There are lots of things going on at the North Carolina Science Blogging Conference but the session I'd most like to have attended was on "Changing Minds Through Science Communication." The speakers were Jennifer Jacquet, Sheril Kirshenbaum, and Chris Mooney.1
The next best thing to being there is to watch the videotape of the session (below). I must say I'm somewhat underwhelmed. Most of the presentations seemed to be mouthing the same old unsupported platitudes that we've been seeing for the past year, including a shot at Richard Dawkins.
There's was a great deal of talk about getting US Presidential candidates to engage in a science debate sometime in the next few months [Science Debate 2008]. Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum spent a lot of time talking about this. How many people think this is a worthwhile way to spend one's time? What are the chances of it happening? If it does happen, will it advance the goal of effective science communication or is there a chance that it will do the opposite? If it doesn't happen, what message will that send about the importance of science?
The goal of the science debate is to use politics and the media to teach the general public about real science (e.g., evolution, global warming, stem cell research etc.) What if the media and politicians trump the process and use the debate to promote anti-science? Going head-to-head with these groups and trying to beat them at the framing game seems a bit naive to me. Am I the only one who thinks this? Since when have candidate debates stuck to scientific facts?
What if a candidate shows up with a list of ten scientists who think that the effects of global warming have been exaggerated, and has ten scientific papers to prove it? What if a candidate says that opposition to stem cell research is based on morality and not atheistic science? What if several of the candidates advocate teaching the controversy in biology class? Aren't we just begging for trouble? Aren't we just giving the kooks an opportunity to refute science during a "science" debate?
There's a good reason why real scientists avoid public debates with creationists. Perhaps science bloggers and science journalists should think about those reasons before promoting a debate on science. They might not get what they're wishing for.
1. Would it have been impossible to find an active full-time research scientist to participate on this panel? I find it frustrating that scientists are being criticized in a forum like this without being given a chance to present the other side of the case.