Educating The Public About Science

Matt Jones jonesmat at ohsu.edu
Tue May 16 14:01:23 EST 1995


Howdy,
I'm starting a new thread for this topic. It used to be <Grad
Studies/Postdoctoral Training Available>. 

In article <3page3$i26 at azure.acsu.buffalo.edu> COLLEEN M. SPECHT,
v102nq9f at ubvms.cc.buffalo.edu writes:

> i don't think the lack of understanding among the general public is
>something that science can afford much longer, do you?

Ms. Sprecht, I couldn't agree more. 

Although I missed David Longley's post, which you quoted as follows:

>In article <800384099snz at longley.demon.co.uk>, David Longley 
><David at longley.demon.co.uk> writes:
>>science is expressed in its own language, ideally mathematics. It 
*cannot*  be
>>translated into natural language  most of the time because natural
language is 
>>not truth-functional. 

...I would like to comment on this sentiment, and then follow with what I
feel is an important and timely announcement.

David Longley suggests that science *should be* expressed mathematically,
and *cannot* be translated into natural language. I will not attempt to
respond to this here, although I strongly disagree. Rather, I will point
out that the people who decide how much support (both financial and
moral) we get to do science are almost always non-scientists. When these
particular non-scientists (congress, in the U.S.) meet to decide how much
public money to spend on research, they will of course want to know what
it's being spent on, and whether any good has come of the money they gave
us last time. There appear to be two different ways of answering this
question:

1) We summarize the work we've done, explain in ordinary terms what the
main findings were, tell them what the potential implications of our work
might be for health care or whatever, and why it was worthwhile to give
us the money in the first place.  

...or
2) We say "Well, we'd really like to explain it to you, but science is
expressed in its own language, ideally mathematics. It cannot be
translated into natural language most of the time because natural
language is not truth-functional. You can't understand our work, because
you aren't scientists yourselves. Nonetheless, you should still give us
the money."

If it was *my* money, I would give it to those who chose answer #1. 
There doesn't have to be any lying or exaggeration or dishonesty. It's
simply a matter of teaching, we do it all the time. If it were
*impossible* to teach science to non-scientists, then there wouldn't be
any scientists. Obviously, this is not the case.

Now, on an immediately related note, here are excerpts from a message
sent out on the Society for Neuroscience Rapid Response Network:

********************************************
MEMORANDUM

TO: Rapid Response Network (RRN)
FROM: Society for Neuroscience
RE: Reminder and Update
DATE: May 15, 1995

FYI:

The House and Senate Budget Committees made strong steps this week
to cut the deficit by the year 2002 when they both called for plans
that would reduce future spending. The proposals call for the
*annual budgets of NIH to be frozen at 5-10% below the FY 1995*
budget for the next *seven years*.  If the appropriations committees
accept the assumptions proposed by the House and Senate Budget
Committees, the NIH could face a real cut in FY 1996 of up to $2.5
billion from the FY 1995 level.  *This translates to paylines that
would be in the 5th percentile or better, which would mean 90%
rejection rates.*

If you have not already done so, please contact members of the
House and Senate, and especially members of the House and Senate
Appropriations Subcommittees on Labor-HHS, and urge them to reject
the proposed assumptions of the budget committees.  In addition,
congressmen need to hear from the citizens on this, and not just
the scientists.  Therefore, we recommend that you contact your
local support groups and ask them to notify members of Congress.

For a current congressional listing, please refer to page 441 of
the Society's 1995 "Membership Directory."  Please send copies of
all correspondence to the Central Office.

Thank you.
***************************************************

Accompanying this message was a list of Senators and Representatives to
contact.
If any one else is interested in the names, email me (jonesmat at ohsu.edu)
and I'll send it or post it. 

So here's our chance. Are we going to pick answer #1 or answer #2? 

Sorry for the long post.

-Matt Jones



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