15 June 2012

Outlawing Scientific Reality

Posted by Dan Satterfield

The areas around the Chesapeake Bay are among the most susceptible areas for sea-level rise. Dan's pic..

I was asked to talk about science communication last week at an AMS/AGU seminar in Washington. It was my first visit to the headquarters for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (The AAAS publishes SCIENCE magazine, one of the top peer-reviewed journals in the world). I always learn a lot at these kind of events and this one was no different.

Before the event, I searched high and low for some really excellent examples of science communication. I thought of using some clips from my personal heroes like Neil de Grasse Tyson or UK Astrophysicist Brian Cox, but then I stumbled across this. I knew immediately this was the example I wanted to show of excellent science communication.

Scientists who author popular science books are often told that including one graph will cut sales by 50%. A large portion of the public rarely will look at something with an x and a y-axis. It can be done though and done well and the video below is a perfect example of doing it right. Everyone (outside of certain elected officials in North Carolina) gets it. Not an easy task.

You may think that humor (or ridicule perhaps) is not the best method, but in this instance it worked perfectly, and the presenter was a master at communication. Sometimes, people do something so amazingly ignorant, the only way to report it is to laugh at them. Imagine a group of law-makers finding a series of scientific findings so upsetting to their political world view, that they pass a law that says you must ignore the science!

Not in America you say. Maybe in some banana republic or some similar type third world country, but not here!

Does North Carolina count as “here”?


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I might point out that Colbert gets the science right here. Around one meter of sea level rise is most likely by the year 2100. Study after study, from dozens of scientific groups, keep coming up with this number (or somewhere near it). There are virtually no peer-reviewed papers that show the rise will be less than .3 meters, but there are papers that show 1.5 to 2 meters is possible (if we do not get a handle on greenhouse gas emissions).

Note to North Carolina legislators who are now the laughing stock of the entire world science community: You can pass all the laws you want, but if ever there was a blog post where I should use my favorite quotes, this is it.

“The laws of physics are real. Everything else is politics.” (Neil de Grasse Tyson)

“Science is what we do to keep from lying to ourselves.” (Richard Feynman)

UPDATE Friday 15 June: Southern Fried Science has more on this in a fact filled post here. Read it, and know more than most.