I was having another discussion on Twitter with Jean Goodwin, who posted the following quote. It’s attributed to Mark Largent and may have been delivered at a AAAS meeting.
I’m interested in what other people think of this. I don’t know, however, the context, or if this quote properly represents what was trying to be presented. If it does, though, my initial reaction is to be quite irritated. Broadly speaking, I don’t see how this relates to reality. Scientists don’t have control over what we already know; the work has been done and the information is in the public domain. Also, the benefits of this knowledge have not simply gone to scientists; society as a whole has mostly benefited from our improving understanding of how the world works. Of course, there are aspects that may not be positive (the ability to destroy ourselves) but the positives, in my view, outweight the negatives.
What about this authority and power? I don’t see scientists as having any special authority and power. Scientific/technological knowledge can be powerful, but this is not restricted simply to people who are identified as scientists. Maybe we could restrict how much information/knowledge is released into the public domain, but most who identify as scientists don’t work in an environment where this is the norm, or even really possible.
A few other thoughts. Who is being referred to as “scientists”? Is it simply physical scientists, or is it all scientists (physical, natural, social). If the latter, then why use the term you guys, rather than simply we; it is being presented by a social scientist. The use of you guys also seems unfortunate. I realise that it can sometimes simply mean people, but it is often taken to refer to men specifically. We should, ideally, be avoiding such steoreotypes.
To be clear, my issue is not with the idea that scientists should be adults in the room; ideally we should all strive for this. My issue is with the idea that we’re in some kind of special position in which we simply have to accept the harassment because of our perceived power and authority, and with the implication that we have to be the adults in the room because others won’t be. A sense I have is that we have to excuse politicians, or the media, or business leaders, because that’s just how they are, but we can pressurize scientists to behave in some ideal way. Why can’t we expect these ideals of all, rather than only of scientists? If power and authority require that some group become the adults in the room, I would argue that there are many groups ahead of scientists.
As usual I’ve written more than I intended. I realise that I have a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to things like this, because I just find this targetting of scientists annoying. Maybe I’m missing something about this, and maybe there is more merit to it than I appreciate. If so, feel free to try and convince me.