SCI-ART LAB

Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication

Q: Dr. Krishna I am a blogger. How can I give correct information about corona virus to the general public?

Krishna: I appreciate your intention to give the right information. But it is very difficult to pick only correct information for people who don't do science themselves. 

This is what specialists do under these circumstances: 

1. Admit that you don't know much. Dunning Kruger effect is very dangerous while dealing with public. Because the virus is so new, there’s still a lot even the experts themselves don’t fully understand. For instance the speculation that the virus may be less dangerous when the weather improves is just that: speculation based on other studies, not on this one. It may or may not be correct for this virus. So don't hesitate to tell,  “Scientists still don’t fully understand how this virus will behave when the weather improves.”

And if you don't know the right information, just keep quiet. Don't talk or write anything about it until you get a clarity on the subject. Tell the stories exactly as they are without twisting or spinning them. 

2. Science takes a long, long time to establish facts. Meanwhile it becomes very messy. But science is a process of becoming less and less wrong as time goes by. That is why some studies have been confusing and even contradictory, such as those on how far the virus can travel in the air and how long it remains alive and viable on different surfaces.  If different studies show different findings, tell people all about them.

3. Trust only high standard peer-reviewed journals to get information. 

New and sensational ones circulated in the media are not trust worthy. 

4. Don't repeat misinformation again and again even if you tell people the story is not  true.  Repetition makes misinformation feel more true. It is human psychology to believe in even lies  that are brought to people's notice over and over again. 

5. Realise this: There are different experts for different subjects.  Experts in general biology need not be experts in Virology. So if a general biologist and a virologist are telling two different things about the corona virus, trust only the subject specialist, i.e., virologist. 

6. Balance things : while telling the truth avoid creating panic and fear among people. 

Read this article that gives tips on how to identify the right information in science: How to trust science stories: A guide for common man

Q: Why do people attack scientists and science communicators? They are doing a good job.

Do you face these things too and how do you cope?

Krishna: Thanks for understanding and appreciating our work. 

Yes, we do face lots of resistance from people who themselves can't resolve their mind matters. Like

cognitive_biases, confirmation_bias,  Dunning Kruger_effect,  patriarchal mindsets , 

total ignorance and what not.

People who practice pseudo-science like astrologers, body cleansing practices think if we make public realise the truth, they will lose their jobs.

People who are highly superstitious think they will lose their mental and external emotional supports these things give them. But they don't realize that science can give more stronger support. 

People who are highly religious think science is completely against religion and is trying to remove religion from the world. Religious leaders attack science and scientists like hell downgrading evolution, heliocentric theories and the like. 

Yes, I do face these things while interacting with people outside. Many of my colleagues from all around the world tell me it 's extremely difficult to deal with stupidity  and total ignorance. Two highly different levels of understanding of a thing can cause friction if not handled properly. But we have no choice but to deal with these things while communicating science. It is highly stressful to deal with sci-com.  It is easy to work in  labs. Sci-com drives you mad sometimes. It takes a lot of your precious time.

Only things that make us go forward despite the difficulties are  atleast some peoples' acceptance that science 's really good for them and the world and their adoption of the subject. The thought that others too might get benefits we are getting from science if they understand the subject in the way we do.

Simply telling someone what to feel or do will not change their perceptions or behaviour.  Further, the science of science communication supports the notion that simply providing more and more accurate information also will not c....

Changing mindsets takes hell of time. Lots of patience. Bearing set backs. Going forward despite everything.  

How do I cope? My mind is a big mess. I love challenges and that is what is still driving me. The desire to succeed ...

"Scientists devote their lives to decoding the Operations of Nature, which are oblivious to your culture and politics. When legions of experts alert society of impending catastrophe, yet warnings go unheeded, with fatal consequences, I'm left weeping for the future of civilization."

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Q: Why is communication important in science?

Krishna: I am glad you asked this question.

There are two important types of communication in science.

Doing hard research by scientists in fort-like labs that are inaccessable to the outside world is one side of Science. Then communicating it in the right manner the world can understand and get benefited by it is a different ball game altogether.

Scientists publish their work in science journals with all the data and statistics and in a language that seems like Greek and Latin to the man on the street even if he is literate. Then think about the situation of illiterates. To a large section of people, these science journals don't exist at all!

