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beecee

Pop Science and the science communicators:

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I have been an active member on three science forums....this one, one that is now defunct, and another that I left on my own accord, due to the lack of scientific discipline.

On all those forums reference sometimes is made about "pop science", sometimes in less then complimentary ways.

As a lay person, now a retired Maintenance Fitter and Machinist, I was always interested in space and astronomy....I followed the USSR and USA NASA cold war space race religiously, and still remember as a ten year old, going outside at night and watching Sputnik cross the celestial sphere.

I watched all the Moon shots and three programs that enabled man to set foot on the Moon.....

Later, in the early seventies, I watched Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" series, which spiked my interest in SR, GR and cosmology in general.

Since then I have read many books by many reputable authors such as Hawking, Sir Martin Rees, Kip Thorne, Paul Davis, Michio Kaku and others also.

I get slightly miffed when people refer to texts or definitions as "only pop science.

I therefor decided to google, "what is pop science"?
All basically say the same thing......
https://www.google.com.au/search?q=pop science&oq=pop science&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l5.7463j0j7&sourceid=chrome&es_sm=93&ie=UTF-8#q=what is pop science
"Popular science (or pop-science) is interpretation of science intended for a general audience. While science journalism focuses on recent scientific developments, popular science is more broad-ranging. It may be written by professional science journalists or by scientists themselves".

 

What limited knowledge that I have gained, all started from what may be construed as pop science: In areas where I personally required a more in depth description or definition, I would always check with known reputable scientists and/or science papers from arXiv...What I didn't understand I asked questions about. The first forum I participated in, did have a astronomer and a GR theoriest that sorted me out.

 

I guess what I'm trying to say is that "pop science" is far more important then some seem to give it credit for. The Sagan's the De Grasse Tysons, the Greenes' the Cox's, the Dawkin's of this world are doing a job and getting the message out there...They are making ground in delivering how we can reasonably claim how the universe came to be, at least from the BB, how life first arose from inanimate matter, and how that life evolved to us.

 

I also found this link.........

http://www.xojane.com/issues/pop-science-may-be-annoying-but-its-necessary

 

"Why Pop Science Is Important, Even If You Don't Think It's "Real Science"

 

An important line from that link I believe definitely holds true......

"While “fake science fans” may be annoying, science deniers are deadly".

This forum as well as others are graced by both types, one notable "science denier" that in very recent times is making his crusade on this forum.

It is these types that will purposely set out to denigrate the likes of Sagan and Dawkins, and the others I mentioned and their agenda of course is the fact that science seems to have demoted the need of a creator. Most obviously also are rather self gratutious, do not possess appropriate credentials, but rather, as I said an agenda.

 

 

The article concludes with the following.......

"Pop Science is great stuff! Pop science is essential to the general populace.
Yes, sometimes science journalists indulge in sensationalism [such as Hawking said BH's do not exist] sensationalism that is generally recognised for what it is by those truly interested in science, but quickly grabbed hold of by the fraudsters and phoneys when they see the need to, particularly when the said article refutes there own brand of science.

So yes, the furphy that "it is only pop science" is just that: a furphy.
Hoorah for pop science!"

 

 

Do others agree with the sentiments of what I am trying to say?

Anyone want to add anything?

Edited by beecee

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Pop sci is not generally used as a derogatory term, rather it is used to distinguish it from the level of sci in the academic and/or professional sense.

It does matter, as informing the public is an important goal. Yet one should not confuse it with the discussion within sci communities as the former can obviously only provide relatively simple narratives. Thus it is far more easier attacked as it only synthesizes part of the existing knowledge (and in a simplified form).

 

Basically, it serves a different purpose. Such as highschool, undergrad and grad studies are all on different levels, they all serve their purpose and are not easily interchangeable. Or read the pop sci books, textbooks and papers from the same author, for that matter.

 

Also I should add that science communicators sometimes move out of their field of expertise, sometimes with somewhat cringy results.

Edited by CharonY

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Pop sci is not generally used as a derogatory term, rather it is used to distinguish it from the level of sci in the academic and/or professional sense.

It does matter, as informing the public is an important goal. Yet one should not confuse it with the discussion within sci communities as the former can obviously only provide relatively simple narratives. Thus it is far more easier attacked as it only synthesizes part of the existing knowledge (and in a simplified form).

 

Basically, it serves a different purpose. Such as highschool, undergrad and grad studies are all on different levels, they all serve their purpose and are not easily interchangeable. Or read the pop sci books, textbooks and papers from the same author, for that matter.

 

Also I should add that science communicators sometimes move out of their field of expertise, sometimes with somewhat cringy results.

While I do agree with all that you have said, and I believe I have expressed that generally speaking, it does piss me off no end when "pretenders" and those with religious or other agendas, start to deride some of our prominent science communicators.

