I came across this video today and thought I would post it here. It’s Carl Sagan talking to Charlie Rose about science, the public and policy makers. Carl Sagan was, arguably, one of the best science communicators of the last 50 years. What I like about the video is that he is very bluntly talking about ignorance, with respect to science and technology, and how this ignorance can allow society to be manipulated by charlatans. A view I’m starting to hold is that maybe it’s time that those who are trying to communicate science (climate science in particular) be a little blunter with those who are clearly wrong. Pandering to such people is, in my opinion at least, at best pointless, and possibly actually damaging. So, the video appealed to me because here was one of the greatest science communicators of the modern era being very blunt about scientific ignorance.
The reason I was slightly uncertain about the video is that it ends with a discussion of how society needs to be able to be sceptical and needs to be able to interrogate people who have influence (policy makers, scientists, etc). As much as I completely agree with this, the caveat – in my opinion – is that those who do the “interrogating” need to at least be willing to listen to and consider what they’re being told. Interrogating scientists so as to learn more and so as to challenge them to be as clear and honest about their science as possible, is exactly what should be done. Interrogating them so as to undermine what they’re trying to say, is not. The recent meeting between the GWPF and the Royal Society is a classic example of the latter.
To finish I thought I would give a hat-tip to Catmando’s recent post, scientists are human too, which discusses advocacy by scientists but also points out that Julian Huppert is, currently, the only UK MP who has worked as a scientist.