The Complexity of Modern Science - Comments

  • Insights
  • Thread starter mfb
  • Start date
  • #26
1,241
189
Is it? If it was, we would not have a forum for relativity, biology, chemistry, homework help, etc.
I think it was intended to say the standards which physics forums holds as standard consensus of mainstream science in each category?
 
  • #27
Choppy
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
4,591
1,681
"What do you think? Can science popularisation improve in that aspect, and if yes, how?"

I think one big thing that can help is for scientists themselves to talk more openly about what they do. The scientific community can't rely on the entertainment industry to popularize science, and then complain when they get it wrong. Nor can the scientific community hope that politicians won't spin their work and results to reinforce their agendas.

Small things that can help:
  • More open-access academic articles. I realise there are complications that come with this. It's not free to produce these things. But when information is locked away in the ivory tower of academia all the outsiders can do is speculate.
  • Authors providing non-technical summaries of their work. I've noticed a few journals in my field now requiring this.
  • More non-technical summary presentations or non-technical components of technical presentations at major conferences. Mass media are more likely to cover these events and report on what's found when it's easier for the journalists to understand what's happening.
  • Scientists volunteering time to go out into the community: giving public lectures, coming into classrooms, and speaking to teachers. I volunteer with a local program called "Scientists and Engineers in the Classroom" because I think programs like this are very important for helping studends and teachers learn about how science happens.
  • More blogging or popular content coming from scientists about what it is they do. (And yes, that's a kudo to Insites!) While I agree that more people like Feynman and Sagan can help, I think it would help a lot more if "everyday" scientists were more vocal about what they do on social media.
 
  • Like
Likes StatGuy2000 and mfb
  • #28
489
189
  • Scientists volunteering time to go out into the community: giving public lectures, coming into classrooms, and speaking to teachers. I volunteer with a local program called "Scientists and Engineers in the Classroom" because I think programs like this are very important for helping studends and teachers learn about how science happens.
Funny you mention this, after reading this I recalled something from a course called "Historical and Social Aspects of Physics".
It was mentioned that at some time in the 20th century science was part of regular culture in Germany. (I belief it was during the Weimar Republic era)
Meaning people would go to public lectures like we go to plays or movies today.

Continuing this train of thought I figured that universities could easily arrange for such a thing in this day and age.
I don't think this is commonplace here (haven't heard about it at least).

It could be a monthly thing, I'm quite confident you'd find volunteers in every department.
A gifted presenter would include news reports of e.g. the loop-hole free Bell test which over here was basically announced as "Einstein was wrong after all".
 
  • #29
vela
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
Education Advisor
14,726
1,332
So first of all, I find this insight to be very interesting. However, as a crackpot by some definitions, I must disagree with you and phinds on one point. I do study actual science and calculus with that science. I learned on this forum to stay away from popsci, but still, I come up with "theories". No, as a middle schooler I do not believe these theories will go anywhere. What I do is I make a theory based on math and what I have learned so far from other sources, and then I look for what I did wrong. Sometimes I need to ask a professional about what I did wrong. In fact, I learn better from actually thinking about it and then finding a problem in my thinking and/or math. I do agree that some people do need to learn real science before making a statement like "special relativity is wrong" but some people (like me) learn from thinking, challenging the theories and finding out why I'm wrong. Just something to think about. Overall, however, a great insight.
Using the word theory the way you do is probably what sets off crackpot alarms if you've been accused of being a crackpot. I tend to roll my eyes when someone claims to be developing a new theory.

From what you describe, I'd say you're constructing your understanding and knowledge of a topic, not a new theory. One way you do that is to take your current understanding and test it. When you encounter non-sensical or puzzling results, you figure out where you went wrong with your reasoning or where your understanding of a topic may have been flawed and try to resolve the inconsistency. That's completely normal. That's how you learn. The hallmark of the crackpot, though, is the refusal to learn from one's mistakes. According to them, their understanding isn't wrong; everyone else's is. This is the mistake you want to avoid.

The insight touches on what allows the crackpot to even entertain the idea that they're right and everyone else is wrong. Part of that is not understanding the process of science. When you don't understand all of the work that goes into research and what the research actually says, it becomes easy to dismiss established scientific knowledge and theories as being based on someone's whims.
 
