Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication
Yes, why?! When I was thinking about this aspect, I came across four examples in the media this week that show the reasons.
An article in a local news paper (1) which propagates pseudo-science. The article titled "Ornaments for healthy living" (Magnets embedded in jewels help healing) says magnet-based jewels for various ailments that are being introduced 'after conducting trials for two years' have numerous health benefits (the writer quotes acupuncture specialists). It gives a list of everyday jewelry and their healing powers.
Now why I call this pseudo-science? I wrote on this earlier too (2). One of my friends read somewhere about the health benefits of magnetic belts. So she started wearing them on her arms. She even showed me the article in which it was argued that the magnetic waves from the arm band travel through the human body and reach the vital parts of the body - especially the brain - and give relief from certain ailments and with full scientific evidence and references. If we read the article we will think all that is true.
But I watched a programme on Discovery science channel in which it was shown (with experiments conducted before my own eyes) that these magnetic waves from the arm belts were so weak, they couldn't even penetrate human skin leave alone having health benefits or curing the diseases! Had I not seen the programme on Discovery Science, even I would have believed what the article my friend showed me said! It was so cleverly written with all the scientific data fully supporting the magnetic wave cure! One should be very alert to these "full-proof pseudo-science stories". Want to know more details on this topic? Then click on reference 6 link.
Did my friend get any health benefits because of wearing the magnetic belts? The moment you came across the word 'pseudo-science' in my article, you might have guessed that the answer would be a 'no'! Yes, your guessing is right - it is a big NO!
Acupuncture's effect on human health is highly insignificant according to medical research (5) and can have only a placebo effect (4) and the researchers could not replicate the results obtained in China, Japan, Taiwan else where for various reasons (7).
Now if the news papers publish such articles where "experts" claiming that they have conducted trails about the health benefits (why don't the journalists ask for proof and some expert scientific opinion before reporting them in the news papers?! "ref.3") of 'magnet ornaments', won't people reading them believe them, go for the ornaments and get cheated? This is pseudo-science communication - not science communication (3)!
I also want to mention here that some journalists who are unable to overcome the cultural conditioning of their own minds are forgetting the journalistic ethics and are propagating superstitions. They are taking the route of superstitions while reporting or explaining a few incidents instead of taking a rational approach thereby harming the society.
I am an active member of various on line international groups of science writers and communicators. These groups are being invaded by "believers" and "followers" of some faiths and political agendas who hijack various discussions and try to propagate their beliefs, ideas and agendas. These people sometimes try to spread false ideas about science, belittle science and refuse to see reason. I wonder how such people can communicate science properly and even if they do it, with such hatred towards science how can they do justice to the subject?! Now read some of the 'wonderful statements' the science communicators made during various discussions:
*Belief, not "truth" (of science) is what helps us succeed against the seemingly impossible!
*The achievements of technology are touted as the achievements of science ( where will technology be without science?!)
*I do not think it realistic to try to separate belief in one's abilities from belief in other forces (such as religion ) helping you if the outcome is similar. Even more when the achievement is collective because collective achievement requires shared belief and religion is a powerful means to achieving this. While religion unites people, science divides them!
*As to the separation of science and technology, we could look at something as basic as the screw, a story told weill by Witold Ryczinski in 'One Good Turn'. It was not until one hundred and fifty years after Leonardo da Vinci illustrated a screwcutting lathe that Henry Maudslay was able to make one. A critical precondition was the lead screw and this - Rybczinki contends - was only possible by making a sequence of more, then yet-more accurate lead screws. No real science to it, just using the best available tools - including the best-available screw threads - and the best-available skills to make each iteration better than what went before.
A great deal of technology follows that path. Even nano-technology where the best tools are improvements on those that went before, with the improvements coming from a variety of sources including science but by no means only from that source!
(My view: This man seems to argue that scientific knowledge is not that necessary for the technology to develop. Just trail and error method would do! And he, a science communicator, doesn't know what nano technology really is! He thinks it is like a motor, bicycle or a screw tech! He doesn't know that the difference between science and technology is completely blurred with regard to Nanotech!
Yes, by trial and error methods even a layman can do some technical feats! If you throw a stone at a target a ten times, you might hit it once or twice. It might work with basic things but while working with high tech, you need at least some understanding of science!
The trail and error method of a layman is different from the knowledge based one with regard to high tech. In the former case you might try your entire life time or several life times but still wouldn't be able to send a mission to mars! Although Mars missions are only half successful till now, scientific knowledge based ones consume less time, energy and will be more successful. Earlier when scientific knowledge was not prolific, people took centuries to develop even small technologies with trial and error methods. Now you hear about at least a few in each week!
