) but not in the contemporary sense (changes in the frequency in alleles in a population over time). And whenever Evolution is covered by the media they usually take one of two angles. First the legitimate but highly distorted story that sounds like, “Scientists discover that story of human origins are different than previously thought”. Second is the entirely illegitimate story that sounds like, “Evolution vs. Creationism: should we be talking about this?”.
The first type of story is bad. It condescends the typical person and typically misses the point of really cool science. It is usually overly sensationalized and focuses on trivial or unsubstantiated findings. At best, these are mis-informative.
Media coverage of the creation-evolution debate gives implicit credibility to the argument.
The second type of story is simply reprehensible. Media coverage of the creation-evolution debate gives implicit credibility to the argument. The story may be about the textbooks in some school district or about some quack politicians raising their hands to a debate question. Either way, it’s usually* a problem. Even if the news article is posed as a question (e.g. “Should we teach the Evolution/Creationism controversy?”) it’s illegitimate. We should not ask the people of our society if creationism is a scientific theory any more than we should ask the members of our society if North Korea is a legitimate threat to the US. Scientists can tell us what are legitimate scientific theories and the CIA can tell us who’s going to attack our country.
Still not convinced? If that’s the case tweet me your opinion on what my sister is sick with this week (her symptoms are: swelling eyes, tickle in her throat and stuffy nose). Just note that I will not take anything you say seriously because my insurance company hasn’t verified that you are a certified MD. Get my point? We understand that we should only listen to the opinion of specialists when it comes to something like a medical diagnosis but sometimes we get too big for our britches and start commenting on things we really don’t know anything about (like me talking about a vote in the senate -_-).
…just because everyone has an opinion doesn’t mean everyone’s opinion matters.
We have authorities for a reason, and just because everyone has an opinion doesn’t mean everyone’s opinion matters. That’s why we should listen to the people who are our authorities on certain topics and that’s why those authorities should tell us what’s up.
Now that I’ve said that, I’ll repeat myself. Evolution is true.
* It was pointed out to me that there is nothing really wrong with the media shedding light on anti-science rhetoric being put into science textbooks. As long as it doesn’t give credence to the “teach the debate” mindset in a science classroom this kind of coverage is alright by me.