  • Like
Likes Jeff Rosenbury, mfb and Isaac0427
  • #30
697
154
Using the word theory the way you do is probably what sets off crackpot alarms if you've been accused of being a crackpot. I tend to roll my eyes when someone claims to be developing a new theory.

From what you describe, I'd say you're constructing your understanding and knowledge of a topic, not a new theory. One way you do that is to take your current understanding and test it. When you encounter non-sensical or puzzling results, you figure out where you went wrong with your reasoning or where your understanding of a topic may have been flawed and try to resolve the inconsistency. That's completely normal. That's how you learn. The hallmark of the crackpot, though, is the refusal to learn from one's mistakes. According to them, their understanding isn't wrong; everyone else's is. This is the mistake you want to avoid.

The insight touches on what allows the crackpot to even entertain the idea that they're right and everyone else is wrong. Part of that is not understanding the process of science. When you don't understand all of the work that goes into research and what the research actually says, it becomes easy to dismiss established scientific knowledge and theories as being based on someone's whims.
Yes, as I said, it's more of a hypothesis.
 
  • #31
743
142
"What do you think? Can science popularisation improve in that aspect, and if yes, how?"

I think one big thing that can help is for scientists themselves to talk more openly about what they do. The scientific community can't rely on the entertainment industry to popularize science, and then complain when they get it wrong. Nor can the scientific community hope that politicians won't spin their work and results to reinforce their agendas.
I think we need a new economic model for an intellectual economy. Our legal and social values were developed for an industrial economy. They reward behaviors that produce real goods. Mass market art (T.V., etc.) is aimed at keeping producing workers healthy and happy. Science (and less banal art) is poorly rewarded unless it supports those now non-functional goals.

The idea that scientists should be required to volunteer to act as teachers seems odd to me. The two jobs are quite different (at least on the general public level). Would we ask a carpenter to volunteer his time to explain how the joists were laid in a new house before it could be sold?

Scientists have historically made good money when they could leverage their high IQs to manipulate the system. But otherwise they tend to lag behind other professions requiring similar levels of learning/talents. To me this indicates a flaw in the economic system that needs fixing, not that scientists should become media manipulators.

I don't have a solution, but offering more science prizes seems like a good idea. Paying scientists for learning is also an obvious step. But I'm hardly the first to decry the student loan situation.
 
  • #32
ComplexVar89
Gold Member
21
9
I don't get why some people want to overturn SR. Special Relativity is one of the most intriguing things I have ever come across. It's where my love of physics began, and it led me directly down the path to GR, which is my favorite scientific subject period.

What do people have against relativity?
 
  • #33
russ_watters
Mentor
19,780
6,173
What do people have against relativity?
1. They didn't learn it in high school.
2. Some of the implications (time dilation and length contraction) contradict our everyday observations.
 
Last edited:
  • #34
Choppy
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
4,591
1,681
I think we need a new economic model for an intellectual economy. Our legal and social values were developed for an industrial economy. They reward behaviors that produce real goods. Mass market art (T.V., etc.) is aimed at keeping producing workers healthy and happy. Science (and less banal art) is poorly rewarded unless it supports those now non-functional goals.
I'm not sure I understand this point. You can't expect an economic system to reward you unless you are contributing something that it values. Science is very well rewarded when it produces things like MRI machines, smart phones, vaccines, etc. You can't simply put people with high IQs at the top of an economic pyramid and pay them to do whatever their hearts desire.


The idea that scientists should be required to volunteer to act as teachers seems odd to me. The two jobs are quite different (at least on the general public level). Would we ask a carpenter to volunteer his time to explain how the joists were laid in a new house before it could be sold?
I didn't say it should be "required." But if you want more people to know what it is that you do, you start by making them aware of what it is that you do, and explain why it's relevant. In some fields, it's self-evident. But with science the real-world relevance can lag substantially behind the investment of money, time and resources.

Your carpenter example is not a good one. You don't have to get a skilled trade to explain a skill because the skill needs to be performed to given standard (building code for example). If it's not, the consumer has recourse. And beyond that, trades have their work inspected all the time. When I buy a house, I both inspect it thoroughly myself and I hire someone who knows the local code to go through it with a fine tooth comb.

