2020 Science | 04 July 2010
Andrew Maynard wrote:With apologies to Chris Mooney, and all the many scientists that really do get the need to listen to people. And also with a rather large tongue in my cheek:
- Dear Mr Mooney,
I’ve been way too busy this week doing important sciency stuff to engage with the trivialities of the popular press. But this morning I stumbled across your protestations in last Sunday’s Washington Post. You know – the ones about scientists not listening enough to the public?
Choke? I’m still trying to remove bits of masticated Cheerios from my polyester labcoat!
Mr. Mooney, which planet are you on?! Haven’t you realized yet that the public are just a bunch of raving loonies, obsessed with their own views and impervious to reason? What on earth would justify me listening to their misinformed and irrelevant bleating?
You see Mr. Mooney, what you don’t seem to get is that most of the public don’t think like right-minded people. They’re irrational. They’re emotional. And they seem to think that there’s more to how they live their lives than science!
And some of them, Mr. Mooney, some of them are denialists!
And this is what really gets my goat Mr. Mooney. No matter how much I try and tell these people what’s right, they still insist on holding onto their wrong-headed beliefs. Not only do they deny my superior intellect – they dare to question the evidence that’s sitting there in front of their face. Even when I shove it up their noses Mr. Mooney, they just don’t get it!
Now don’t get me wrong Mr. Mooney, I don’t expect everyone to be a scientist like me. But the public should at least be able to grasp how science works. Then they might just start listening to me. Me, Mr. Mooney, me. Because through hard work and intellectual rigor, I actually have something worthwhile to say.
But I am a reasonable man Mr. Mooney. And so I thought I would at least give your naive and misguided ideas a go. So after cleaning up the Cheerios and milk spattered across my Washington Post, I grabbed myself a member of the public and tried listening to them.
As I suspected, it was a disaster.
Accosting the first person I came across, I asked them a few simple questions:
You see what I mean Mr. Mooney? There’s no reasoning with these people! Listen to them? I’d rather listen to a lamp post.
- Me: What’s the second law of thermodynamics?
Member of the public: Err, um…
Me: Okay, forget that. How do airplanes fly?
Member of the public: Err, excuse me, could you just loosen your grip a little…
Me: Come on come on, I’m trying to listen to you – say something intelligent. Please! Why don’t you accept evolution? Why do you believe vaccines cause autism in children? Why don’t you understand simple statistics? Why are you so stupid?
Member of the public: Get your hands off me now, or see me in court!
What we need is more members of the public listening to us. Us Mr. Mooney. We need to go out and meet them on their own turf – in their bars, in their cafes, in their places of worship – and tell them what’s what.
Now you may think that I’m being a little arrogant here Mr. Mooney. But I’m really not. You see, you probably don’t understand this, not being a real scientist yourself, but scientists change their ideas all the time if the evidence is compelling. I admit it – If the evidence doesn’t fit, I’ll be the first to change my views. So you see Mr. Mooney, I’m actually quite humble. I can live with the thought of loosing a slanging match against a worthy opponent – no problem.
It’s just that the public aren’t a worthy opponent – never have been, never will be.
So you see Mr. Mooney, listening to the public is a very, very bad idea. Science isn’t a democracy. You can’t decide what’s right and what’s not by popular vote! No, science is about searching for truth and debunking myths (my truths and your myths – naturally).
Okay, so maybe things get a little more complicated when it comes to how science is used. But then surely Mr. Mooney, the public should leave the difficult decisions to people who know what they are doing – in other words, us scientist.
Imagine where we’d be if we started listened to what people wanted instead of just giving them what they needed. It’s enough to bring on another choking fit!
A concerned scientist.