But then again those same pretenders deride all of science in most cases, even the certainty of the evolution of life.

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But then again those same pretenders deride all of science in most cases, even the certainty of the evolution of life.

Also anyone else that may disagree, so it's a wash. Science communicators are likely the only ones they heard of (other than a handful of stars like Einstein).

Also, most often there you do not need to be pissed off. At least the few that I met kind of enjoy the attention to some degree in a perverse way, though you may need to alcoholize them to admit it (well, and for the really famous ones I guess it becomes part of the job).

 

Also, now that I think about it, those guys probably do not distinguish between science communicators or mainstream scientists in the first place.

 

Also, completely unrelated, I kind of found it funny that you listed Paul Davies he is one of the better known Christian sci communicators (and got in a I of a spat regarding faith in science and other things).

Edited by CharonY

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I recall reading this sentiment on a science blog several years ago, and I agree: When you read "pop science" you are generally not learning science. You are learning about science.

 

IOW, you really haven't learned anything that would let you do science on your own. Those details are not included.

 

Then you have the work presented by people not well-versed in the science. They can easily get the concepts wrong as they try to use language for a lay audience. This can result in the explanations being flat-out wrong. (Owing to my background, this is obvious when reading about things like quantum entanglement and teleportation)

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That is very well expressed. It is about popularizing and not teaching science. While doing it is still worthwhile I am sometimes worried that the popularizers may become figurehead and fetishized or demonized by some, and taken for representatives of the broader science community.

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Also, completely unrelated, I kind of found it funny that you listed Paul Davies he is one of the better known Christian sci communicators (and got in a I of a spat regarding faith in science and other things).

 

:) The only book I have read of Paul Davis was "Superforce" : I also remember him receiving the Templeton award later on.

 

 

I recall reading this sentiment on a science blog several years ago, and I agree: When you read "pop science" you are generally not learning science. You are learning about science.

 

IOW, you really haven't learned anything that would let you do science on your own. Those details are not included.

 

Then you have the work presented by people not well-versed in the science. They can easily get the concepts wrong as they try to use language for a lay audience. This can result in the explanations being flat-out wrong. (Owing to my background, this is obvious when reading about things like quantum entanglement and teleportation)

 

 

As a lay person and certainly not well versed in science, any explanations that I may or have given, that you or other experts deem as wrong, I certainly hope that is brought to my attention.

Bringing science to the masses is though important, and the most recognised presenters that I have mentioned, all do a great job in that regard, although I have heard some criticism of Brian Cox [who is now involved with the LHC] and Michio Kaku.

 

One thing that sticks in my mind and was mentioned in the article that I linked to, was the headlines in "pop science" journals that Stephen Hawking had said "BHs do not exist" I mean you could have knocked me over with a feather!

As usual and as you and others have indicated, It was nothing more then sensationalistic journalism of the worst kind.

After I did my own further research, I was quite relieved to find out that is all it was, and in actual fact all Hawking had said, was in regards to the nature of the EH, quantum aspects and a firewall.

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Both 'real' and 'pop' science have their place, and are important.

It is only when one tries to pass itself off as the other that we run into trouble.

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Both 'real' and 'pop' science have their place, and are important.

It is only when one tries to pass itself off as the other that we run into trouble.

 

 

Just so.

 

I would add that both also have their excellent and their abysmal proponents and all shades between.

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Just so.

 

I would add that both also have their excellent and their abysmal proponents and all shades between.

As I would say, has any area of human discipline and ology. :)

The trick is being able to sort out the wheat from the chaff.

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Just so.

 

I would add that both also have their excellent and their abysmal proponents and all shades between.

 

 

One of the big problems here is when someone with expertise tries to pass him/herself off as being an expert in a wider field. Kaku is a prime example, but Tyson has been known to do it as well.

 

You run into the "argument form authority" fallacy from the other end as we usually do — people assuming that a smart person knows what s/he's talking about, but it's not in their wheelhouse, and they don't give you that disclaimer.

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One of the big problems here is when someone with expertise tries to pass him/herself off as being an expert in a wider field. Kaku is a prime example, but Tyson has been known to do it as well.

 

You run into the "argument form authority" fallacy from the other end as we usually do — people assuming that a smart person knows what s/he's talking about, but it's not in their wheelhouse, and they don't give you that disclaimer.

 

 

How did that old saw go?

 

If an expert is someone who knows a lot about a little

Then a true expert is someone who knows everything about nothing.

 

or to quote

 

 

Betrand Russell

Pure Mathematics consists entirely of such assertions that, if such and such a proposition is true of anything, then such and such a proposition is true of that thing.

It is essential not to discuss whether the first proposition is really true, and not to mention what the anything is of which it is supposed to be true....

Thus Mathematics may be defined as the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, nor whether what we are saying is true.