Moreover, science has mostly gone past the point where a layman could recreate the experiments without in-depth knowledge - we passed that point over several years ago! It takes years and years of incremental practice before you can even understand what is going on in a lot of the more advanced equipment in high tech areas. Can a lay man construct LHC of CERN? Or a space ship? Forget it! Modern day science needs knowledge in several fields - not one or two - to move forward! There are lots of expensive scientific equipment out there that if you were messing with it without training you would break it, and it would cost a lot to fix them. Furthermore, they can be dangerous to the user if he/she doesn’t know what he’s doing. X ray diffraction machines for example emits high intensity X ray that can cause serious injury if safety precaution is not observed, and an electron microscope can incur expensive damage if say the specimen door were forced open while the chamber is under a vacuum (not to mention potential for injuries). Hah! Even I won't go anywhere near those devils without assistance from experts in the field.
Just because you believe in something doesn't make it a fact of science! Just because you don't believe a fact doesn't even take away the truth of it! So belief becomes irrelevant while working with scientific facts.
We trust that science can help people and the societies we live in in a better way than most of the baseless beliefs. Without it, you would still be living in a forest, hunting and subjecting yourself to merciless calamities and getting killed at an young age because of diseases. The fact that we have come far, progressed and we are living up to 80-90 years of age is itself proof that science has a beneficial effect on the world. )
*Just because something is "science" does not make it correct.
One of the basic characteristics of science is that we often replace established theories with new ones because we find that the old theories are wrong, or at least inadequately close to "truth". In effect, scientific knowledge is a collection of the most-plausible half-truths. It can never be unchallengeable, absolute, truth.
However it is what people who identify as scientific believe.It is their belief that will motivate them to act, not the correctness - or otherwise - of their belief.
If we want more people to identify with a scientific way of thinking - to be more "scientifically literate" - it behoves us to be a little less self-righteous about the "truth" we claim to represent. There are many kinds of truth. Religious belief is one of them and the best! Scientific truth is the least important one!
(My view: Science is still in an infant stage when compared to human existence. It is still taking baby steps and has to grow a lot and gather more knowledge to make it more 'truthful'. If you see an infant and say all human beings are 'short, immature, can't walk without falling and unintelligent', well, it will be very very far away from truth!)
* The advent of agriculture and cities had nothing to do with science!
* Men on the street and activists know better than scientists about science! That is why they refuse to buy what scientists say about GM crops, nuclear fuel, climate change and vaccines!
( Forget about misinformation, baseless fears, false propaganda and misconceptions).
* It is questionable whether we discover principles and new technologies all that often through science. The discovery is commonly an inspiration, just like the concept of a work of art, or an idea for making better widgets!
*Science's achievements are just modest! (There is nothing much to talk about!)
* Science is very weak when compared to other subjects like art, philosophy, social aspects and politics!
(Weak? This whole universe is based on scientific principles. Without them even the Universe and the life forms in it and perhaps you and I too don't exist. Only if life based on the scientific principles exist, political, artistic and social aspects come into picture.That is the importance of science!)
*Men on the street and activists have more knowledge on science than scientists! That is why they agitate against GM crops and Nuclear Energy!
( Forget about misconceptions, false propaganda by vested interests, fear of the unknown, and mob mentality. Forget about the years and years of special training the scientists got to become what they are! )
*Data is not what it is, data is what scientists explain us what it is!
(Do scientists interpret data in a different way than it really is - in other sense are they manipulating it to make people accept it? How suspicious can people get?)
*Data can be interpreted in several ways. With the same data you can say a pattern is there as well as the same pattern is not there!
With friends (science writers and communicators) like these, does science need any enemies?
A science writer and science communication trainer says: "One of my first editors, XX (best-known as a management writer), used to say that "if you can't write 500 good words an hour, you're in the wrong business." He is right about this. This applies to science writing too!"
And I told this person - " "But if you can write 500 science words an hour, you are in the wrong field! You chose a wrong subject! Even the most experienced writer is not an expert in all the areas of science! Scientists take years to do a paper. Can't you take even a few days?!
Here is a gem of a quote from a scientist: Journalists take liberty with my articles in a manner that is not a slight "mishap" but an attempt to sensationalise. Everywhere in the world but more so in Africa where people may not have other resources such as books, TV or internet to countercheck the info given on newspapers, such liberties at time have more than just an annoyance factor for the scientist, they actually have life and death implications...think MMR, and other anti-vaccine stories based on misquotations or poor synthesis of research information. So as a journalist in your rush to avoid being killed by your editor think how many readers you might actually harm with the article...deadlines or dead readers ...the choice is yours!
