Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I came across an interesting post by a chap called Douglas Blane a few days ago. It's another post that focuses on communicating science to young people, focusing on the readability of bodies of text that are used in an attempt to communicate. Which is fair enough, this is indeed, something that need to have attention paid to it. What I feel is missing though is the same thing that is missing from most discussions about science communication. It's all aimed at the young. This is not to say that we shouldn't be focusing on the the young. If we can swing it that the next generation of artists, politicians, mechanics and journalists have a sound understanding of what science is, grand. There does, however, seem to be a dismissal (not just in Blane's post, across most of the science communication literature) of attempting to outreach to the current crop of artists, politicians, mechanics, journalists and the like. The suggestion that there is "no point talking to adults because their mind is already made up".

There is no point in talking to Sarah Palin or Christopher Monckton about climate change. Or indeed anything else. These mature adults have made their minds up long ago. The same can be said for many other adults, far less irrational, malign or deluded than this perverse pair. 

And in part, I agree. There is no point talking to Palin or Monckton. Some people are beyond redemption. That doesn't mean that  we should abandon everyone though.

I refuse to believe that people are not interested. People are interested, to varying degrees, in a number of different topics. What interests me doesn't necessarily interest a sculptor or a plumber. In the pub last night I ended up talking to a military chap attached to NZ's diplomatic service about the LHC and black holes, not stuff I know more than a little about, but still. The interest is there and the subjects available a wide and varied.

There are some attempts to reach out to the public in general. The media are generally appaling at it, Martin Robbins at the Guardian pretty much having his finger on the problem there. Cafe Scientifique sounds like a good idea, but in Auckland at least, if you're not a science geek to begin with, the chances are good that you've never heard of it.

So what to do? The only ideas I've had lately sound silly as soon as I say them out loud. Cafe Scientifique needs to start having their meetings somewhere that is not the basement of an out of the way pub, nice as it is. Then again, where is there that you could move it to? Trying to start meetings in the park over summer is seriously flawed, they would have to be small and would not end up doing the job. And then there was the idea of trying to start some sort of self-published free magazine for leaving in cafe's and the like. Expensive. Though there are plenty of hip young fashiony people who seem to pull it off for two or three issues before going broke.

What will I end up doing then? I don't know. The time is coming for something to be done though, so I shall have to continue thinking.

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