Sunday, October 24, 2010

"Stop Being Such a Scientist!" - No, Stop Being Jackasses

On Living on Earth (NPR) this morning there was an interview with Randy Olson, who has written "Stop Being Such a Scientist", a book that, I understand from the interview, urges scientists to hone their communication skills and start telling stories because that's what you need to get people to understand and engage with whatever the scientific idea is.

Now, OK. Excellent idea. Scientists do need to do this. But, one of the questions asked of Olson at one point implies isn't this a condescending book, telling scientists (!) to learn how to talk down to dumb schlubs properly because the lay audience is simply that fucking stupid? Well, yeah. But here's the problem (Olson evaded this implication of the question pretty well): as long as we live in an American society that devalues and insults intelligence, you bet your ass scientists need a book to teach them how to sneak scientific knowledge into cool stories, and that such an approach is necessary. The problem isn't scientists learning how to tell cool stories, which is a skill of great value in any society because humans relate and learn through stories, but that America has raised generations of people to make fun of anyone who cares about shit enough to learn something complicated and be passionately engaged with their work, and to marginalize and ignore what they have to say.