Q: This Q is related to science communication. Why can't everybody understand science in the same way?
Krishna: When a single person tries to explain a scientific concept, you would normally think everybody will understand it in the way. But that is not what happens majority of the time.
What influences science comprehension?
If there is a clean slate before you, you can clearly write whatever you want on it.
But what if something already exists on it because somebody or the person you are trying to educate himself has written something there? That something makes what you are trying to write "incomprehensible" or interferes or scrambles what you are trying to say?
This is what happens most of the time while you are trying to communicate science.
A person's perception depends on their existing beliefs, superstitions, sentiments, conditioning of mind, education and understanding levels. Your wrong need not be my wrong. Your right need not be my right.
When I say something, if your mind is a clean slate, my point will be clear to you.
But people s' minds will rarely be clean slates. They will have several things already engraved since their childhood on their minds. They won't be free to accept everything you say as it is - even if they are evidence based facts.
Then you have to have something in your brain to analyse what I say. If your education level is zero, what do you analyse my points with?
You should not only have something, you should also have the right material to comprehend science in the right way.
Different people will have different things that interfere with their understanding. That is why different people will understand the same thing I say differently based on their minds' backgrounds.
Preconceived notions are popular conceptions rooted in everyday experiences. For example, many people believe that water flowing underground must flow in streams because the water they see at the earth's surface flows in streams. Preconceived notions plague peoples'/students' views of heat, energy, and gravity.
Nonscientific beliefs include views learned by students from sources other than scientific education, such as religious or mythical teachings. For example, some students have learned through religious instruction about an abbreviated history of the earth and its life forms. The disparity between this widely held belief and the scientific evidence for a far more extended pre-history has led to considerable controversy in the teaching and learning of science.
Conceptual misunderstandings arise when students are taught scientific information in a way that does not provoke them to confront paradoxes and conflicts resulting from their own preconceived notions and nonscientific beliefs. To deal with their confusion, students construct faulty models that usually are so weak that the students themselves are insecure about the concepts.
Faulty use of words: Vernacular misconceptions arise from the use of words that mean one thing in everyday life and another in a scientific context (e.g., "work"). A geology professor noted that students have difficulty with the idea that glaciers retreat, because they picture the glacier stopping, turning around, and moving in the opposite direction. Substitution of the word "melt" for "retreat" helps reinforce the correct interpretation that the front end of the glacier simply melts faster than the ice advances.
Factual misconceptions are falsities often learned at an early age and retained unchallenged into adulthood. If you think about it, the idea that "lightning never strikes twice in the same place" is clearly nonsense, but that notion may be buried somewhere in your belief system. You try to interpret things in that light.
Each person has his or her own misconceptions, beliefs, superstitions, sentiments, conditioning of mind, education and understanding levels. When people try to comprehend science with so many variable mind matters, how can everybody understand science in the same way?
My experience tells me I deal with a jungle and its miriad creatures whenever I enter the science communication world and it is not easy to get through this jungle without getting entangled in thorny bushes, without facing fierce beings apart from having sweet fruits and natural flowers, lovely streams and beautiful birds.
There are many reasons why science is a challenging subject. Due to its high cognitive and psychological demand, many people feel mind blocks when they think about science. To many, science may seem like an arcane, ivory-towered institution — but that impression is based on a misunderstanding of science. They have a negative attitude and feelings towards science. So some don't even make attempts to understand it, even if they do, they do it half heartedly. A complex subject that needs your undivided attention will not get into your mind properly unless you approach it whole heartedly.
Teachers, lecturers and professors can be astonished to learn that despite their best efforts, students do not grasp fundamental ideas covered in a class. Even some of the best students give the right answers but are only using correctly memorized words. When questioned more closely, these students reveal their failure to understand fully the underlying concepts. They treat science similar to other subjects and just mug up when in a class but forget all about it when they leave the four walls.
Science also needs special treatment. But some people think it is like any other subject based on opinions and emotions. Science focuses exclusively on the natural world and does not deal with supernatural explanations. This is unpalatable for some!
Accepted scientific ideas are reliable because they have been subjected to rigorous testing. But, as new evidence is acquired and new perspectives emerge, these ideas can be revised. These changing scenarios confuse some and they think science is not dependable which is not at all true in reality.
Science is a community endeavor. It relies on a system of checks and balances, which helps ensure that science moves in the direction of greater accuracy and understanding. This system is facilitated by diversity within the scientific community, which offers a broad range of perspectives on scientific ideas.
The checks and balances science subjects itself to is strange to some who follow things blindly. A free mind refuses to stick to these strict rules.
How can you counter these unwanted interferences in science comprehension?
First, a communicator should have lots and lots of patience.
Secondly, s/he should be able to negotiate all these interferences I mentioned above successfully.
( I already mentioned how to do this in some of my articles on science communication)
Thirdly, s/he should be able to choose the right path to follow for "each individual", not a group because each person will be different in the science communication jungle!
Finally, each communicator should remember, success doesn't come easily in this field. It takes years and years of learning and perseverance to achieve success.
People might get impressed by a good speech /write up but how much actually gets into the minds occupied by these complex psychologies, gets analysed in the right way and stays there to be used when needed is much more important than a big applause!
I feel like going for a walk in the park now.