I prefer to have no article on my work than a badly written article sculpted by a dead line because I am from life sciences and bad articles could have harmful effects on the people who read them! Well, at least I cannot write 500 words an hour because I will have to think, research, check and recheck facts, find exact words in English because I am non-English speaking, reason, reflect, simplify scientific theories, translate into common man's language, find ways/stories to attract people, write them and then go for expert's comments/opinions, then edit again and again to find mistakes. I take at least a week to write an article based on science. And never gave anybody chance to complain on my work when I took a lot of time to do it. Badly written ones are the ones I wrote in a hurry. And people told me they find my work 'very well written' - you will find these comments on my articles. ( Eg: http://www.linkedin.com/groupItem?view=&gid=2417876&type=me... )" "
Recently I saw an ad for science writers' job in a news paper. It says: 'We are looking to hire a few highly motivated science writers who meet the following criteria:
1. Excellent command over English.
2. Ability to demonstrate skills in a wide variety of subjects.
3. Able to deliver at least 4000 words a day.
4. Quick to communicate.
5. Can provide samples of previous works.'
Well, I have been writing for the past several years. I have proficiency in a wide variety of fields. But even I can't write 4000 'good science words' per day! I can say this for sure: Communicating quality science quickly to a lay man that can make a long lasting impact on him is a myth. Even if somebody is prepared to pay me one rupee for each word I write. I felt like telling the person, " Go do it yourself and see how it works".
( And I am not looking for any job in case anybody is wondering after reading this)
So this is the state of science writing around the world!
No wonder in countries like the US some people are filled with hatred towards science and are attacking it day in and day out. Some are completely denying a few things and theories of science without giving even a single thought to them. And worst of all trying to remove science curriculum from schools and replacing them with 'creation' theories (8) in such countries which we consider as 'advanced' scientifically is completely unthinkable for us.
And people from all parts of the world are still in superstitious states of mind even though science explains clearly that these beliefs they are entangled in have no true and clear bases. DISCONFIRMATION BIAS - the tendency to actively refute or discount evidence that challenges a belief - has become the norm of the day.
Who is responsible for all this mess we are in?
I try to bring together science and religion to create harmony between various fields in my art works. You can see how I do this by clicking on these links :
Science writers and communicators who are also followers of religion or affiliated to other things should have a balanced view to write about science to do justice to it. Otherwise, their biases towards religion and alternate ideas will overtake science and make it insignificant!
Now I think I know why science communication is failing!
1. Deccan Chronicle, November 14th, 2013 issue/ article by Uma Kannan - "Ornaments for healthy living" You can also read it on line here : http://www.deccanchronicle.com/131114/lifestyle-health-and-well-bei...
The Guardian 'Miracle-cure' claims examined in Sense About Science's guide for patients
The Scotsman Internet cures leave patients ‘chasing false hope’
BMJ Guide aims to help patients be wary of “miracle cures”
The Daily Mail Warning over miracle cures
Cancer Research UK Miracle Cancer Cures? Ask for evidence
MND Research Unproven treatments: have you really got nothing to lose by trying it?
AMRC Guide to challenge miracle cures
World Cancer Research Fund What have I got to lose by trying it?
Europe PMC How to weigh up claims about cures and treatments
Medical News Today Patients warn others
MS Trust Beware wonder cures
Epilepsy Research UK Don't trust the hype around unproven treatments, warn patients
Big News Network Patients warn other patients about the danger of untested cures on ...
Which? Conversation It’s not worth risking your health or home on ‘miracle cures'
DISCONFIRMATION BIAS: The tendency to actively refute or discount evidence that challenges a belief.
Some of the best blogs and articles written these days are by the scientists themselves. If you visit the site of science journals online like Scientific American you will notice this. Why they are even writing for some newspapers now. They are learning how to communicate their work and doing a better job than several other science writers.
I didn't mention Asimov. I was just teasing the view of the media presented by Mr. martin. Majority of the scientists don't agree with that view. My 10 year old son too can write five to six pages of science essays in an hour! He copies from text books, reproduces what he learnt in his class from his teachers, get most of the information by taking the help of Google and completes his project work. Where is the originality here? I was told by my English teacher that one famous English writer thought for one year to put a comma in one of his sentences. There is a saying " fools rush into places where wise men fear to tread."