After a few days of presentations on (gasp!) science communication, a party was being held in Iceland. Many dignitaries, a few allocutions, among them one by a lady from the banking industry, more exactly a PR big boss from a Canadian bank. (When you hear “Canadian bank,” think serious business.) To this day one of her points stuck with me.
After thanking everyone for their enlightening talks, she said something like this. “You know what attracted me first when I entered this beautiful room? The photos on the piano. Images of people. I like to see people. People like people. It’s you that fascinates me, what you say comes after.”
A story connects characters with events, persons and deeds, agents and topics. A good science piece, to me, is one that allows me to see a scientist in action, trying to solve a mystery, sharing a passion for the object of study, showing what is done, and how. The why or the wherefore comes after.
Equations, data, code, never stand alone. If you want to sell me a theory, first tell me a story in a way I can hear an authentic voice and see the glimmer in your eyes. That last part could be a metaphor, but when “going public,” consider making it as real as possible. Image and presence matter. I’ve heard of conferences offering professional shooting sessions. Performances require preparation. Actors still need directors.
Imagine a scientist in your head. Your image may differ from the silly scientist stereotype. Or not – even scientists entertain it. We got a political problem on our hands, and we want to bring about a set of science based solutions. To paraphrase Wilfrid, the scientists’ image needs to change.
This first big step isn’t enough. In an exemplary abstract, Gabriel Lenz argues that scientific practices need to change too:
Political scientists should put aside questions about whether voters are rational or irrational, informed or uninformed, and questions about how flawed democracy is. Although they are interesting, these questions are secondary. Answering them in no way helps people—it does not help them with their violent neighborhoods, their declining incomes, their flooded homes, or their dying crops. Instead, researchers should focus on the first-order question of how to improve democratic accountability.
One radical way to improve democratic accountability and help people would be for scientists to run for office. But change can take tinier steps. Angela Potochnik recalls for instance that scientific practices are shaped not just by the need for the scientific enterprise to connect with the world, but also by the need for the scientific enterprise to connect with its human practitioners and audience. Verena Halsmayer argues that we should be following artifacts in the creation of economic theories. The following suggestion would compel theoricians to concretize their insights:
What I’m suggesting may not cohere with current academic practices. I could not care less. Academics waste too much energy on stuff nobody reads. We’re past satisfying ourselves with communicatin’ – if what you’re saying doesn’t call for any action, why say it?
Let’s try to cut the empty talk and try to rock the world with our words. It’s OK to be angry, as long as it leads somewhere constructive. It’s OK to be stressed by our predicament. It’s OK to be an advocate too:
> [C]limate scientists who wish to engage in certain forms of advocacy have considerable latitude to do so without risking harm to their credibility, or the credibility of the scientific community.
There is only one time that matters for change – immediately, as Krishnamurti said time and time again. All one needs is to put one foot in front of the other. Collective action can’t wait until all agree on everything. Religion won’t go way and conservatism won’t disappear soon. Disagreeing should make us stronger.
Humanity is the only way out for those stuck in an echo chamber. Eric Holtaus is naming every identified victim of Porto Rico as we speak. Childish Gambino sings the happenstance of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) because he can:
I have no recipe to offer. Anything goes as long as we all agree on the following. The ideals of Open Science entail sharing everything with everyone. We need to show it to people because we’re all in it together, and because it rocks the world. We need to start doing things with our words. We need to accept everyone willing to fight with us, otherwise we will suffer the consequences.
Hence why we are Science.