Matt Nisbet is at it again. Here's something from his latest posting [Science Literacy and the New Atheist Ideology: Rethinking Definitions and Relevance].
Next week there will be big news on the science communication front. In anticipation, I was just going back over some things that I have written on the topic over the past decade. I ran across an essay I wrote for Skeptical Inquirer from 2003, which I posted below the fold. The essay puts into context an interesting debate that took place in the pages of The Guardian between eminent UK scientist Susan Greenfield and science communication professor Jon Turney.Well-framed, Matt!
Greenfield's side of the debate reflects a continued dominant line of thinking referred to as the "deficit model," the assumption that public controversies over science are a product of ignorance and that improving the public's knowledge of the technical facts of science--or filling in the deficit--will make the public view science-related issues as scientists do.
Six years on, we still see these deficit model assumptions at play. In fact, as I write in a forthcoming book chapter, the deficit model remains a cornerstone of the New Atheist ideology and movement.
Here's my opinion, which I imagine is not that much different from Susan Greenfield's or that of the "New Atheists."
Most public debates about science issues are not really about science at all. They're about religion, morality, ideology, politics etc.
To the extent that natural science is involved, it is beneficial for everyone to understand the facts and concepts correctly. Nothing is more frustrating than when these debates degenerate into disputes about the science. To that end, scientists have a role to play. When it comes to issues like evolution or global climate change, the idea is that everyone should be on the same playing field when it comes to the science.
Is that too much to ask?
No scientist that I know, thinks that's the end of the story. Getting the science right is just one step in the right direction. Communists & capitalists, atheists & theists, vegetarians & omnivores, and quacks & doctors can all have raging debates about science-related issues as long as they all agree on the correct scientific interpretation of the facts.
Read Matt's blog to see why he opposes that point of view.