Because I forget stuff. Part of

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Originally posted August 1 2007 at 18:08 under General. 0 Comments. Trackbacks Disabled.

Some Follow Up, Some New Stuff

A collection of a few things which have caught my attention and I can’t really be bothered to from into fully coherent posts, given how long they’ve been lying around waiting to be posted as it is.

  1. Science Journalism
  2. And Science Education
  3. Some Good Science
  4. An iPlayer Petition

Science Journalism

Ars Technica’s Nobel Intent has another thought provoking article, this time on science journalism. While the article itself is really just a linkage to more content it does serve to raise an important problem in science communication: the standard of science journalism is often quite low. As I see it there are multiple reasons for this. One of them, as the article points out, is that science journalism is often done by people with very little science background. This is not their fault. To paint with broad brush strokes for a moment, those interest in the “arts” subjects (i.e. English, and onto journalism) are unlikely to be interested in the “science” subjects. Yet a career journalist might easily find themselves having to report on a story where a technical background is really needed to actually understand what they are trying to write about (a necessary step before even trying to distil it for the general reader). Any good journalist would of course seek someone out who has that background to get a better idea of what is going on. The problem then is that a) it’s not like getting a quote from a police officer in a murder enquiry; you’ve still got to think about it and b) they run straight into that splitting of subjects problem; scientist don’t tend to have great interests in English (again, very broadly speaking) and aren’t great communicators. The journalist (or possibly the press officer they’re attempting to communicate via) then, almost ironically, runs up against the language used. Not only does science have its very own language but it tends to use familiar words in very specific ways, in a way that normal English simply doesn’t do. Certain words take on a direct, singular meaning and, importantly, deny space for the other meanings they would normally carry. Scientists get used to this, to the short cuts it affords. It can be very confusing, especially when scientists forget that there language isn’t normal. That forgetfulness isn’t helped by the world in which they are immersed. While communication, of results, of ideas, is encouraged it is rare that this is to anyone who doesn’t have at least a scientific background (personally, I think the only times would be talking to school children visiting the lab, or trying to explain what I was doing to non-scientist friends after a few pints). Perhaps it is time for undergraduate (and postgrad) degrees to carry a communication module, which really should be taught mainly by the English department rather than the science department

And Science Education

Tying into the idea of science communication, that gets harder the less well scientifically educated your audience is. There is some concern at the moment over the state of science (particularly physics) education in the UK at the moment. This has led to at least one motivated and enthusiastic teacher writing an open letter bemoaning the state of the curriculum. While I’ve welcomed the chance for debate within science lessons this sort of open ended discussion and endless essay writing is no substitute for a proper science of facts gleaned from observation, and the mathematical tools required to use those facts. If you think that then you can sign the petition.

Just to show that science education doesn’t need to be all dry maths and boring stuff though, check out using a Wii remote to teach physics

Some Good Science

If you educate people properly then you get appreciation of good science of course. So rather than believing every tabloid scare story the public might take note of proper, double blind studies, showing “electrosensativity” to be in the mind (the fact their are real symptoms though, just not caused by the likes of phone masts, is interesting in itself)

An iPlayer Petition

Talking of petitions, there’s an iPlayer one (plus a couple of more or less counter petitions with almost no signatures) to try and hurry the BBC along with making their new toy into proper software package to serve the public like they’re supposed to (something I’ve mentioned). Given how closed of an “open beta” the iPlayer launch seems to have been though (they obviously shouldn’t have announced a launch because they’re not ready for mass testing), there’s still time to fix things properly. At least there may be some progress in that direction.

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This Crazy Fool

Dr Ian Scott
Croydon (and Gateshead), United Kingdom
Bullding Services Engineer (EngDesign), PhD in Physics (University of York), football fanatic (Newcastle United), open source enthusiast (mainly Mozilla)

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