These journals are used by scientists to communicate their work only to their colleagues in their field. Scientists publish their work so that their colleagues can understand what work is going on in the field and build further on the knowledge, challenge them so that they can test whether their work can withstand falsification, reproduce it over and over again so that it can be established as a fact.

Usually transferring the complex science concepts from the labs to the ordinary world in the manner that makes some sense will be done by science journalists. They do it in the way in which they understand because it is very difficult even for them to understand the jargon and data and depend on the scientists' explanations to communicate the difficult subject. Therefore a miscommunication is taking place (1) with the result that science is being misunderstood.

Main Reason for misinformation in science: Nearly all the messages about science are coming from people who are 'talking about' science 'rather than doing' science. That is why sci-com by real scientists is very important ... to arrest fake information (2).

Therefore, it has become vital for scientists themselves to come out of their labs and communicate their work themselves. Some scientists are turning into science communicator scientists so that they can present the science in the right way to the general public.

Now why is it important to bring science in the correct way to the general public?

If the general public cannot understand science, they cannot use it at all.

Again, if they don’t understand science in the right way, they cannot utilize the knowledge to the maximum extent possible. Half knowledge is more dangerous than no knowledge.

If they misunderstand the science concepts, they might hate them and move away from them.

If they don’t understand the significance of science properly, they might go to other people who give false hopes, cheat, cause pain, and even loss of life in some cases. Yes, bad science communication can actually have life and death implications.

It's important for lay people to have some understanding of the science involved in the important problems we are facing right now like climate change, antibiotic resistance, vaccine safety, etc. to take right decisions and cooperate with the governing bodies.

So "Telling people about science is just as important as conducting the science" for scientists.

Science communication

Science communication, science communication, science communication

An useful tool that converts difficult to understand things into easy translation

Brings in human beings many a right vibration

Communicators are people who guide this beautiful mutation

Sometimes convincingly,

Yet other times cajolingly,

Using metaphors freely,

Making people trust science merrily!

If science communicators fail to convince,

In order to solve the problems we face

There is no other go but to use force

The field that gets maligned in this process is Science!

Communicators have a difficult role to play

Art, literature, text, speeches and plays are the methods to sway

Whichever route used to convey

Science messages should reach the masses every way!

Source: Science communication

(This poem is written by me)

Please follow the space Science Communication on quora

Footnotes:

1. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/scicurious-brain/2012/04/18/...

2. Science Communication

Q: What is ailing science and its communication?

Krishna: How about explaining it by giving examples?

1. Recently one person submitted a blog to my science communication space: Science Communication 

His science blog has many words like 'research has shown that', 'studies have identified that', 'it has been proven that'.

I always fact check the submissions before accepting them. So I ask for citations to authenticate the submissions.   

When I asked this person who submitted a blog to provide citations, he just added a link to his blog. Then I asked him what studies he ' s referring to. To my shock he told me there were none.  He just wrote it that way because scientists and science communicators write it that way!

When I told him that is cheating and he cannot do that, he told me to delete his submission and disappeared.

So?! Don't believe everything people quote as studies or research. Only if genuine citations are provided from high standard scientific journals to authenticate what people say, should you  trust what  the bloggers or writers say.

2. Please visit this page: Everybody is creating science groups these days. 

https://www.quora.com/q/sciencevolution/Science-is-beyond-limits

A 'student' created this group and when an art student asked, 'Hey, can an arts student join this group?'. 'He' said 'yes' and added ,  'I have invited you to be a moderator' and made him a moderator! 

Making an art student 'moderator' of the group can bring you lots of people by your goodwill gesture and hats off to your emotional intelligence but  how can an art student realize how to distinguish between genuine science and junk science? So junk science is being added recklessly to the group. And lots of people who promote junk science  are supporting this group but not the genuine ones run by scientists! 

That is what is ailing science and science communication.

Need we say more?

You have some serious health condition. You need a specialist to get cured. But if you go to a nurse  or a paramedic or a lawyer or a movie star to consult instead of a specialist doctor how does it reflect on your human mental condition? 

Those who are courting and supporting these ineligible people are doing just that. You won't get cured of your lack of knowledge in science on one hand, and on the other hand , you will be mislead, misinformed and you suffer the consequences. 

Q: What are some good sources for scientific information which are understandable?

Krishna: This Q gives a hint that you have problem understanding science.

“Understandable” is a relative term. To understand good science, even the learner should put some efforts. Depending completely on scientists/ science communicators to spoon-feed you all the time is not correct.

