It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Thursday, June 26, 2008

What Science Blogs Can Do

Excellent find by Atmoz of an interesting article by Blake Stacey entitled What Science Blogs Can't Do.

Stacey begins as follows;
My thesis is that it’s not yet possible to get a science education from reading science blogs, and a major reason for this is because bloggers don’t have the incentive to write the kinds of posts which are necessary. Furthermore, when we think in terms of incentive and motivation, the limitations upon the effects of online science writing become disquietingly clear. The problem, phrased without too much exaggeration, is that science blogs cannot teach science, nor can they change the world.
While I found it an engaging read I disagree with the thesis on no less than three major points:
  1. I do think science blogs are important
  2. I do think the web will change the nature of scientific education eventually and
  3. While I agree that we can't educate the public in the scientist's sense of "educate", it's the intended readers' motivations, not the writers' motivations, that present the main issue.
What we need to do is inform, not educate; education is a very difficult and time consuming process under the best of circumstances, and the general public will never understand your pet phenomenon (e.g., barocliinc instability to pick a favorite of my own).

To inform means telling people:
  1. These are the facts as we understand them
  2. These are the options as best we can tell.
As long as the press models the conversation as a two-sided debate they will undermine our capacity for sound judgment. Never mind their propensity for muddling facts and confusing priorities. Blogs can offer a great deal in this respect.

10 comments:

Dano said...

To inform means telling people:

1. These are the facts as we understand them
2. These are the options as best we can tell.


Oooh. I wonder, without being too postmodern, if The Internets space also needs:

3. This is the context as we understand it.

IOW: The Google doesn't have a 'wisdom' button, and there is no add-on for a liberal arts/critical thinking filter.

I believe a certain rabett and a de-NOx/SOx place sees this too and tries to offer context where possible.

Just a thought.

Best,

D

Michael Tobis said...

I am sure Eli knows and understands many things I do not, but within my limitations I do try to be as fair as I know how to be.

I would include "context" under part 1, at least by way of intent.

George said...

I've got a decent education on matters climate through reading Real Climate particularly. Their posts are detailed, well structured and accessible. The comments section, and the responses of credible bloggers like yourself help contextualise.

Anonymous said...

As I understand to Dano,

"The other side is not asleep"

so I agree. Web is find - but if you want, you can find *relevant* information about UFOs, cow mutilation, abductions, crop circles, warious conspiracies... whatever you want.. and these articles are written by *educated* people often with PhDs...
.
So, just to summarize: Every coin has two sides...

Dano said...

I agree, Michael, but in this The Internets space, too many are lacking context - thus the explicitness of including my # 3. Bloggers are often good at providing it, sure, but IMHO it needs to be explicitized.

Otherwise, aaaaa-men, bruddah.

Best,

D

Blake Stacey said...

Thank you for your response. I should emphasize that I was describing what I perceive to be a problem with the science blogosphere as it stands today, taking the attitude that if we recognize the problem we could possibly act to solve it, and therefore do a better job of improving the world.

Marion Delgado said...

I would simply add to all of his assertions "... and be vastly entertained."

In fairness, I admit you should have a science background and be willing to do research.

By the same standards, you couldn't get much of a science education by reading Feynman's Lectures on Quantum Physics, Science, or Roger Penrose's The Road to Reality.

I have a good background, but what is easy for me to do via science blogs, usually "dull" ones, is both to keep up with developments and controversies, and remind myself why scientist friends of mine in the past convinced me their position on something was right.

The internet is not replacing newspapers yet, nor science classes, admittedly. But that's a pretty high bar.

It strikes me that mostly those of a denialist bent would even imagine they could skip scientific instruction and training and wade right in to finding the truth or whatever.

Dano said...

Marion:

It strikes me that mostly those of a denialist bent would even imagine they could skip scientific instruction and training and wade right in to finding the truth or whatever.

The Google doesn't have a 'wisdom' button.

That there are those that do as you say is a clue. They should be pointed out to decision-makers so their opinions can be placed in proper context (e.g. worth very little, but should be noted for counting votes).

Best,

D

EliRabett said...

Hell, Eli is just a dumb bunny.

tidal said...

We may truly be doomed.

:( ???