Scientists have historically made good money when they could leverage their high IQs to manipulate the system. But otherwise they tend to lag behind other professions requiring similar levels of learning/talents. To me this indicates a flaw in the economic system that needs fixing, not that scientists should become media manipulators.
The key point here is that the other fields that require similar levels of training are professions. These are doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc. If you're a doctor it's easy to convince someone or the taxpayers in general to reimburse you for exercising your skill set on you because they understand that it's likely to cure whatever is ailing them. If you're a lawyer you can expect reimbursement because your skill set will help a client to draft a contract that will protect him or her, or navigate a set of problems with very serious consequences. The professions establish colleges that act to ensure those skills meet a certain standard so that the public doesn't need to evaluate individual practitioners.

But science isn't a profession - at least not in that sense. There are no licences or professional standards. It may be embarrassing if you have to retract a journal article, but in most cases no one is going to sue a scientist for making a mistake.
 
  • Like
Likes StatGuy2000
  • #35
6,265
1,278
I think one big thing that can help is for scientists themselves to talk more openly about what they do. The scientific community can't rely on the entertainment industry to popularize science, and then complain when they get it wrong.
Something like this. Specifically what's wrong is that most scientists seem to be suffering a very bad case of "curse of knowledge." Knowing what they know, they can't conceive of a mind that doesn't also know it, and they don't have any idea what that mind needs to hear to understand what science is actually up to.

However, it's never been considered part of the job description of a scientist to be able to communicate to lay people, so this isn't a shortcoming. If, though, scientists perceive that being misunderstood is becoming disadvantageous, then it's up to them to figure out how to explain themselves and not leave it to the popular media.
 
  • #36
phinds
Science Advisor
Insights Author
Gold Member
2019 Award
16,310
6,470
@mfb, you've certainly sparked an interesting discussion. This is the kind of thing that makes this forum great.

EDIT: You should ask @Greg Bernhardt for a raise, from nothing to about 1.3 times nothing. :smile:
 
  • Like
Likes Choppy, Greg Bernhardt and mfb
  • #37
RJLiberator
Gold Member
1,095
63
Without a doubt, this is an important conversation.

But, what can be expected in today's current society? Does anyone really think it will get better in this system?

Without fixing the environment, this issue will continue and likely become worse.
 
  • #38
675
314
I agree with most of you assessment. Now how about offering solutions.
"I learned to be very careful about when, where, and how I presented my work to other physicists, because the reaction was invariably dismissive as soon as they detected deviation from standard practice or beliefs." -- David Hestenes, Oersted Medal Lecture 2002.

He was trying to get them to use geometric algebra a.k.a. Clifford algebra.
 
  • #39
RJLiberator
Gold Member
1,095
63
Without a doubt, this is an important conversation.

But, what can be expected in today's current society? Does anyone really think it will get better in this system?

Without fixing the environment, this issue will continue and likely become worse.
As far as the question, can science popularisation improve in that aspect, and if yes, how?

With regards to my initial post, no. Of course by some measure it can improve, but if we are looking for real change then we will need to change the environment.
 
  • #40
743
142
I'm not sure I understand this point. You can't expect an economic system to reward you unless you are contributing something that it values. Science is very well rewarded when it produces things like MRI machines, smart phones, vaccines, etc. You can't simply put people with high IQs at the top of an economic pyramid and pay them to do whatever their hearts desire.

I didn't say it should be "required." But if you want more people to know what it is that you do, you start by making them aware of what it is that you do, and explain why it's relevant. In some fields, it's self-evident. But with science the real-world relevance can lag substantially behind the investment of money, time and resources.

Your carpenter example is not a good one. You don't have to get a skilled trade to explain a skill because the skill needs to be performed to given standard (building code for example). If it's not, the consumer has recourse. And beyond that, trades have their work inspected all the time. When I buy a house, I both inspect it thoroughly myself and I hire someone who knows the local code to go through it with a fine tooth comb.

The key point here is that the other fields that require similar levels of training are professions. These are doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc. If you're a doctor it's easy to convince someone or the taxpayers in general to reimburse you for exercising your skill set on you because they understand that it's likely to cure whatever is ailing them. If you're a lawyer you can expect reimbursement because your skill set will help a client to draft a contract that will protect him or her, or navigate a set of problems with very serious consequences. The professions establish colleges that act to ensure those skills meet a certain standard so that the public doesn't need to evaluate individual practitioners.