There's a story about Einstein emigrating to America and giving a press conference. One of the reporters asked him to explain the theory of relativity. Einstein asked the reporter to first describe how to bake a cake. The reporter said "Well first you take some flour..." to which Einstein interjected and said "What's that?". The reporter explained and carried on "...then you add some baking powder..." and again Einstein interjected "What's that?" His point was, it's difficult to explain the intricacies of science in a meaningful way without the listener having sufficient background in science in terms of vocabulary and the basics.

"Truth and facts resist simplicity." - John Green

How scientists should communicate with laymen

I think most science write ups and blogs by scientists these days are good and easy to understand. I am a Microbiologist. But when I read some of these write-ups, blogs on the net, news papers, science magazines and answers on PHYSICS/ CHEMISTRY here on Quora, I can understand them well. If I can understand them, most of the people can too.

Without putting an effort to understand, without learning ABCDs of science, you can’t understand the language.

So for an effective SCI-COM to take place both the scientists and people outside labs must play their parts. The latter ,especially should not close their minds, fear about the new terms, and learning some basics in science. Without good foundation, you cannot stand on empty space stably.

Science itself is a bit complicated. You have to prepare your mind for undergoing some ‘difficulty’. Once you make your mind up, believe me it is highly thrilling and extremely useful journey.

Why I am stressing this point ‘s I have seen some ‘school level’ ‘easy science’ but that too has some sort of jargon and ‘old stuff’ that gives outdated information, sometimes pseudo-science and even rubbish.

It is better to get genuine science from the people who do high standard science and not who just talk about it. And genuine science needs your mind’s cooperation.

Why don’t you try this: Science Simplified!

Or this: Science Communication  on Quora ?

Q: What are the biggest challenges for science communicators today?

Krishna: People shouting rubbish! Like anti-vexxers, climate science deniers, flat earthers, creative science proponents ....

Then a more intelligent audience who can and willing to distinguish between genuine science and junk science.

Q: Why do scientists react aggressively when faced by in-depth questions they cannot answer?

Krishna: Do we?

Well that depends on the way you frame your question! And the junk science you try to argue with.

Scientists give more importance to their time. If you try to waste it with unscientific arguments, they naturally get annoyed.

When we don’t know something, most of us would say, ‘we don’t know , yet’. There is nothing wrong in accepting that.

But, the problem with “I’m entitled to my opinion” is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter disastrous beliefs that should have been abandoned long back. It becomes shorthand for “I can say or think whatever I like” – and by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful. And this attitude feeds into the false equivalence between experts and non-experts that is an increasingly pernicious feature of our public discourse. Perhaps that’s one reason why enthusiastic amateurs think they’re entitled to disagree with climate scientists and immunologists and have their views “respected.” And do you respect ignorance, misconceptions and superstitions in the same way as facts based on evidence and true knowledge? How silly that looks!

There is evidence based on a scientists' years of toil, thorough analysis and testing and there is rubbish based on wild imaginations and perceptions. You cannot give equal importance to both.

More often than not, there is no “opposition party” or “other side” in science. There can be disagreement between various scientists when sometimes the research is incomplete and inconclusive. But non-experts cannot be given 'opposition status' in science. Someone who objects to scientific facts on non-scientific grounds simply cannot form part of the debate.There is the data and what it means. And there are facts whether anybody agrees with them or not. Period.

“One cannot really argue with a mathematical theorem.” - Stephen Hawking

So the answer to your Q is …

  1. When we really don’t know something, we are the first people to accept it. Science is still in an infant stage and it takes time to grow and answer all the questions we have now.
  2. You are entitled to have your own opinion but not to your own facts. We trust only evidence based facts. Any arguments which are belief and opinion based have no place in the scientific world.
  3. Someone who objects to scientific facts on non-scientific grounds simply cannot form part of the debate.
  4. A scientists’ time is very precious. Don’t waste it with unnecessary arguments.
  5. If both people talking are not subject experts, it would be like two blind men arguing about the most beautiful woman in the world. It is completely pointless.
  6. If only one person is a subject expert in any conversation and the other person is a layman, the layman is expected to ‘listen’ and try to ‘understand’, not argue.

If you cross any of these lines, you will have to face the music. Scientists can easily sense whether a person is genuinely interested in learning things or simply trying to confirm or authenticate his/her baseless beliefs and irrational view points.

I would simply shut off my door on the latter. Because I have better things to do.

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