 

:)

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One of the big problems here is when someone with expertise tries to pass him/herself off as being an expert in a wider field. Kaku is a prime example, but Tyson has been known to do it as well.

 

You run into the "argument form authority" fallacy from the other end as we usually do — people assuming that a smart person knows what s/he's talking about, but it's not in their wheelhouse, and they don't give you that disclaimer.

 

It is kind of interesting that many, if not most of the pop sci folks are actually cosmologists. I guess it is maybe because they find themselves used to ask big picture things that may be conducive to popularization.

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It is kind of interesting that many, if not most of the pop sci folks are actually cosmologists. I guess it is maybe because they find themselves used to ask big picture things that may be conducive to popularization.

 

 

I've also noticed that many of the prominent science communicators in my general field are theorists (including the cosmologists) which affords the ability to travel around and still do your job. (or as part of your job, since that helps with collaboration). Not a lot of experiments I can run while on an airplane or in a hotel room.

 

Astronomy and cosmology have the advantage of people being somewhat familiar with bits of it, as they can look up in the sky at night (though some may have to get out of the city to do that). Biology is similar.

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It is kind of interesting that many, if not most of the pop sci folks are actually cosmologists. I guess it is maybe because they find themselves used to ask big picture things that may be conducive to popularization.

 

Maybe this is more apparent than real because cosmological phantasies have replaced much of the real Physics and Science in our high schools, and such stuff gets the most publicity.

 

I try to rectify with references to as many of the acknowledged experts in the fields I know something about as I can. I choose those who pen the most acessible insights into their subjects.

 

for example

 

Atkins and Buckingham in Chemistry

 

Beerling and Benton in Earth Science

 

Levi in Mechanics

 

Stewart in Mathematics

 

There are also some professional popsci authors who have taken the trouble to get the ducks facts in order such as

 

Sharon Mcgrayne and Gary Smith in Statistics.

Edited by studiot

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Astronomy and cosmology have the advantage of people being somewhat familiar with bits of it, as they can look up in the sky at night (though some may have to get out of the city to do that). Biology is similar.

 

There seem to be few biologists around, it seems. Most that I can think of are more in the areas of evolutionary biology, which is kind of the cosmology of biology. Of course there are field biologists, but those tend to be specialized communicators in the area of conservation and ecology. The rest is stuck in labs and never see the sky (please send help).

 

Edit, actually it may be because we got a really poor training in mathematics and much of biological stuff is not really easily generalized.

Edited by CharonY

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There seem to be few biologists around, it seems. Most that I can think of are more in the areas of evolutionary biology, which is kind of the cosmology of biology. Of course there are field biologists, but those tend to be specialized communicators in the area of conservation and ecology. The rest is stuck in labs and never see the sky (please send help).

 

Edit, actually it may be because we got a really poor training in mathematics and much of biological stuff is not really easily generalized.

 

 

Back when the ScienceOnline conferences were happening, about half of the science participants were in the biology/life sciences area. The bigger-name science journalists who attended wrote about that, mainly (Ed Yong, David Dobbs)

Having said that, it's entirely possible (and quite likely) that biology suffers from the same problem of popular science focusing in on some areas and ignoring others, presumably because they pick what's going to sell, and what can be written about in some reasonable way. If all you did was look at popular science work, you might think that most of physics was done at accelerator labs (primarily CERN), and that's not the case.

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Hmm that is quite possible. I kind of missed the online and blogosphere trends. As a matter of fact, I can't actually recall any blogs that I have read regularly, aside yours. I guess I am old-fashioned that way.

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It was an eye-opener for me, since I was one of only ~3 physics bloggers at the first one I attended. Lots of biology types (and funding from life sciences companies. Better support/infrastructure than I was used to from physics conferences). From some of the sessions I realized that there is a fundamental difference in the way that writing about biology/life sciences was approached compared to physics, and the differences between blogging as a subject "expert" and writing as a profession (e.g. I never had to worry about having a conflict of interest. The pro writers spent almost an entire session talking about that)

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Conflict of interest is certainly a big thing in many biological or life science areas. For some reasons it never occurred to me that it may be less so in physics, though it does make sense.

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Conflict of interest is certainly a big thing in many biological or life science areas. For some reasons it never occurred to me that it may be less so in physics, though it does make sense.

 

 

We're not as involved in developing products, at least, not in the same way. Also not the same ethics issues involved in conducting experiments.

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Sometimes it is really bad if the research impacts commercial products. For example if you figure out that certain chemicals may (or may not) pose health or environmental risks. If you are not meticulous in documenting potential conflicts of interest one may get in hot water easily. Or anything that may have any impact on politicized issues, mostly in environmental or health sciences. Sometimes things can be very complicated when you have multiple projects funded from various sources.

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