July 17, 2006
Think Like a Scientist
Over at Adventures in Ethics and Science, Janet Stemwedel has a very good post entitled, "Things non-scientists can do to improve communication with scientists." Go give it a read.
She offers three suggestions for what are, in reality, educational goals that will equip non-scientists to better understand how science works. The minimally informed non-scientist
- has a sense of the kinds of questions science can answer -- and the kinds of questions science cannot answer
- has a reasonable understanding of the methods scientists use to try to answer these questions
- has a reasonable understanding of the types of "quality control" to which putative scientific findings are subjected
As a non-scientist with an interest in many areas of science, I think that these are not just reasonable goals but necessary goals.
She has several extremely interesting and very practical ideas on how a non-scientist can learn to think like a scientist using the stuff of everyday life; baking a cake, tending your garden. Some of them sound like fun.
Everyone needs to remember that communications is a two way street and non-scientists cannot simply blame scientists for failing to communicate when the non-scientists have done little or nothing to hold up their side of the process.
If you're not a scientist, think about how hard it is to understand cutting edge literature in your own field of expertise. While it's not clear that I have a field of expertise there are a few areas that I do have a more or less useful working knowledge and I can't tell you how often I have had to reread and rethink articles with my range of knowledge before I was fairly certain that I understood what the author was getting at. And while some of these articles may have been poorly written many of them were actually quite well written.
Part of me says that one doesn't truly understand anything until one can explain the essence of it to a ten year old. But another part of me says that I need to be able to understand ideas that are intended for adults and not being able to is my fault.
On a somewhat related note, I have recast Janet's three educational goals, so that they apply to, say, archaeology. The minimally informed non-archaeologist
- has a sense of the kinds of questions archaeology can answer -- and the kinds of questions archaeology cannot answer
- has a reasonable understanding of the methods archaeologists use to try to answer these questions
- has a reasonable understanding of the types of "quality control" to which putative archaeological findings are subjected
See how easy that was. Give it a try for your favorite discipline and see just how universal these three goals are.
Posted by DuaneSmith at July 17, 2006 08:27 PM | Read more on Science - General |
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