The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Flipping the Question

It's often a good source of creativity to take a question and flip it around.

About when I pulled out of science, (and before I honed my political skills, at least a bit, in the private sector) I was at a meeting of paleoclimate modelers, when I kept saying "flip the question". They were trying to pull together ways to apply modeling to study paleoclimate, but I thought and think that the best approach would be to use paleoclimate data to study how to improve climate models. (I don't think anyone ever even got a clue about what I was so agitated about.)

I am now writing an article about "computer programming for everybody". Here, a clear statement of the flipped perspective is offered by Mark Guzdial: "I'd never before thought about computing for learning as opposed to learning about computing".

This site originates in a question flip. People are thinking hard enough about how to communicate science to the public, but as with the other two questions, they aren't thinking about it very well because they haven't looked at the dual, the flipped question. The flipped question is how to communicate how the public thinks to scientists and scientifically inclined people. Without some care about the flipped question, the communication of science to the public will tend to fall on deaf ears.

The way ideas prevail in science and the way they prevail in society are distinct. To some extent the way ideas prevail in society is broken and needs fixing (in that it is too emotional, and in that networks of trust are failing, and in that public opinion is too vulnerable to cynical manipulation), and to some extent the way science works is broken (mostly in that it is too clubbish and inaccessible). Anyway, given that we have matters of great importance at stake, we have to cope with the situation we have.

3 comments:

chris said...

You may have already seen this, but just in case:
http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/04/i_like_framing_less_and_less_w.php#more
Dive in!

Michael Tobis said...

Thanks, Chris.

I think it is interesting how many people miss my point.

I also think it is interesting that I pretty much independently started thinking about these things about two weeks before Nisbet and Mooney showed up on my radar, saying pretty much the same thing.

I am beginning to see what people's objections are. It is interesting to see how and why the point is being missed in a discussion about how and why points are missed!

As da yoot say, "this is getting way meta". I will try to have more to say once my head stops exploding from this.

By the way I love comment #28 in the linked blog.

chris said...

Test.
http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/04/i_like_framing_less_and_less_w.php#comments
Hah! HTML tags ain't so hard! Whatever they are...

I live in rural eastern Canada, back in the pines about 5 miles from the icy Atlantic. For 300 years people cut trees, caught fish and dug up the odd rock.
Now, the forest industry, which supported thousands of people 30 years ago, has been mechanised and globalised out of existence.
The fish are gone due to bad management, greed, and corporate/political cronyism.
Every week 2 big semis hauling lime pass my house. It gets dumped in the tailing ponds at the tin mine that closed in 1990 after a 10 year run. The trout are gone but at least you can swim in the river.
Scientists, needless to say, are not popular here. They get a lot of the blame for the destruction of a way of life.
That may be unfair and mindless, like any prejudice, but there it is. And I don't think it is confine to my little corner of the world.
Breaking through it is going to be a "hard old road."
Maybe some kind of mediation would help. I'd like to see some sports star (We loves us some Red Sox!) stand up and say, "Listen to these people, its important."
In my dreams...