But science isn't a profession - at least not in that sense. There are no licences or professional standards. It may be embarrassing if you have to retract a journal article, but in most cases no one is going to sue a scientist for making a mistake.
Economics is about distributing goods and services. Yet the developed countries have past the point of needing more goods. Now we need to modify or laws/social structures to reward services in a fair way. While this begs the question of what is fair, I don't think most people want to be weighed down with a blizzard of paperwork. Yet this is the road we are going down. Regulatory structures encourage legal and financial services while discouraging more useful (IMO) arts and sciences.
Perhaps it's time to think about where we're headed?

I did not suggest high IQ people should be allowed to sit at the top and hand down arbitrary decision. That's the system we have now. Lawyers, financiers, and drug dealers operate unchecked. My suggestion is to try to arrange our legal system so proper behavior (like contributing to arts and sciences) is rewarded while lying, cheating, and murdering is discouraged. We are drifting by default into a system where drug dealers own banks which threaten people then hire lawyers to become untouchable.

Professions require clients (among other things). The client in science is everyone which is a poor business model and has prevented the development of science as a profession. It is likely the changes I envision would encourage or perhaps require the development of professional standards.
 
  • #41
Eltanin
Popular science paints a false picture of how science at least as much as early education. It gives lists of facts, historical notes, and cool pictures. But it doesn't dig deep.

I'm trying to produce a show right now that would be different, and I'm running into funding difficulties doing it. I'd like to create something that is about scientific thought, not facts; we want to actually analyze our subjects, and in a way that doesn't bore people who understand the basics. Math is part of it. I don't want the topics to be so intimidating that no one watches, but today's popular science keeps all math as far away from the content as possible. So I run into a lot of people who 'love science', but hate math and have no idea how to use scientific reasoning.

To tie it back to the ongoing discussion, I believe that teaching people how to think objectively and scientifically can help with a lot of problems. Science doesn't tell us what decisions to make, necessarily, but it does tell us how to go about making those decisions. It's a bit esoteric to say that, but it's also, in my opinion, better than what we have now.
 
  • #42
697
154
Popular science paints a false picture of how science at least as much as early education. It gives lists of facts, historical notes, and cool pictures. But it doesn't dig deep.
I'd actually say the problem is that they get too deep in the material, and shows the "cool stuff" but not any of the math that is required. Many shows go deep into GR but don't use the word tensor.
 
  • #43
QuantumQuest
Science Advisor
Insights Author
Gold Member
926
485
In my opinion, the way "popular science" is presenting itself, is a necessity and an excuse at the same time. Anyone, not having some serious relevant scientific background, is not willing to get intimidated by math details, so if he takes what he sees on a such TV show literally, he will end up having a lot of misconceptions. And this is usually the case. Cannot get better than that. That's the necessity part. The excuse part, has to do with the motivations behind PopSci, variations of which are not the same in each case. Various purposes are served in various such cases, but I am not a experienced salesperson to have the expertise to get into the details of it, nor I condemn that, because it has its role in the economic culture. Thing is, that by its very nature, cannot get better than it is, because in order to be such, the educational level of most people will need to change substantially - it is somewhat difficult I believe, for most people, to have the skills and/or the will to be scientists, but even if this could potentially happen, then PopSci would not have any reason to exist and it would cease to do so - at least in its present form. Of course, I do think that this would be a great achievement for science, but at the present instant, what anyone with no or small scientific knowledge is good to do, is listen only to what is presented, what is its purpose and consequences and not about explanations in over - simplistic - and unfortunately in many cases naïve, terms and ways. Anyone can dig a subject deeper at his/her own leisure, using the right resources, that are really abundant on the web and learn things In a more proper way. I don't think that scientists can do many things about that, because if everything could be sufficiently explained in layman's terms, then what would be the real substance of science: we live in a complex world and proper explanation of many things in nature, require deep theoretical thoughts and a multitude of experiments. So, a deep change in some social and educational structures would be needed, in order for substantial changes to be realized. In its present form, it's more of a personal issue for anyone to be well informed about anything.
 
  • #44
StatGuy2000
Education Advisor
1,795
900
Something like this. Specifically what's wrong is that most scientists seem to be suffering a very bad case of "curse of knowledge." Knowing what they know, they can't conceive of a mind that doesn't also know it, and they don't have any idea what that mind needs to hear to understand what science is actually up to.

