Grad Studies/Postdoctoral Training Available

Ian A. Paul, Ph.D. iapaul at
Thu May 18 11:06:59 EST 1995

<jonesmat at> wrote:

>This seems to me a *very important* topic for this newsgroup. Naturally
>we'd all prefer to be doing experiments or reading journals than wasting
>our time on political issues. Unfortunately, that's probably why we're
>poorly represented and often misunderstood when it comes to politics. 
>The notion that scientists are able to understand *anything* that lay
>people *can not* is not an indictment of lay people's lack of
>understanding, but rather of scientists' poor teaching. The whole purpose
>of science is to teach people things. That's why we have journals and
>newsgroups. I suggest that if we want the luxury of doing the science
>that *we* find most rewarding and interesting and important, then we will
>have to become better at teaching the public why they should pay so many
>of us to do it.
>I don't mean that we should all become publicity hounds and try to get
>interviewed by the New York Times every month. But it is important that
>scientists and their work remain accessible (or better yet, familiar) to
>the lay public. Public TV, and the Discovery and Learnings Channels on
>cable are a good way of acheiving this. I think it would be even better
>if more scientists were willing to volunteer their time to meet with kids
>(future scientists and politicians) in classrooms, or to generate
>interest in rudimentary level discussions at community centers, etc.
>Somewhere along the way, each of us presumably realized that science was
>worth spending a lot of time and money on. What's to stop us from
>conveying those sentiments to everyone else in our society?
>-Matt Jones

To follow up on my earlier comments, I am in complete agreement with Matt 
Jones.  Whether we would like to admit it or not, as scientists, we have 
historically been afforded an opportunity that is extremely rare for most 
people, that is the freedom to work on pretty much whatever topics strike 
our fancy.  We can all (or most of us) gripe about poor salaries compared 
to other professionals with similar training, but the fact is that it is 
the freedom, not the salary, that draws us in and keeps us in.

I don't buy the arguments of several posters that the lay public is too 
stupid to comprehend our deep thinking and noble purposes (I am, 
admittedly paraphrasing, here).  I agree that the lay public is poorly 
educated in scientific methods and goals, but that problem lands squarely 
on our own shoulders.  When we view the "community service/education" 
aspect of our profession as a waste of our valuable time, we are 
proceeding under an arrogant and dangerous delusion.  As Matt points out, 
we don't need to be publicity hounds.  In fact, I would argue that that 
kind of publicity damages the public view of science more often than it 
improves it (consider for example, the "cold-fusion" debacle...).  In the 
long run, the public relations that I advocate are the very things Matt 
describes.  Simply put, these distill to community involvement and 
accessibility.  The bottom line is that if we continue to behave as 
arrogant, inaccessible putz', the public will respond accordingly.  On 
the other hand, most people that I have encountered are facinated by what 
we do and, if we present our work clearly, are extremely supportive.  In 
fact, that interest is clearly demonstrated by the profitability of 
"popular science" TV programs, magazines etc.
Ian A. Paul, Ph.D.
Laboratory of Neurobehavioral Pharmacology and Immunology
Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior
Division of Neurobiology and Behavior Research
Box 127
University of Mississippi Medical Center
2500 North State Street
Jackson, MS  39216-4505
Tel.:  (601) 984-5883/5898
Fax.:  (601) 984-5884/5899

"Listen, strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis 
for a system of government!  Supreme executive authority derives from 
a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony!
I mean, if I went around saying I was an emporor because some moistened 
bit had lobbed a scimitar at me, they'd put me away...."

                             - Dennis ("I'm 37, I'm not old!")
                               Monty Python and the Holy Grail

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