Posted by: fireweaver | January 17, 2008

i do not think that means what you think it means

in any specialized field of experience, it can be a real pain to attempt to explain wtf is going on to laypeople. for me, of course, that particular field is science. certainly not all sciences: particle physics and string theory and all that are just so much wacky figments of some other language to me…but at least i know that i don’t understand, i know where the holes are in my mental perceptions of such things. maybe that’s part of our scientist training, to realize we don’t have the answers and we’re gonna need to do some research to get them.

apparently, though, that knowing-you-don’t-know thing is in short supply among the general population. it’s like everyone has this idea that the science exposure we all had in our basic high school bio class or the hacked-up and spun-down version of The Latest Breakthrough! ™ the news spews out were enough knowledge to let you form a critical (hell, even expert!) opinion on science & research. not true of course. hey, even the mere words give some people huge hang-ups of confusion.

a seminar i went to during a national AALAS meeting a couple of years ago was about talking to the public about animal research. the main theme for the speaker was that the animal rights activists are loud and vocal, and if we as a group fail to provide an alternative viewpoint, ordinary jane & joe public (JJP) starts to get an idea that we have something to hide. the problem, he said, was that we would have to confront easy lies with very difficult truths. in one corner, you have “you torture animals!!” and the counter for that, which includes all the real & true info, has neither the short pithy length of that statement, nor its same emotional impact, for all its factual accuracy.

i think most all of science is rather like that. it’s infinitely easier to believe a news article telling you “this will kill you!!!” or “this will cure all diseases EVAR!!” than it is to attempt to read up on all the background info and understand enough of the science to put it in context. hence JJP’s perception that pretty much all health info flip-flops every couple of years: “well, those doctors told me 5 years ago that my coffee was bad for me, but today it’s apparently good for me. what the heck do those nerds know anyway, they’re making it all up.” no, it doesn’t, the news is just splashing some big hyperbolic headline…not actually reporting what was found and how they got there.

another super fave screw up has to be global warming, something that is apparently mystifying to JJP. last week, we had a brief (one day) spike up into the 70s – nearly record high for us. it was freezing 2 days later, and today we got a good 6″ of snow. it’s really not super normal, but there’s still so much debate as to whether or not global warming even exists (next up: we’ll will ourselves to disbelieve gravity and fly to the moon). but JJP hears only the word “warming” in the buzz phrase, and if it’s cold today, 1 or 2 degrees warmer a year, pshaw, that must all be so much hype, right?

the kick for me this week was that the feds announced, after studying the issue for 7+ years, that meat & milk from cloned animals was ok to be in the domestic food supply, and people are freaked out by this. there’s a little poll attached to that last article there, and as i’m posting this, 40% of people are saying they’ll be taking up vegetarianism rather than “risk” eating a cloned animal. now, i think for the most part, sheeple are way too lazy to actually change their whole lives based on a totally invisible threat (if they can’t see it, JJP won’t remember to be scared), but that’s not the point: they actually believe this is a huge enough concern to say they’d go veg. a clone is, by definition, genetically identical to its predecessor…if you’re ok with eating that predecessor, it’s the same thing to eat the clone. some people are bringing up welfare concerns about a cloned animal’s later quality of life as their objection, but when the UK is referring to clones as “frankenfood“, no, welfare isn’t the main issue. it’s a lot like people freaking out over irradiated food: irradiated and radioactive are NOT the same thing. genetically manipulated and mutagenic likewise 2 totally separate concepts. people, with the media handing you enough b.s. to outlast a lifetime, you have 2 options: either take your approved meds and calm down, or (preferably) learn to read.



  1. […] we’ve discussed before, the media is pretty damn clueless about science.  reporting on medical literature is all about […]

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