Reaction has been varied regarding a video seemingly depicting a human sacrifice on the grounds of CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, the location of the Large Hadron Collider and cutting edge particle physics research. Some people are chuckling at the spoof while others see it confirming their dark suspicions and sinister worldview. As a science advocate who knows that people all too readily subscribe to truly outrageous ideas about how the world works, I’m angry at these participants who were clearly CLUELESS about the damage they could do to the beleaguered reputation of big science.
A ubiquitous, overly-simplistic idea about science should be put to death. It is that of the public as an empty vessel that awaits filling with scientific facts. Then education will be achieved (level up!) and we can all make smart and informed decisions.
That’s utter tosh (as the British say). Nonsense.
As much as we would like to think learning is as direct as that, the public, which is made up of many people with all kinds of values, is not homogeneous and objective. We don’t just accept facts and then know stuff. Facts have to be applied. A corollary idea is that of linear science-based decision-making. That is, if we know the scientific facts about a problem, we will use that to determine what action should be taken about it. Agreed? Hardly. That’s hilariously naïve. This just does not happen for several reasons: disputed “facts”, different personal and social values, and the complexity of problems (many smaller problems inside an overarching problem) makes a linear approach about as unrealistic as a cartoon diagram of evolution showing arrows from monkeys to man.
Facts will fail
The article that provided the impetus to write this piece was by Sarewicz in 2004 [D. Sarewicz. 2004. How Science Makes Environmental Controversies Worse. Env Sci & Policy, 7: 385-403] In it, he uses an example of the history-changing Bush v Gore Presidential election of 2000. No matter what “facts” were – that is, the “official” number of votes declared – would that be the basis for general acceptance in such a close contest? I doubt it because there were disputes regarding votes for either candidate. (Remember the hanging chad?) Sarewicz can’t imagine that it would have been quickly solved (and we needed it to be) so a political/judicial decision was accepted instead.Read More »
As an informed citizen, I am curious about the laws being created in my state. So, I get a daily report on House and Senate bills introduced in Pennsylvania and the actions taken.
Today was interesting… I caught up on what was done all last week. Oh, there was plenty of important stuff proposed– bills (called ACTS) that hopefully will become laws. But there are regularly many “resolutions” proposed to the legislative bodies. Many are labeled: “INTRODUCED AS NONCONTROVERSIAL RESOLUTION UNDER RULE 35”.
They include such well-meaning items as:
A Resolution designating the month of June 2016 as “Healthy Living and Healthy Eating Month” in Pennsylvania and encouraging all residents to eat healthy.
A Resolution designating the month of June 2016 as “Adopt a Cat Month” in Pennsylvania.
A Resolution commemorating the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Borough of Plymouth, Luzerne County.
A Resolution observing June 19, 2016, as “Juneteenth Independence Day” in Pennsylvania in recognition of June 19, 1865, the date on which slavery was abolished finally in all regions of theUnited States.
A Resolution recognizing the week of June 13 through 19, 2016, as “Men’s Health Week” in Pennsylvania.
A Resolution designating the month of July 2016 as “MECP2 Duplication Syndrome Awareness Month” in Pennsylvania.
Puzzling, inconclusive study shows male rats placed in artificial environments and evenly dosed with cell-phone-like radiation across their whole bodies for nine hours a day over two years show slightly more rare heart tumors yet lived longer than those male and female rats NOT exposed to radiation
That is more accurate a description than the current hubbub coverage regarding a recently completed study done by the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP) regarding cell phone use. I hesitate to post the ACTUAL headlines that were used because they are misleading, potentially causing concern where, in real life, there is little reason to be concerned. But, because headlines need to be short and grab your attention, and that news orgs like to use fear to get hits, you’ll see much punchier headlines that DO mince words.Read More »
It’s business as usual at Animal Planet channel. It’s Monster Week. You know, it’s not that bad to air shows like The Cannibal in the Jungle for one week or on occasion. But AnPlan has gone too far in the past several years by suggesting that mermaids, Megalodon and cryptids exist by co-opting bad or outright FAKE science to make people think there is more support for these claims than there really are.
Animal Planet and Discovery channel (both of Discovery Network) often share shows so you may have seen a variety of strange offerings on both. (A complete list of paranormal programming in English, go to my list here.) For AnPlan in particular, fiction began to overtake nature programming in 1997 with the show Animal X about mystery cryptids. Then, they got into the Pet Psychic shows from 2002-2004 and again in 2010. But seriously, pet psychic shows are not even interesting and are kind of ridiculous even to the average person who believes in psychic abilities. River Monsters began in 2009 and is still going. It’s not exactly an unnatural program but occasionally does hype up the drama and lead viewers to misleading ideas. This hinted at what was to come – actual cryptid hunting.
Finding Bigfoot was a ratings success at AnPlan starting in 2011, becoming its top rated series (for a time – I think River Monsters may now hold that spot). Then, in 2012, the shit really began to hit the TV screen. Mermaids: A Body Found was a fictional show that was made to look like an actual documentary. The two-hour special used fake footage, CGI, fake “underwater sound recordings”, and had actors portray scientists to discuss the thoroughly dismissed “aquatic ape theory”. There was an immediate response. People who expect to see science on AnPlan thought this was science! There were some who actually believed mermaids were real and the government was hiding the truth! The NOAA had to issue a public statement to assure the nation that, no, mermaids were NOT real. The network had gone off the deep end but took the position that ratings were more important than information about real animals. After the raging success of Mermaids for Monster Week 2012, a sequel came in 2013 with even more misleading content and fake scientists. Also included in the 2013 Monster Week were programs that sounded like Roger Corman movies: Man-eating Squid, Invasion of the Swamp Monsters, and Invasion of the Mutant Pigs. Discovery Channel meanwhile was basking in the glow of confusing the public again with a fake documentary on an extinct giant shark that they wanted you to think was still around. Cue fake footage and doctored photos. This was the end of association with the network by many scientists who had had enough.
John Oliver skewered pop media “science” coverage on his recent show. It wasn’t all that funny but it was true. And depressing. What has our society become? So smart, we get stupid.
As an observer of the relationship between science and the public, he’s totally right for pointing out disturbing trends of morning news shows hyping one bad study, news orgs blowing a single study out of proportion, press releases jazzing up a study to get coverage, and headlines that don’t reflect at all what the study is even about. This sets us up for a whole lot more trouble than we already have when it comes to science literacy in the U.S. Take a look…Read More »