However, it's never been considered part of the job description of a scientist to be able to communicate to lay people, so this isn't a shortcoming. If, though, scientists perceive that being misunderstood is becoming disadvantageous, then it's up to them to figure out how to explain themselves and not leave it to the popular media.
It's not surprising to me that many scientists suffer from the "curse of knowledge", for the simple reason that many scientists often socialize with or primarily communicate with other scientists who are in general more likely to understand their work (or if not understand their work, at least understand the processes in which scientific discoveries are made), and therefore can't conceive that there are people who don't have that understanding.

I agree with Choppy that part of the way to address this, and to improve public understanding of science is for everyday scientists to more actively engage with the public, by say for example, volunteering their time to visit schools to explain the work they do and providing non-technical summaries of their work. I am also definitely in agreement in making scientific journals more accessible to the public.
 
  • Like
Likes Silicon Waffle
  • #45
675
314
In my opinion, the way "popular science" is presenting itself, is a necessity and an excuse at the same time. Anyone, not having some serious relevant scientific background, is not willing to get intimidated by math details, so if he takes what he sees on a such TV show literally, he will end up having a lot of misconceptions. And this is usually the case. Cannot get better than that.
That may be true, but most popular science I have seen does not approach the "best possible under the circumstances." There are some science popularizers who have done an excellent job, but others not. And some are humbugs.

I might take a whack at science popularization myself. I believe, rightly or wrongly, that I can do better than most of what I've come across. But first I'll have to learn it thoroughly.
 
  • Like
Likes Silicon Waffle and QuantumQuest
  • #46
StatGuy2000
Education Advisor
1,795
900
It's not surprising to me that many scientists suffer from the "curse of knowledge", for the simple reason that many scientists often socialize with or primarily communicate with other scientists who are in general more likely to understand their work (or if not understand their work, at least understand the processes in which scientific discoveries are made), and therefore can't conceive that there are people who don't have that understanding.

I agree with Choppy that part of the way to address this, and to improve public understanding of science is for everyday scientists to more actively engage with the public, by say for example, volunteering their time to visit schools to explain the work they do (and more generally explain the actual process of doing science, as opposed to listing the discoveries as is often done in popular science books/movies/TV shows), and providing non-technical summaries of their work. I am also definitely in agreement in making scientific journals more accessible to the public.
 
  • Like
Likes Silicon Waffle
  • #47
anorlunda
Staff Emeritus
Insights Author
8,696
5,589
NOVA is an excellent source for informing the public about science, but I am guessing that for each viewer of NOVA there are more than a hundred viewers of FOX NEWS.
Why do people who would never tolerate racial, sexist, or ethnic slurs think that it is OK to inject political slurs and put downs into any an all topics? Is that not a personal attack on classes of people depending on which TV channels they watch?
 
  • Like
Likes gjonesy
  • #48
phinds
Science Advisor
Insights Author
Gold Member
2019 Award
16,310
6,470
Why do people who would never tolerate racial, sexist, or ethnic slurs think that it is OK to inject political slurs and put downs into any an all topics? Is that not a personal attack on classes of people depending on which TV channels they watch?
I agree w/ your sentiment in general but I think an exception should be made for FOX "news" :smile:
 
  • Like
Likes Buzz Bloom
  • #49
anorlunda
Staff Emeritus
Insights Author
8,696
5,589
I agree w/ your sentiment in general but I think an exception should be made for FOX "news" :smile:
Don't forget a similar exception for people who believe in God. :smile:
 
  • Like
Likes gjonesy
  • #50
phinds
Science Advisor
Insights Author
Gold Member
2019 Award
16,310
6,470
Don't forget a similar exception for people who believe in God. :smile:
I'm happy to go along w/ that but that one is probably against forum rules so let's don't go there.
 

Related Threads on The Complexity of Modern Science - Comments

Replies
30
Views
5K
  • Last Post
Replies
1
Views
2K
Replies
16
Views
2K
  • Last Post
4
Replies
95
Views
3K
Replies
24
Views
2K
Replies
5
Views
13K
Replies
19
Views
1K
Replies
17
Views
3K
Replies
2
Views
4K
Replies
21
Views
3K
Top